Ending parking mandates isn't just for big, transit-rich cities! Ask Fayetteville

Does your city need to be big and transit-rich to abolish its parking mandates? Not at all.

Fayetteville in Northwest Arkansas abolished all of its commercial parking minimums in 2015 and has never looked back. Benefits quickly emerged. But no drama or problems followed. 

"Business owners shouldn’t have to be experts in parking regulations to decide if a site will work for them." 

That quote is from Catie Gould's excellent article for the Sightline Institute (and which was republished on Streetsblog USA too). 

Her article was the spark for this month's edition of Reinventing Parking, which features a discussion between me, Catie and her main source for the article, Quin Thompson, who was one of the city staff behind the reform.

Scroll down to read a summary.  Or listen with the player below.

Below is a short summary of key points from our discussion. For more detail, have a listen! Please also read Catie's article! It was great that she highlighted this case that might otherwise have remained in obscurity.
This downtown property had sat vacant since 1972, until it was renovated and reopened as a restaurant in 2020. Image by Feed and Folly via Sightlines.
Before the discussion, I also chatted briefly about the episode with Jane Wilberding, who is one of the co-founders of the Parking Reform Network. 
Reminder: Reinventing Parking is now the official podcast of the Parking Reform Network.

Highlights of our discussion about Fayetteville

  • In 2015, the City of Fayetteville repealed all of its commercial parking minimums.
  • This reform abolished commercial parking mandates city-wide, not just in the downtown.
  • Existing downtown parking maximums were not touched by this reform.
  • After this bold parking reform, no news was good news. The surprisingly anti-climactic aftermath to reform "was the story".
  •  The reform aftermath was so boring, Quin wanted to know why Catie had taken an interest
  • The key benefit of the reform? New businesses opened using long-disused buildings and sites.
  • Fayetteville has on-street parking meters in its main commercial streets but the on-street parking management is nothing out of the ordinary. This does not need to be excellent before parking mandates are abolished.
  • Abolishing the parking mandates removed an enormous source of uncertainty for anyone wanting to build or renovate a building
  • The City has no regrets over the end of payments in-lieu of parking
  • In urging council to remove the parking mandates, it was powerful to highlight how arbitrary and weakly justified they were.
  • The old parking minimums were nothing unusual. They were typical USA parking minimums
  • The primary impetus for the reform was seeing multiple sites where development repeatedly failed to proceed, despite much interest, and then realizing that parking minimums were the main problem.
  • Only commercial parking mandates were abolished, not residential.
  • Fayetteville planners initially wanted to abolish parking mandates in just downtown. But no-one could identify a boundary for the reform that made sense.
  • Most developments and redevelopments still provide parking. But even a few parking spaces can make all the difference for project viability. A project that was viable when allowed to choose to provide 12 spaces would not have been possible if it had been forced to build 16 spaces (under the old rules).
  • Some redeveloped buildings do lack on-site parking. But it's OK, since they are in park-once-and-walk areas that have plenty of public parking.
  • Parking reform was not very controversial. It came on the heels of more difficult changes, such as a form-based zoning code.
  • The planning staff were strategic in their pitch for the parking changes.
  • No-one is clamoring to have the parking mandates back.
  • Catie mentioned some memorable testimony from the Fayetteville city council hearings on this parking reform:
    There's no requirement for closets. Yet, all houses have closets, right? They have different sized closets in different rooms and people can pick what works for them.
  • Catie's final comments: Abolishing parking mandates is similar. We're not trying to get rid of parking. We're not trying to get everyone out of their cars overnight. We're just trying to give people some more choice and flexibility.
  • If Fayetteville (a small, fast-growing city with a small downtown in a sprawling, car-dependent metropolitan area) can do this, any city or town can!

You can also listen to the discussion here: 


Please do recommend Reinventing Parking or SHARE this article and episode with any of your friends or colleagues who might be interested. Please share on social media too!

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