Ending the Vicious Cycle of Parking Requirements

Parking requirements for vehicles play an unexpectedly important role in each of our lives. They perpetuate a feedback loop that influences the way our cities look and feel, and the way we access spaces. The good news is that this cycle is changing, quickly. Many cities around the country are beginning to lift their minimum parking requirements. Here at Culdesac, we have started building a 1000 person neighborhood – with zero resident parking – in Tempe.  Breaking this cycle is one of the most effective ways to make cities better places to live. To end the vicious cycle of parking requirements, let’s unpack how we got here.

New Development is Required to Build Parking

Throughout the United States, parking is required to be built at shops, apartments, restaurants, bars, and more. Name the business, and it probably requires parking to be built. Many of the most beloved places in the US were built before this requirement, which means they would be illegal to build today. During the 20th century, parking minimums have effectively made building people-centric places illegal. The effects of these laws have completely altered our cities.

Space Meant for People is Allocated to Cars Regardless of Demand

The inflexibility of parking requirements does not allow for construction to meet the demands of people. This means wasted space in the heart of our cities. A study from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that over 30% of parking spots in new developments in Boston are empty. That is valuable space that could be used for more housing, small business, or green space. Time and time again, the results show that many people want to live car free, but our cities make it difficult to do so. 

People are Pushed to Live an Auto-Centric Lifestyle

Infrastructure plays an outsized role in pushing us towards a particular lifestyle. In Hong Kong, most people take public transportation, in Amsterdam, most people ride their bike, and in Houston, most people drive a private car. People make transportation choices every day, but often, the way our cities are designed make that choice for us.

Lack of Choice is Mistaken for Demand

It can be easy to look at a gridlocked freeway and assume that the majority of people have chosen to drive, but the reality is much more complicated. Studies show that providing parking actually induces driving. As much as the infrastructure guides our choices before the trip, so does the free and plentiful parking at the end of the trip. By ensuring that there is plentiful parking everywhere through parking minimums, our cities have inadvertently made sure everyone will drive. 

Alternate Methods of Transportation are Underinvested

For the past 40 years, public transportation in the US has been underfunded. Specifically, spending from the federal Highway Trust Fund is set at a rate of 80% for highways and 20% for public transit. This choice means that public transportation is often slower and less reliable than driving your own vehicle. This sort of funding discrepancy will accelerate the domination of auto-centric design in our cities. While this design isn’t a result of true demand, it’s the way cities continue to build. 

Mass Auto-Centric Design Leads to Legal Requirements for Parking

With 86% of people in the US commuting by car, it’s understandable that parking minimums have been seen as a way to appease the majority of commuters. However, mass auto centric design does not represent true demand. A recent study from Data for Progress found that “Among those who reported a car was their primary mode of transportation, about 80 percent reported agreeing with the statement they have “no choice” but to drive as much as they do.” This means that the overwhelming majority of people who sit in traffic day in and day out wish they didn’t have to. 

How to Break the Vicious Cycle

The cycle is broken only when developers are no longer forced to build parking. At Culdesac Tempe, we managed to secure a historic agreement that allows us to build zero resident parking spots. The 1000 incoming residents to Culdesac Tempe have broken the cycle. When you remove the legal requirement for parking, real demand emerges for someplace different.