Parking reform does NOT need excellent transit

There is a widespread belief that reform of minimum parking requirements requires excellent public transport. We see this in recent parking reform debates in US cities, such as Portland, Seattle and Washington, DC for example.

But surely this is mistaken.

Abolishing parking minimums can be done in auto-oriented suburbs too

If eliminating parking minimums actually FORCED parking closures and low-parking development, then maybe this link with public transport would make sense.

But reform of parking requirements is NOT about preventing developers from providing parking! It merely ALLOWS them to choose how much parking they supply. In locations where they see the need, they will keep supplying plentiful parking.

If parking reform does not need transit, then what does it need?

Reform of parking minimums DOES require on-street and other public parking to be well managed. This is to ensure developers and their customers know in advance that free-riding on that resource will be limited and/or come at a cost.

The results in terms of parking supply will vary from place to place, and transit will be a factor in that. But parking minimums are unnecessary even far from public transport.

In fact, parking minimums reform does not even require reduced parking demand! Reform of minimum parking requirements can be done anywhere!

So let me repeat: reform of parking minimums simply does not require excellent public transport.

Are you sceptical?

What about all of the spillover problems? What about conflict with existing residents and retailers? Surely there are pre-requisites that need to be in place before eliminating or easing parking minimums? Let's explore the issue.

Certainly, every community needs adequate control over nuisance parking. But that really should be obvious. If your community lacks parking enforcement capacity then no amount of off-street supply will eliminate on-street chaos without on-street enforcement. You will have on-street chaos with or without minimum parking requirements for off-street parking, as the situations in many cities in South Asia and Southeast Asia demonstrate.

Even better than merely enforcing against nuisance parking is to manage on-street and public parking efficiently, with responsive pricing. This should be enough to send the right signals to developers and their potential customers, so everyone knows the parking bottom line.

But we still haven't dealt with the political obstacles confronting reform of parking minimums. Surely, good public transport is essential to overcoming those obstacles? Well no.

Certainly, enforcement and good management are not enough. Yes, more is needed to allay the fears of existing locals over parking reform. But not necessarily better transit service.

Donald Shoup says parking minimums can be scrapped if we can ALSO
a) price on-street parking rationally, AND
b) make the process attractive to locals via Parking Benefit Districts.
We have to not only neutralise spillover as a problem but also work to make the new pricing welcomed by locals.

Adaptive Parking is similar. It suggests that it is easier to "relax" about parking supply if we ALSO make other complementary reforms:
- Share! (make most parking open to the public),
- Price! (to avoid parking queues and searching),
- Sweeten! (sweeten the deal for relevant existing local stakeholders),
- Relax! (easier now to not worry about parking supply),
- Choice! (make the parking market work better by enhancing choices and choice making).

Notice that none of these require excellent public transport.

But something else is hidden in the Shoupista and Adaptive Parking points above. They both imply (indirectly) that WALKABILITY is important for parking minimums reform.

It is much easier to relax about off-street parking supply in "park-once districts" where any end-destination is served by a range of parking options within walking distance, not just by on-site parking. This is the point of Adaptive Parking's preference for public not private parking. And we need walkability to make it easy to walk between parking options and destinations. A park-once district requires walkability.

But don't forget that even walkability and park-once districts are not really essential. They are helpful and they ease the politics. They make it less crucial for developers to be accurate in guessing how much parking each site needs.

But even without walkability and public parking, there is still no real need for parking minimums.

Bottom line: there is no real need for parking minimums. Anywhere.


  1. I think one problem with this is the fact that parking minimums are not entirely legislatively-derived. Look at the case of the building-formerly-known-as-carfree in Santa Monica: developers wanted to build a mixed-use apartment building with only bike parking on a funky parcel in Santa Monica. They got the appropriate variances from the city, despite noisy NIMBYs, only to find out that no bank would give them a loan without providing parking on-site. The developers are now planning to include an unnecessary and expensive robotic garage. (

    If that's what the banks are asking for in increasingly walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly Santa Monica, imagine what they'd require out in the 'burbs? We could eliminate parking minimums in the city code, and yet developers would be no more free to choose the level of parking provided than they are now.

    1. Completely agree that banks can be a problem but that doesn't negate the need for local government authorities to remove the minimum parking requirements.
      Once City Authorities have made it clear they don't want to force developers to provide more parking than they want pressure can be put on the banks to loosen their requirements.
      One step at a time ...

  2. Please define "Excellent transit" and give some examples.

    1. The cities mentioned are reforming parking minimums only in neighbourhoods with excellent enough transit (by their local definitions, which vary).

      But I argue in the post that parking reform need NOT wait for excellent transit. So there is no need to define it here.

  3. Rather than looking at these as parking districts, where various prices usher in different types of consumers, why not create districts that accommodate the different types of consumers.
    By providing parking with high minimums in commercial districts that assume a personal vehicle necessity, parking is being used properly.
    If parking is excluded in places where there is high-density of mixed-use buildings, organic groceries, and bike rental shops, then transit is put to best use. The transit only further facilitates the idea of less vehicles.

    1. "By providing parking with high minimums in commercial districts that assume a personal vehicle necessity, parking is being used properly."

      But even without parking minimums, developers and building owners will rationally provide parking if their site is in an area that is car dependent. So why not abolish the parking minimums?

      I think you are still assuming that abolished minimums forces low parking provision. High minimums force high parking supply but abolished minimums just allows parking supply to suit context.

    2. Noone has touched on parking maximums here, but if I recall correctly from the article, providing optimal parking (minimums and prices at the meter) in parking districts was the focal point..while not requiring an alteration in the transit fleet. Maximums would help this.
      My original comment perpetuated this: while it does limit the scope and scale of the city, it does invite a new way of thinking about parking as a type of shopping or commercial area that requires minimums and then those that don't. Completely reaching, but a way of viewing where transit would not be necessary, but invited, and where transit or walkscapes would not be looked down on.

      As such..has anyone heard info about the impacts on prices of goods in these commercial districts the parking size itself actually has? Will prices of good decrease if the lot size is smaller? An incentive for more transit which WOULD reduce vehicle loads.

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