Most of us have heard the “Big Yellow Taxi” song that includes the memorable line “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  But what if that paradise is not completely lost and communities started reclaiming their paradise by taking a different approach to their parking regulations?  This is the first in a three-post series discussing the current approach to parking regulations and solutions communities, especially urban communities, should consider to “right-size” their parking requirements to reflect a more sustainable approach.

Richard Florida, a well-respected expert in urban studies, recently posted an interesting article entitled Parking Has Eaten American Cities.  In his post, Florida discusses a recent study by Eric Scharnhorst of the Research Institute for Housing America confirming the findings of previous studies “that American cities devote far too much space and far too many resources to parking.”  Per Florida, Scharnhorst’s study analyzed more than just the total number of existing on- and off-street parking spaces in five American cities.  Scharnhorst’s research also produced several interesting pieces of data relating to parking density (i.e., number of parking spaces per acre), number of parking spaces per household and parking cost per household, as well as the total replacement cost of the existing parking spaces.

Florida’s article got me thinking:  Although parking affects nearly all development projects in nearly all communities, it significantly impacts mixed use projects involving reuse, infill and redevelopment in urban communities.  While some developers and lenders utilize parking space ratios for their projects that drive up the required number of parking spaces provided, municipal parking requirements are overwhelmingly responsible for most of the existing parking space (over)supply.  While the location, ownership and management of existing parking spaces are significant issues that warrant further discussion, this series of posts solely focuses on municipal parking regulations.

The current approach to parking is not sustainable.  In addition to the amount of land area and the hard and soft costs associated with parking approvals, construction and maintenance, among other issues, the parking regulations used by most municipalities are outdated and unnecessarily increases paving, impervious coverage and stormwater runoff.  The large number of existing, underutilized parking spaces and onerous parking requirements for new development certainly do not help urban communities comply with Municipal Separate Storm Sewer (“MS4”) mandates.  Further, outdated off-street parking requirements contribute to sprawl and alter the character and connectivity of communities by unnecessarily reducing building sizes; pushing buildings away from streets, sidewalks and each other; reducing density; reducing the amount of available capital that could be devoted to community or onsite amenities or other initiatives; and discouraging new business attraction or existing business retention and expansion.

In my two posts that will follow in the coming months (Post II and Post III), we will explore some of the factors causing and impacting the current approach to regulating parking.  In addition, I’ll discuss solutions that communities may wish to consider to modernize and “right-size” their parking requirements for a more sustainable approach to parking that encourages, supports and accommodates mixed use reuse, infill and redevelopment.