Parking Reform

Got a parking problem that need reform?

It might look something like this:



Good parking policies exhibit the following traits:

–>Cost effective
–>Fair to all modes of transportation and all income levels
–>Easy to administer
–>Political winner

Cost Effective

In a world where free parking rules, people often forget that parking costs money. Usually lots of money! Surface parking, which is the cheapest type of parking to build starts at about $10,000(USD) a space, while underground garage parking in urban cores can approach $100,000 per space. Building parking is not usually the most cost effective way to solve a problem. Before building new parking, consider if there are there cheaper ways to free up parking spaces:

Step one:

price parking! Pricing parking encourages people to be creative and find a way to save themselves money.

Step two:

Provide and encourage transportation options.   When compared to the cost of building parking, policies and projects that get people walking, biking and taking transit are almost always more cost effective.   Options that move people away from driving and parking include:

Bicycle facilities:

striped bike lanes and bike parking
Improved pedestrian environment: A good walking environment helps all modes of transport.  Everyone at some point walks.
Better or new public transit or shuttle service

Remember, you don’t have to get everyone out of their cars, just enough people to take the edge off of your parking crunch so that you always have just the right amount of available parking spaces– roughly 15% or one in every seven parking spaces.


Parking policies should offer a wide range of options for users so that they can make the best choice to fit their situation. Free parking penalizes people who do not drive by raising the costs of goods and services they do not use. For example, “free” parking is folded in to the cost of products, housing and taxes. Why should people who forgo driving pay for parking they do not use? The fairest thing is to require people to pay for what they use.

Look carefully at the transportation patterns of people in your community. Older people and low income workers rely primarily on walking, bicycling, and public transportation to get around.   That said it is important to have some affordable parking for financially stressed people who have no choice but to drive.  Generally there should be affordable parking within a ten minute walk of key destinations.

Easy to Administer

When implementing parking management tools it is important to devise programs and policies that are easy to administer. Options to manage parking include issuing permits, setting time limits for occupancy and the price of the parking space by the hour, day, month or year.  Issuing permits require building a database, taking in and reviewing applications and answering requests for exceptions.   Time limits and pricing  require checking to see if someone has paid for the space and exceeded their permitted length of stay.  The simplest solutions require the least amount of oversight and policing.

Probably the simplest path is to eliminate time limits entirely letting price insure that there are always a few spaces available.   Then the only role of enforcement is to insure that someone has paid.   They don’t need to worry about how long someone has occupied a parking space.


Ideally parking policies are seen in the context of a larger transportation system.  Do the parking policies encourage use of sustainable modes of transportation, reduce cruising for parking and the amount of gas used per person mile?  By encouraging sustainable transportation policies, you will also reduce driving and green house gas emissions.

Political Winner!

Does your city’s parking policy energize people in both its goals and implementation?  Since people understand that parking is a limited resource, they are willing to undertake changes. Same when they see how the changes can benefit them personally and society as a whole.

Parking can raise money for projects, but are the projects inspiring?  Think of really exciting projects that parking revenue can fund– and will energize people to support parking reform!

Strategies for success

When we measure parking pricing against the goals above we see a number of opportunities and challenges. Pricing parking is should be easier to administer than time limits, sustainable and cost effective (in fact it generates revenue). The critical pieces are fairness and political acceptance. In fact, parking price policies need to be directly structured to address these concerns.

First, if charging for parking or increasing the price of parking becomes an instrument to simply raise money for a city’s general fund, it will immediately (and rightfully) be seen as a new tax.

Pricing parking—first and foremost—must be used as a tool to manage parking supply. 

In this case, pricing is set so that there is just enough parking availability to meet demand.  In other words, at least 15% of the spaces should be available at all times. This means that in areas with high demand prices will increase and people will begin to use other transportation options to get to their destinations and rates will fall in low demand locations.

Second, when parking prices rise, the revenues generated from the increased rates should be given back to the community so that people are more willing to pay for parking.  It can be difficult for a city government to give up control of all or part of the revenues generated from parking.  The overall fiscal impact of the changed parking policies must be quantified and weighed against the benefits to the community.

Other tools for success

Pricing parking correctly may be the simplest and most effective parking management tool out there. Several other parking tools are available to agencies and developers to reduce parking demand. These include:

Manage the entire parking supply as one unit:  Often curbside spaces are priced the same as garage or outlying surface parking lots. Generally people prefer to park on street as opposed to a garage. Ironically, convenient curbside spaces are usually cheaper than garage spaces. Garage, surface parking lots, and curbside parking, should all be priced so that one in seven spaces are always free (15% vacancy). This will likely result in your curbside spaces being priced more than your garage spaces.

Unbundled Parking

The cost of parking is often included in the rental or sale cost of housing, retail, and office buildings. These costs should be separated from the costs a tenant or owner pays to better reflect the needs and demands of each persons use.

Park once and walk 

A park once and walk management proposal uses publicly owned and maintained central parking facilities that allow municipalities to manage parking supply based on a desired level of automobile and transit use to an area. Visitors park once in an area and walk to make one or more trips. This system alleviates the need for each development to provide its own on-site parking, reducing development costs and retail rents.

Shared Parking

Many areas are characterized by land uses with nearly opposite parking demand schedules. For example, a bank parking lot is in high use during daytime business hours, while a restaurant has a high demand for parking in the evening. Shared parking between two such businesses can cut down on the amount of parking required for a commercial area, leading to a more efficient use of valuable land. Shared parking schemes can also utilize space in municipal lots as described above.

Reduced Parking Requirements

Most zoning ordinances require developers to provide a minimum amount of on-site parking as a ratio of the total square footage of a development. These requirements are meant to mitigate congested curb parking conditions.  overflow parking in neighboring communities, and generally accommodate the highest projected level of visitors to a location. However, these minimum figures often do not take into account various factors like urban density, proximity to transit, or demographic characteristics that may alter the actual demand for parking at a locale. The result is often a sea of underutilized private parking at most commercial locations. Reducing minimum parking requirement can help to reflect the market reality of local conditions. An alternative to minimum parking requirements are parking maximums that limit the number of parking spaces allowed at a development site.

Parking Benefit Districts

These are business improvement districts that use parking revenues for area improvements

Cruising for Parking

How much cruising is there?

Professor Donald Shoup at UCLA reviewed sixteen studies that were conducted between 1927 and 2001 in several cities around the world.  The studies showed that between 8 and 75% of the traffic on the streets (in the study areas) were cruising for parking.  Taking data from all the studies, on average about 30% of the cars were looking for parking .

As drivers looking for parking spaces, we hate cruising!  Consider that cruising Vehicles add to congestion, wasted fuel and air pollution.

Furthermore is the following calculation:

Suppose it takes 3 minutes to find a curb space, and one space accommodates 10 cars per day.

Moreover, cruising 3 minutes for parking at a curb space 10 times a day creates 30 vehicle-minutes of travel per curb space per day.

30 minutes of cruising at 10 miles per hour creates 5 vehicle miles traveled per curb space per day (10 miles and hour= 5 miles per thirty minutes).

Perhaps there are 100 parking spaces in this neighborhood, then 5 miles a day for 100 parking spaces creates 500 extra miles traveled per day.

In conclusion, that is 500 extra miles traveled a day for 365 days creates 182,500 miles traveled per year!

Therefore if the average car gets 20 miles per gallon, the gas wasted cruising for these 100 spaces would amount to 9,125 wasted gallons of gas!

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