Japan-style parking mandates (if you insist on mandating parking)

January's episode of Reinventing Parking introduced six surprising parking reform ideas. 

This post explains the sixth idea, "Please abolish parking mandates, but it you must have them, make them Japan-style".

This is a lightly edited transcript of that part of the episode, which starts at the 22:41 point.

Listen with the player below. Or subscribe to the audio podcast. This is the official podcast of the Parking Reform Network.

Japan-style parking mandates are not as harmful as most

Unlike some of the others in the six, this idea may be easier to get support for. In fact, it is a compromise that falls short of abolishing parking mandates. 

I don’t really want you to compromise! Please do abolish your parking mandates! All of them!

BUT, having said that, I know that abolishing all parking mandates still sounds too radical a step for many people and in various places. The belief that parking shortage is the number one parking problem is especially common in low-income or middle-income countries where vehicle ownership is rising quickly and parking supply is rising much more slowly. 

But, if you really must have parking mandates, please consider having parking mandates of a kind that are less harmful than most. 

Adopting Japan’s version of parking mandates, or something very similar, would be a big step in the right direction. 

How do I know Japan’s parking mandates are not too harmful?

Well, unlike parking mandates in most countries, Japan’s parking minimums are not an obstacle to the development or redevelopment of small buildings on small urban sites. 

As far as I can tell, parking complaints don’t seem to be a source of opposition to urban development proposals in Japan. 

They also don’t seem to undermine private sector entrepreneurship in parking. Japan’s cities have ubiquitous commercial priced parking of many kinds in most neighbourhoods of most cities. 

A large proportion of parking is open to the public (even if privately owned and operated). 

And parking prices seem to vary in rough proportion to real-estate values, from expensive in urban cores to cheap (but usually not free) in outer suburban areas. 

In other words, Japan’s parking scene is already something like what parking reformers hope will eventually emerge in other countries, if our reform agenda gets implemented. 

That’s surprising, since Japanese cities have not abolished their parking mandates. 

Superficially, Japan's parking mandates seem unremarkable

OK, then what makes Japan-style parking mandates less harmful than those of most other countries?

That’s more difficult to see. Superficially Japan’s parking mandates are not so different from parking minimums all over the world. 

But when you look at them closely, you realise they don’t even try to make every building provide enough parking to meet its own on-site demand. 

I am not sure how conscious this was in Japan when they framed their version of parking mandates.
So, if a jurisdiction somewhere else in the world decided to adopt Japan-style parking minimums, it would need a change of mindset about what parking mandates are supposed to achieve. 

More on that in a minute. 

Key features of Japan's parking mandates

But first, what do Japanese parking mandates look like? 

The first key thing is that small buildings are not required to provide parking. Parking mandates for medium-sized buildings only gradually phase in for larger and larger buildings. The parking mandates are at full strength for large buildings with 5 or 6 thousand square metres of floor space. 

The second key thing is that, even at full-strength parking mandates are about a third of a parking space per 100 square meters of built floor area or so. They are much lower than most parking mandates in western countries. 

Thirdly, Japanese parking mandates also have almost no variations from land-use to land-use or from place to place. 

An important (but tacit) mindset is at work

Now back to the mindset issue. 

It is never clearly stated like this, but the implicit mindset behind these parking mandates seems to be this: 

The parking mandates don’t really expect buildings to have enough on-site parking. It is understood that most parking will be paid public-use parking in lots and structures. Some of the public-use parking is on-site with buildings and some is stand-alone. Notice that this is a park-once-and-walk style of thinking. 

But there are parking mandates for large buildings because there seems to be a worry that a large new building might upset the demand-supply balance of its area. Therefore, large buildings are required to reduce that risk by making a modest contribution to the parking in their area. 

By the way, a somewhat similar “on-site parking as just a contribution to the local pool of parking” way of thinking also seems to be the unspoken mindset in certain other places around the world too. This is most obvious in some dense inner urban areas in various countries. I am thinking of places that still have parking mandates, but they have been set at a low level and allow lots of exemptions, such as exempting small lots or small buildings or old buildings or making waivers of parking mandates easy in various ways. 

If you really, really can't abolish your parking mandates, then Japan-style mandates might be OK

I still say abolish your parking mandates if you can. But if you can’t, Japan-style parking mandates would probably be a tolerable compromise. 

At least, that is my educated guess. I would love to see more research on this.

Listen to the audio episode here: 


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