Build more housing and less parking near transit

Governing Magazine’s February 2017 issue says a A Low-Cost Solution to Traffic is building housing that limits how far people have to drive in the first place — building more housing close to the urban cores — or, at least, close to the dense suburban job centers. Urban planners often argue for locating more housing along high-frequency transit lines, which makes sense because many people can commute by transit.  What’s not well understood, however, is that well-located housing can cut down on the amount of driving — and hence the need for additional road space — even if people are still tethered to their cars. One famous study in the San Francisco Bay Area found that people living in Berkeley and Oakland drive only half as far as people in the outer suburbs — not because they take transit more, but because the places they have to go are closer together.

America Builds Way Too Much Parking Near Transit

At Oakland's Fruitvale Village transit-oriented development, car trips and parking usage are far lower than what industry standards anticipated. Photo:  Eric Fredericks via Flickr

At Oakland’s Fruitvale Village transit-oriented development, car trips and parking usage are far lower than what industry standards anticipated. Photo: Eric Fredericks via Flickr

Industry standards like the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Parking Generation Manual are based on suburban models that overestimate the number of car trips generated by mixed-use development and development near transit.

The new study looked at parking occupancy at five transit-oriented development sites (TODs) around the country and found a scandalous amount of empty space, Transportation for America reports.

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These TODs include fewer parking spaces than industry standards recommend, and those spaces still never fill up. Table: Smart Growth America

Even when developers built fewer parking spots than the ITE standards recommend, they still built too many. Here are the topline numbers from the report [PDF] summarizing the research:

With so many other ways to get to these stations, it is not surprising that fewer people drove to these TODs than ITE’s guidelines expect. The developers of these TODs recognized this, and built parking accordingly. All TODs included in this study built less parking than recommended by ITE — between 23 to 61 percent of ITE’s guidelines.

Yet even this reduced amount of parking was not used to capacity: peak occupancy fell below actual capacity supplied. The ratio of demand to actual supply was between 58 and 84 percent. The actual parking supply was less than recommended supply according to ITE, and the actual peak occupancy was much less than the ITE supply guidelines, in a range between only 19 to 46 percent.

Fewer vehicle trips is one likely reason why parking occupancy rates were lower than ITE’s recommendations. Another reason is that parking is shared between commercial and residential uses at two TODs, is shared between transit and park-and-ride uses at one TOD, is unbundled with apartment rents at two TODs, and is priced at market rates for commercial users at three TODs.

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The number of car trips at these TODs comes in much lower than the standard model predicted. Table: SGA

More recommended reading: Seattle Transit Blog reports that local infrastructure boosters say Seattle should stand firm in its commitment to protecting immigrants, regardless of whether it hurts local budgets. And NRDC reports on Georgia’s new solar roadway.