Pathways to parking reform (YIMBYtown panel highlights)

"The primary takeaway for me is facts versus feelings. … So you have to actually speak to them in their language, which is feelings to feelings. ... So when I get people who show up at my meetings and scream at me about eliminating parking … I literally respond with feelings ..." (Mayor John Bauters of Emeryville, California)

This episode of Reinventing Parking features edited highlights from an excellent panel discussion on parking reform that took place at the YIMBYtown 2022 conference in Portland, Oregon.  

The panel was organized by the Parking Reform Network

If you are not familiar with the term, YIMBY, it stands for 'yes in my backyard', referring to supporting housing development within existing urban areas, and YIMBYtown was all about abundant housing advocacy.

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

The panel, Parking Reform: from theory to practice, was moderated by Catie Gould of the Sightline Institute. Reinventing Parking regulars met Catie in our March 2022 episode.

The panelists were:

  • Martha Roskowksi, transportation and mobility consultant in Boulder, Colorado and author of 'Ideas to Accelerate Parking Reform in the United States'
  • John Bauters, Mayor of Emeryville, California and also chair of the Alameda County Transportation Commission and the vice chair of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
  • Tony Jordan, our Parking Reform Network President
  • Leah Bojo, land use consultant, formerly worked on land-use, transportation and parking at Austin City Council, and author of a chapter on Austin's first Parking Benefits District in Donald Shoup's 2018 book, Parking and the City.

Taylor Griggs also wrote an excellent article about the panel for Bike Portland. 

Other parking events at YIMBYtown 2022 were a well-attended happy hour event hosted by the Parking Reform Network and a lightning-slides session '20 reasons to hate parking mandates' presented by Sightline Institute's Catie Gould and Michael Anderson. The lightning-slides session was followed by a group discussion led by Tony Jordan. 

Reminder: Reinventing Parking is the official podcast of the Parking Reform Network.

Here are highlights from the highlights. 

The audio version has much more detail and the youtube version is completely unedited ( (scroll to the end of this article to find the youtube version).

What is parking reform? 06:12

Catie asked the panelists to get back to some basics. What is parking reform?

A notable comment here came from Tony: "removing your parking requirements … it's not a thing that's going to solve all your problems … but it's an anchor on almost any solution for the problems that we face, city wise or climate wise."

A focus on feelings. On the positives. On what we gain from parking reform. 08:39

Catie then asked the panel to focus on the benefits of parking reform.

Leah: "we gain more equitable cities, we gain things being closer together, we gain opportunities to put active uses in places we gain safer streets and we gain the ability to get around in methods other than cars more safely and more comfortably. So I think we really should think more about celebrating the things that we gain, and maybe countering that reaction people have when you talk about taking away parking or charging for it."

Tony: "parking reform as active advocacy area is … a great coalition builder."

Leah: "One thing that was fantastic is there were just a handful of people, we met people through that experience … people showing up and saying, I don't have a car, I don't want to bring a car, I live in a place and I don't have a car. Those stories really help. At least the folks that were advocating against the parking reform could see that there were real people that didn't need a car, even if they couldn't imagine their own life that way."

This segment also featured an especially crowd-pleasing comment came from John Bauters. Here are brief excerpts:
"The primary takeaway for me is facts versus feelings. And like everybody was saying it with different words. It's facts versus feelings. You can give people the facts on parking, all the things that are bad about it, the cost of it, the externalization of it, the space that takes up that could be other uses. And people don't give an f about the facts, because it's their feelings like the vehicle is like become an extension of them. … So you have to actually speak to them in their language, which is feelings to feelings. So I use different feelings. I don't even use facts."

"So when I get people who show up at my meetings and scream at me about eliminating parking … I'm just like, I literally respond with feelings, which is, you seem really upset, you seem really upset about not being able to park in front of the store, you visit once a month, based on what you just told me. I'm really upset when people's children don't come home alive from school, I'm really upset that there are mothers who tell me that they would bike to work, but don't because the infrastructure isn't safe. And when I look at the choices we've made, we've chosen to allow you to park your box, once a month in front of the store. So it's convenient for you. So my feeling is that the safety of everybody is a little more important than the convenience of you. Those are my feelings."

