Smarter parking codes to promote smart growth

Communities are using parking rules to promote transit, biking, and car share use and improve driver access to retail streets. Credit, clockwise from left: First Daffodils, Kent Kanouse, Canadian Pacific and Elvert Barnes, all via Flickr.

Unless you’re walking to your destination in a busy downtown neighborhood, chances are good that you need parking at the end of the trip. Nowadays, several cities are changing their thinking on parking regulations in response to the growing demand for car-light living.

Typically, parking rules are used to establish the minimum number of off-street private car parking spaces that must be provided in new residential and commercial developments. This helps manage traffic and congestion as new projects and more people come to the area, and it helps keep parking demand from overtaking supply over time. However, the following cities are modernizing their approach and tackling the parking issue in new ways.

Berkeley’s zoning for transportation choices

Berkeley, CA already has the basic parking requirements, but it is now using its parking spaces code to make accommodations for transit, biking, and car-share users in addition to private vehicle owners. Some of the most interesting regulations include:

Designated parking for car-share: At least one car-share parking space must be designated in new residential developments that offer 11-30 private car parking spaces. Those providing 31-60 regular spaces must designate two car-share spaces, and developments with more than 60 regular spaces must designate three car-share spaces plus one additional for each successive increment of 60 regular spaces.

People are more likely to opt to use car-share if there is reliable parking in their building. Car-sharing programs are becoming increasingly popular in cities across the country because they provide an affordable and convenient alternative to private car ownership.

“Unbundling” purchase of housing units from the purchase of car parking: Private vehicle parking spaces must be priced and sold separately from the rental or purchase of dwelling units. This lets the household decide if they would like to take on the expense of a parking space, as opposed to that parking cost automatically being bundled into the lease or sale price. This makes housing more affordable because households can opt to forgo the cost of a parking space if they don’t need it. This policy works particularly well when the multi-family building is near transit or in a place where owning a car is not as critical to the quality of life.

Transit benefits for workers and residents: Property owners of new developments over 20,000 square feet must provide every employee and residential unit with a free pass for unlimited local bus service or similar transit benefits of the same value. This policy promotes transit use among new residents in congested downtown neighborhoods and it reduces traffic and car parking demand.

Managing residential on-street parking: Occupants of newly constructed or converted residential units are not automatically eligible for Residential Parking Permits (RPP) that allow free on-street parking. This is important in downtown districts, where on-street parking is highly limited and where frequent turnover of parked vehicles is critical to drawing in new customers to downtown businesses. Inexpensive residential parking permits can subsidize and therefore promote car ownership, exacerbating traffic.

Philadelphia’s bike parking rules

Bicycling is becoming increasingly popular in both small and large communities in all parts of the nation. Philadelphia, PA has been steadily improving bike facilities throughout the city, and in 2009 it amended its zoning code with one of the best bike ordinances in the country.

The new standards require all new commercial, multi-family residential, recreational, hotel, and transit-adjacent properties to provide secure and convenient bike parking. The ordinance sets specific location, security and design standards for the bike racks. These requirements are applied to new developments, changes in uses of existing buildings and additions of more than 10% of the gross floor area. Here are the regulations:

Commercial, office, retail 2 plus 15% of the total number of car spaces
Multiple-family buildings 1 per every 3 units
Schools 1 per every 3 students
Hotels and temporary lodging 1 per every 5 units
Transit centers, park and ride lots 35% of the total number of car parking spaces
Public, commercial recreation uses 35% of the total number of car parking spaces

Performance parking in Redwood City, CA and Washington, DC

Parking innovations are not just for building lots and garages. Cities are becoming savvier and using market pricing to maximize street parking on busy commercial streets.

Redwood City, CA was seeing increasing development and parking demand for on- and off-street public parking in the downtown. The City enacted a parking plan in 2006 to allow meter rates to be adjusted up or down in $0.25 increments on a quarterly basis to promote parking turnover at the storefronts. Meter time limits were eliminated as they were deemed unnecessary with the introduction of demand-based pricing.

In Washington, DC, on-street metered parking demand in the Capitol Hill neighborhood was high in the evenings and over the weekend, and it was projected to spike on game days once the new Nationals Ballpark opened nearby. The Performance Parking Pilot program was passed in 2008, introducing the concept of market-priced public parking to the City. It gave authority to the local transportation department to extend metering into the evening and weekend and to increase meter rates in $0.50 increments on a monthly basis to match the parking demand on those streets. This pilot program also designated a portion of the revenues to be reinvested in the pilot zone to improve non-driving access such as sidewalks, bike racks, benches, traffic calming, signage, and designated taxi stands.

Many more cities have joined Redwood City and Washington in using a market based approach to improve the efficiency of street parking. Pricing public parking at a rate that attract drivers into retails areas and—dissuades prolonged parking at the valuable storefront spaces—helps ensure that the next wave of motorists coming into the commercial areas will have a good chance of finding available parking without having to drive around or double park.

Thus, communities are finding that something as simple as the parking rules can play a critical part in fostering the car free and car-light lifestyles people are seeking.

Michael Ryan contributed to this article.

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