How to not worry about abolishing parking minimums

If you need answers to people's fears about what will happen after minimum parking requirements get abolished then this edition of Reinventing Parking is for you. 

The focus is on answering concerns that abolishing parking minimums will cause shortages of on-site parking and that such shortages will cause wider problems.

You can either listen to the podcast episode (use a podcast app or the player below) or read this article.

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My Main Points in a Nutshell

People worry about possible problems if we let real-estate sites have less parking than today's parking minimums require.

Yet, many places have in fact abolished minimum parking requirements (completely or partially).  And they have seen mostly benefits not problems.

The worries are overblown. Abolishing parking minimums is actually a moderate policy that causes only gradual change.

Buildings change slowly. And most developments still provide on-site parking even after parking minimums are abolished. On-street parking management is a better way to make sure developers think carefully about how much parking to provide and try to get the amount right (neither too much nor too little).

In any case, even if there is under-provision, it is usually not a problem. For example, building managers have various tools to reduce parking demand if they need to.

And, most importantly, even the much-feared phenomenon of "parking spillover" is mostly not really a problem. In any area that works well as a park-once-and-walk areas, spillover is no problem at all. It is just local parking. In such areas, there is no need to think of parking as something that is for any particular plot of land. Parking spaces serve the whole area.

We don’t need parking minimums. We just need to help more places work better as park-once-and-walk districts with managed parking.

The article below lays these points out in more detail. 

The Problem

As you probably know, in the conventional approach to parking supply since the 1950s, local governments almost everywhere have been forcing almost every real estate development to have more than enough on-site parking so it will meet all of its own parking demand on-site at all times.

There are many strong reasons to oppose this approach. I won’t go into those now but various articles on this site have explained.

Fortunately, there is some good news. Momentum is gathering against this conventional approach and parking minimums are increasingly being abolished or lowered.

But progress is slow. Keeping parking minimums as they are seems the easy option. Change seems risky.

People raise various objections and fears. Let's look at some answers to at least some of those objections.

Many places are abolishing some or all of their parking minimums

One simple answer is to point to the growing list of places around the world that are abandoning the conventional approach and abolishing their minimum parking requirements.

Examples include: London, Berlin, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Buffalo and others.

There is also a much longer list of cities where at least some or most of the parking minimums have been abolished. Many cities have abolished them completely for the city centre area. Quite a few have abolished all parking requirements for areas zoned for commercial uses.

Some of these places have been doing without parking minimums for a long time now.

As far as I know, most places that abolished parking minimums seem satisfied with their decision. Chaos and mayhem did not result.

For example, if you listened to the Reinventing Parking episode on Berlin you would have heard that parking minimums were completely abolished in the late 1990s. London has had no parking minimums for about 15 years. Neither Berlin nor London are perfect on parking or free of parking problems, but generally the problems feared before parking minimums were ended have not come true. Neither city has any concerted campaign to reinstate parking minimums that I am aware of.

Change happens slowly after parking minimums are abolished

Another reassuring point to make to parking minimum abolition sceptics is that change happens slowly.

Most change to the supply of parking results from the workings of the urban real estate industry, such as changes in the uses of buildings, redevelopments and new developments. Some existing parking can also be changed to other uses.

But these things tend to happen incrementally in fits and starts.

The supply of parking does not suddenly plummet when parking minimums are abolished.

Abolishing parking minimums is moderate and gradual by nature

In fact, abolishing parking minimums, which sounds radical and a recipe for drastic change, is actually a surprisingly moderate and gradualist step to take.

So this is another answer. Abolishing minimum parking requirements is a moderate reform. The drastic step is to impose parking maximums (which limits how much parking can be provided with each real-estate development). In fact, even imposing maximums is a mild reform if the new maximums are not much lower than the old minimums that they replace.

On its own, just abolishing the minimums does not cause rapid change in the parking scene. Real-estate development is incremental and slow.

And it turns out that the people who redevelop or build buildings or change their uses usually keep providing parking even after the end of parking minimums.

For example, in Berlin, which I mentioned just now, sustainable transport advocates have actually been disappointed about how much parking still gets build with new buildings, more than 20 years after parking minimums were abolished.

Many cities that have abolished parking minimums in their central areas have seen lots of repurposing and sometimes redevelopment of old buildings on small plots of land. This kind of change is what we want to see and it was being prevented by the parking requirements.

But such development is hardly radical. The sites involved usually had little or no on-site parking before the change and many have little or no on-site parking after the change.