Getting support for parking reform. And parking mandates as pretext or ransom 17:23

Catie asked the panelists to reflect on parking reform, advocacy tactics, coalition building, and getting political support for change.

Leah: "… in the parking benefit district conversation, particularly in the in the neighborhood west of the University of Texas where this PBD was put in place, the streets were jammed, like absolutely like a disaster, like parked around corners, parked hanging out, you know, in front of driveways in front of fire hydrants like everything's in that situation. The good news was no one could say that the unmanaged parking was going well, it was a safety disaster. And so we had that to agree on. I think where it took convincing was that was that the management was going to work. That it was actually going to be fixed and cleaned up and be orderly, and safe."

"When we passed ADU (accessory dwelling unit) legislation, we didn't make people park their ADUs. And there was a lot of feelings about that. But we also were able to point out that the minimum unit size is smaller than the minimum parking space size. So we're actually requiring people to build a bigger set aside more space in an urban environment for the parking space than for the unit!
… I think it kind of helped people click into, like, what the real choices were that we were making."

Martha: "I live in Boulder, Colorado, and we have like one of the worst ADU ordinances in the country, because they pass something but they really don't want people to build ADUs. One of the requirements is if you want to build it over a certain size, you have to add another parking space on your property…. They don't really want more parking. But they know that people who build ADUs don't want to build more parking. So they use the parking requirements basically as ransom. So that you would commit to making your ADU permanently affordable … Developers come and want to build less parking … And they will grant the parking reductions, but they'll get other stuff for it. We don't want to reduce our parking minimums because they want the parking reduction so we can make them buy eco passes, we can make them buy all this other stuff. So parking gets used in really weird ways. And I would say inappropriate ways. …"

"The head of Walmart real estate told me that only like in four places in his, I don't know, 30 years of developing property, have the city requirements actually required them to build less parking than they wanted to. So like our cities are way out of whack with even you know, Walmart.

Tony: "… in Portland, when we got rid of our single family residential parking … the housing drove that change. The parking slipstreamed in behind, because the realization is you can't build middle housing and have parking requirements. … You just can't build for plexes or triplexes. And add parking for every house, it doesn't work."

Parking maximums. A good idea? 27:51

Catie asked Mayor John about his City's parking maximums.

John: Yeah, in Emeryville, we eliminated parking minimums, and we put in a paid parking program for the city streets, and we reduced parking maximums. And then we did other fun things that already existed, … we have transit overlays for transit hubs …  where we play really fun math where we blow parking minimums, or maximums to oblivion. So you have this reduced minimum or maximum, and then you're in the purple circle on the map. I love the purple circle. And when you're in the purple circle, you can only get half of whatever you had to begin with…"

"We'll get like a developer … who's like, Hey, I have this giant lab research building, I want to build all kinds of new jobs and new revenue for the city. But I'm in the purple circle … I can only build this many stories in my parking garage because of that, and I can't get financing for my building. I'm like, well, what's the threshold you need to reach? And it's like, they need an extra story to their parking structure. I'm like, okay, get rid of all the parking on all the city streets in the nine block area of your PUD, turn it all into separated bike lanes and we have a deal, and they're going to do it."

Tony: "I don't think that it's bad to try and restrict the parking parking. … Parking brings cars, if you have a plan to have less cars, then you should have a plan to have less parking, and it should be based on a logical thing you can tether it to that is real, not just, 'oh, you know, three spaces per house, why not?'."

The problem of lenders insisting on excessive parking  32:16

John Bauters answer just now mentioned the issue of lenders demanding plentiful parking as a condition for lending to real estate developments. One of the questions in the question and answer session followed up on that issue.

Leah: "We come up against this a lot. And one thing that I think happens frequently as it's not that they necessarily have a number in their head, sometimes they do. But sometimes they also just want to know what the other office buildings, for example, that are delivering in the second quarter of next year, or what their ratios are, so that they can be close, competitive there. … So I do think that for each building we can chisel away, and sometimes there's certain folks that are self funding so they can do whatever they want. And so if we can get that median number to keep coming down, basically, I think that's the way for at least now. That's not a really exciting answer, because it's not fast."

