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As more US cities drop parking-spot requirements, this study shows how they’ll benefit

Photo: Dreamstime
Photo: Dreamstime

In early November, Austin became the largest US city to ditch rules that required new developments — including malls, apartment blocks and offices — to have a set amount of parking space.

According to the non-profit Parking Reform Network, more than 1,400 cities in the world’s largest economy have already made similar changes as they seek to free up space for new housing projects, boost foot traffic for small businesses, and tackle car dependency and climate change.

Graphic: Parking Reform Network

Archaic parking mandate laws “gobbled up scarce land”, Austin City Council member Zohaib “Zo” Qadri said, per the Texas Tribune.

“It adds burdensome costs to developments that get passed on to renters and buyers. It makes it harder for small businesses to get off the ground. And it harms walkability and actively works against our public investments in transit, bike lanes, trails and sidewalks.”

A new study, published in the Journal of Transport Geography, adds credence to those claims.

The analysis of 400 retail rental offers over a seven-year period in the city centre of Aachen, Germany, found that where there is much on-street parking, landlords, shops and small businesses in the vicinity suffer.

“Streets with a lot of motorised traffic and parked cars often do not offer enough space for greening, outdoor dining, benches, or other equipment that invites people to spend more time,” it concludes.

Residents are impacted as well.

An analysis by Austin’s housing and planning unit found that parking mandates have been pushing up housing costs. Requiring one additional parking space per housing unit increases rent by up to $200 a month and reduces the amount of units developers can build on a parcel.

A separate study focused on Buffalo, New York, and Seattle, Washington, found that dropping parking requirements boosted the supply of housing by allowing more projects to go ahead.

In the years following reform, 60 to 70% of new homes would previously have been illegal to build

Yes, but: It’ll take a while for the benefits of these reforms to show up in Austin and elsewhere, Tony Jordan, co-founder of the Parking Reform Network, tells The Progress Playbook.

“Cities change gradually. Austin today is the same city it was three weeks ago, and parking reform is more like clearing the weeds and rocks from a garden plot than it is like planting and tending the crops and flowers.

“What we can be sure of is that a major hurdle to housing, transportation, and climate action has been removed in Austin, and anyone who wants to see progress on those issues has reason to celebrate,” Jordan adds.

Meanwhile, some cities are actively reclaiming space from former parking lots.

In New York, plans are afoot to transform the 50 acres of parking lots that surround Citi Field into 20 acres of public parkland as well as a casino, hotel, bars, restaurants, and a live-music venue.

“For too long the area around Citi Field has been nothing more than vacant asphalt and wasted opportunity, 50 acres that currently aren’t serving our communities,” the Queens Future website says.

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