So, yes, in cities with no parking minimums, some buildings do go up with little or no parking. This typically happens in locations that are very easily accessible by other modes besides private vehicle. And the reason for low parking provision is often that the developer judges that parking demand associated with the building will actually be very low.

We can take action to reduce parking demand if we need to

Another answer on why we need not worry so much is that developers and building managers can take steps to actively reduce demand. They don’t just have to provide enough parking supply to match the expected UNMANAGED parking demand.

In the Reinventing Parking episode last year with Todd Litman, he was persuasive that there are tried-and-tested things building managers can do to encourage alternative mobility options and therefore reduce parking demand and need less parking.

There is a range of site-based travel demand management strategies they can deploy. And such efforts often have some flexibility to be more vigorous if parking demand proved higher than expected or harder to reduce than expected.

People will still worry about mistakes

Of course, even if you explain all that, people will still worry

They will worry, for example, that developers won’t try hard enough to make parking supply match with demand. So buildings will go up with less parking than the parking demand associated with that building.

The sceptics fear mistakes.

Maybe developers intend to build enough parking to serve their buildings’ own parking demand but that they might underestimate. The idea is that such mistakes will be much more likely after abolition since most parking minimums are set high enough to be “safe”.

Or they may have intended to take strong steps to reduce parking demand but the steps didn’t work as well as hoped.

Abolition sceptics also seem to fear foul play.

Some people worry that developers might deliberately under-provide parking, knowing full well that the parking demand at their buildings will be higher than they cater for.

The claim is that they are therefore deliberately shifting the problem onto neighbours and onto whatever authorities have to deal with the resulting problems.

Parking management should be enough incentive to get parking right

The classic Shoupista answer - the answer based on the parking policy work of Donald Shoup - is that cities can deter such mistakes and foul play if they manage the on-street parking well enough.

This ensures developers have a strong incentive not to make mistakes and not to pull a fast one about the amount of parking they provide.

The idea is that well managed city-owned parking (on-street and off-street) will mean no free riding by motorists whose parking is associated with new buildings.

If you buy,  lease or rent space in a building you will know in advance that any on-street parking nearby for you or your customers or your employees is subject to management, including fees, then you will pay close attention to the parking (and mobility) situation before signing.

And knowing that their customers are paying attention to this, developers should have a strong incentive to make a wise decision on the amount of parking.

This incentive to get parking provision about right may not be perfect but it should lead to much closer to optimal parking supply than parking minimums which are almost guaranteed to result in a wasteful gluts of parking.

We know this works, broadly speaking. Huge numbers of downtowns in many different countries have been managing without any parking minimums … in some cases for decades.

One problem here, of course is that there is usually some opposition to parking management efforts. But that is a whole different argument. That’s not a worry about the direct effects of abolishing minimums. It is opposition to parking management. But many areas need better parking management anyway! They need better parking management despite having parking minimums because parking minimums alone don't solve on-street parking problems. So keeping your parking minimums is no guarantee that the city can evade the need to improve parking management.

Another problem is that many sceptics about abolition of parking minimums don’t buy the argument that better parking management sends the right incentives to developers to build the right amount of parking.

They still worry such deterrence will not be enough and their worst fears will be realised. There will be parking spillover! The new buildings will be “free riding” on the nearby parking!

But there is an answer even to spillover parking!

Fortunately, there are answer even to this worst fear scenario.


Many areas can cope!


By being park-once-and-walk districts, at least to some extent. By adopting a Walkable Parking mindset on parking.

Many areas, especially dense and mixed use areas, have at least some parking that is open to the public. In such areas, off-site public parking (both on-street and off-street) can often handle some spillover. In such areas, this public parking tends to be priced and reasonably well managed.

So if you are driving to visit a building in an area like that and its parking is full (or it has no parking), it is not a problem. You park nearby in public, priced parking which might be on-site with some other building, which might be a stand-alone garage or parking lot, or it might be on-street parking. In any case this is not a problem.

Depending on where you are and the kind of places you are familiar with, this point might either seem odd or it might seem blindingly obvious.

In fact, this is an argument that even dedicated Shoupistas often forget since it is not an explicit part of the usual set of Shoupism 101 arguments.

So, in my experience, it really does need to be spelled out.

Many of the places where parking minimums have already been abolished are park-once-and-walk districts.

The lack of problems with abolishing the parking requirements in such areas was NOT primarily because they have strong mobility options in addition to driving.

Their lack of problems is not primarily because most real-estate development in these areas tried really hard to get their parking supply just right.

