Start charging (more) to park on public streets. Trend of ending minimum parking requirements for garages in new apartment and condo buildings “within one-half mile of public transit” in cities that have failed to meet housing targets is underway

Congratulations, California city leaders.Your state legislators recently spared you the pain and trouble of taking the first step in a crucial political fight against unnecessary and even socially irresponsible parking requirements.

However, trouble lies ahead if you, as city officials, don’t take the important second step of guiding smarter street parking.

Senate Bill 35, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, takes the smart step of ending minimum parking requirements for garages in new apartment and condo buildings “within one-half mile of public transit” in cities that have failed to meet housing targets.

Garage mandates are costly and destructive. They’ve driven up home prices for decades by making truly transit-oriented housing all but impossible.

Now, look at those words again: “Within one-half mile of public transit.”

In other words, on-site parking is no longer mandatory for multi-family housing, such as condos and apartments, almost anywhere in any substantial city in California that faces a housing shortage.

“This bill does not preclude a developer from building new parking, but the city can’t require it,” said Ann Fryman, a policy staffer for state Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This is one way to save $40,000 to $50,000 per housing unit in a lot of areas, such as San Francisco and L.A., that are starved for housing construction.”

Ending parking minimums is just half the battle

It’s a big change for better policy. But what you’re about to discover, California cities, is that ending parking minimums is only half the battle. Unless you also take the next step – better regulating your on-street parking – this parking reform isn’t going to turn out well.

  1. At some point, probably quite soon, your local development professionals will realize that they can build more homes more cheaply without on-site parking, and they will do so.
  2. The people who move into these garage-free homes will own fewer cars than the average person in their area, but many of them will still own cars, and they will park on nearby streets.
  3. Their car-owning neighbors – retailers and residents alike – will get upset. And they will hold you, city officials, responsible for their problem.

The good news is that there’s a very clear way to deal with this: you need to start charging money, or maybe more money, for people to park on public streets.

“The fact of the matter is that at a certain point, if you’re not going to have off-street parking requirements – and you shouldn’t – you’re going to have to do something about the street space,” Michael Manville, a UCLA urban planning professor, said [in an interview with co-author Andersen – editor]. “The obvious solution is to price it.”

In fact, properly pricing on-street parking is probably going to raise a lot of money for your city, especially if you start doing it soon. That’s money you can reinvest in making your neighborhoods more equitable, more pleasant, and friendlier to citizens travelling by all different types of transportation.

Portland’s experiment in reduced parking

Portland, Oregon, is in the midst of discovering this. In 2000, Portland’s city council took the same step California just did, removing mandatory garages near transit. One development cycle later, the policy started working.

Northwest Portland is becoming much more pleasant since lessening the focus on a need for parking

Big apartment buildings began popping up, adding 1,300 new homes to the city’s transit-rich, parking-scarce Northwest District alone. Of those, 23 percent were in buildings with zero on-site parking.

Some district residents hammered at the city to ban such buildings. Pro-housing groups, including ours, snapped back that homes are more important than garages. In the end, the council decided not to mandate garages in Northwest. Instead, it stuck with a plan that has tripled the price of an on-street parking permit, adding 66 new parking meters to commercial streets, and generating $1.4 million a year to be spent reducing the need to drive to and from this 30,000-resident area.

Last year, that money paid to subsidize hundreds of local long-term transit passes and bikeshare memberships, plus fund a program that pays households to stop buying parking permits – for example, by selling their cars. Permanent street improvements are in the works, too. With better transit and easier biking and walking, the need for cars will keep falling.

For people who live in the neighborhood, it’s a win: parking there has gotten no more difficult, but the alternatives to driving (and therefore to parking) are improving. Meanwhile, more new housing in the district gives more Portlanders the chance to live in a part of town where car ownership is delightfully optional, reducing traffic region-wide.

It’s a happy ending that is gradually helping liberate the city from dependence on parking without costing taxpayers a dime.

This is the course that California has just sent its cities down. It’ll be politically difficult for everyone, whether or not a city updates its street-parking rules.

Cities that do pursue reforms to street parking in conjunction with California’s new law, though, have just been given a gift: a rare chance to actually solve the decades-old problem of ever-expanding parking lots and congestion.

Photos by Jon Shaffer/Flickr and Walklandia/Flickr.