Parking and Equity   33:26

A major highlight from the panel was an important segment tackling the issue of equity, and the implications of parking reforms for equity.

In the audio version you will also hear a strong set of points on this from John Bauters.

Martha Roskowksi  " What I see is the equity card gets played … both by people who were truly concerned about what are the impacts on those folks who have been pushed out to cheaper housing way on the outskirts and honestly have no alternatives but to drive in their job to their jobs. It is also played by people who just didn't like the idea they didn't want to have to pay to drive. And it was convenient to say, this won't be fair to poor people."

Tony Jordan:  "There's two aspects of this. One is access … Do we have equitable access? And one thing is we have a lot of parking. So the good news is, we have a lot of parking that's never going away. So if you're really concerned about people with disabilities, or people with children being able to park reserve all the parking spaces for people with disabilities or with children, and they'll always be able to park exactly where they want access for people with or who don't have access to cars. And we know that the solution is not to build more parking for them. It's to increase transit and make other modes safer. The second part is the money, is it regressive? And I think that there's two things I think of and really push on here is one, how you spend the money. And Prof Shoup talks a lot about this with benefit districts. But I mean, you can spend the money in incredibly progressive ways."

Martha Roskowksi: "I used to work for People for Bikes. And we took lots of study tours to the Netherlands in Copenhagen, to show elected officials and other city leaders really what a great bike bike infrastructure look like and get them inspired and send it back home. They would always ask about equity… And they would be really unsatisfied by the answers that we got in Europe … What I realized is that because they deal with income, with education, with housing, on a more systemic level, at a higher level, the people figuring out bike lanes, or congestion pricing, or these things at the bottom end of the planning process, they weren't trying to fix a broken system at this very micro scale across every single little detail. So the staff were like, 'Oh, we don't really deal with that'. And so our delegations would be really offended. Like, that was a totally unsatisfying answer. And I finally realized they weren't just jerks. They're just dealing with it at a much, much higher level."

Should cities mandate bicycle parking with developments?   43:46

There was some disagreement in this segment!

Tony: "I have a hot take, which is I don't know if I like minimum parking requirements on bike parking requirements in new apartments. But I do think there was an old idea of using district parking back, I think, 20 years ago European cities would collect money and build district parking and set for cars. And I think that's a great model we should do for bikes. We should have public staffed bike parking and even logistical drop off centers for you know, so I think we need more bike parking clearly, but I think more public than just cramped bike rooms."

Martha: "Wait. You don't want minimum bike parking?"

John: " I'm going to make this a hot take in the opposite direction …  Minimum bike parking it on new developments. So one space per unit plus a certain number of guest spaces per number of units, absolutely has to happen in an indoor locked facility in the building. We require that by the way…. We also are revising our design guidelines … to make it more accessible to modern bicycling practices, which include e bikes, which are hard to lift into vertical racks, which include bikes that have cargo bikes, bikes that have carriers, making sure we have space for people who have mobility limitations who prefer trikes. So there's bike diversity that has to be accommodated. … But I would also just add that in the public space, there is an obligation to put visible outdoor bike lockers, right, because one of the biggest deterrents from people biking is they don't want to make an investment in something that will get stolen."

Heading off objections to parking reform    46:11

A question in the Q and A session asked how to proactively avoid getting people upset about parking changes.

Tony: "Don't act like it's a problem to start with. I've seen a lot of planners go in acting apologetic, and I think that planners should go in acting like that's the right thing to do and not be that scared."

Leah: "Use the parking rent of revenue for things people want."

Catie: "If you're circling, looking for parking for 10 minutes, it is not your problem for being mad about that. That's the city's problem for not managing parking. … It should be a thing we should strive for to say there's always an empty spot on the block. This is not a wild unachievable dream is totally possible." 

The full session is on Youtube

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!

Subscribe, if you haven't already (it's free):
  • sign up to get Reinventing Parking updates by email
  • subscribe to the audio podcast (search for 'Reinventing Parking' in your podcast player app or click the symbol that looks like a wifi icon in one of the players at the top or bottom of this article