Their lack of problems is mainly because they can actually cope with spillover. In park-once-and-walk areas, if we abolish parking minimums it is not a problem even if we end up with lots of spillover. Such areas are designed for spillover.

Many places are already partially park-once-and-walk districts. But if we try to prevent spillover in such places with parking minimums all we achieve is to make those places ever more car dependent. We won't even solve their on-street problems.

So, a better answer than parking minimums to concerns about spillover is to make more areas work better as park-once-and-walk areas. Foster Walkable Parking and park-once-and-walk planning in more areas. The more we do that, the less they need to worry about parking spillover.

Having buildings with insufficient parking for their own demand is just not a serious problem for districts that have thoroughly “Walkable Parking” with well managed public parking, well managed on-street parking, and management practices including prices that can respond or adapt to changing conditions.

In fact, for such areas, spillover parking is entirely normal. It is usually not a problem at all. It is just parking.

Developer thinking on parking in park-once-and-walk areas without parking minimums

How do developers decide how much parking to provide on-site with a new building in an area with Walkable Parking and no parking minimums?

They do much more than just assess how much parking demand the site will generate.

They might ask themselves if they should lease some as dedicated parking or make some deals with nearby sites for shared parking.

They will also consider if some of the parking by their tenants, visitors, customers, residents (whatever) might simply be handled by the local public parking.

They will likely assume that their own on-site parking will be open to the public and will ask about local parking prices and whether there will be much demand for this public parking.

They will look at nearby public parking. How much is there and what do they charge. Are they well occupied and when?

They might ask themselves how local prices might change if the new building adds to the demand.

So developers may try to have ‘enough’ on-site parking but ‘enough’ might not mean catering to all of the demand on-site. And that’s usually OK in a park-once-and-walk area. It’s OK if we have a Walkable Parking mindset.

What about extremely car-dependent areas? Don't they need parking minimums?

A little spillover parking would really only be a serious problem in the most extremely automobile dependent areas.

These are areas that have little or no parking that is open to the general public and is not signposted as for customers only or residents only or employees only or something similar.

So maybe these areas really do need parking minimums to prevent on-site parking shortages?

I really doubt that even these areas need parking minimums.

Anyone building a building in an area like that knows that plentiful parking is essential.

And if they think they can build a little less (maybe by some sharing arrangement with a neighbouring site) why stop that?

What realistic scenario are the parking minimums trying to prevent?

Worry more about parking oversupply than shortage

I think we should really all be much more worried about parking oversupply than about any of the parking shortage scenarios that opponents of abolishing minimums worry about.

Under-supply can be coped with via demand management, parking management, responsive prices, sharing and even with some new supply, if necessary.

But a chronic oversupply is much harder to undo. It tends to get locked in. People get used to free parking everywhere and assume it is natural and normal. Weaning an area away from a parking glut is a long, slow and contentious slog.

Flip the narrative about the impacts of parking

We saw/heard in our edition about Mexico City that the successful campaign against parking minimums ended up flipping the narrative about the impacts of parking supply on the city.

The parking supply regulations in Mexico City no longer see parking spillover beyond each site as the impact to worry about and to tackle with parking minimums.

Instead, the new regulations see excessive parking as causing excessive traffic and excessive costs of many kinds and that this impact needs to be contained with parking maximums and a fee imposed on off-street parking spaces.

It is quite a change in mindset!

Let's summarise

This episode has been about easing people’s worries about what might happen if we let real-estate sites have less parking than we thought they needed according to old parking requirements.

Many real cities actually are abolishing minimum parking requirements. They are seeing mostly benefits with very few problems.

Abandoning parking minimums is much more gradual and moderate than many people think anyway.

Mostly, developments still get on-site parking. Abolishing parking minimums does not mean abolishing parking. If on-street parking management is good enough, most developers will see an incentive to provide about the right amount of parking.

And if on-site parking gets tight, there are many tools to moderate the demand.

But, even if the worst case happens and there is parking spillover, it is usually not a problem and areas that are even halfway towards being good park-once-and-walk areas.

We can stop worrying whether every site has “enough” parking.

We can stop thinking of parking as being FOR any particular plot of land.

We can stop worrying about spillover at all if we think of parking spaces as something for their whole vicinity.

Walkable Parking and effective park-once-and-walk areas can cope. They have parking management and a responsive parking ecosystem that can generally keep parking demand and parking supply roughly in balance, or close enough anyway. In such areas, spillover is not a problem. It is just parking.

We don’t need parking minimums at all.

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