Tony Jordan: Proven strategies to overcome parking reform anxiety

A graphic showing cars being removed from Paris, making way for cyclists
Graphic: Sean Creighton/The Progress Playbook

Opponents of parking reform are often worried that relaxing or removing parking mandates (whereby new developments are required to set aside a certain amount of space for cars) will lead to curb-side congestion and inconvenience nearby residents and businesses.

Fortunately, there are proven strategies to keep that from happening, and cities can get well ahead of the issue.

The changes don’t happen overnight: Your city will be in exactly the same place the day after your parking reforms go into effect. The curb-side parking and parking lots, the shopping centres, and the housing with dedicated parking will still be there. Reforming parking mandates doesn’t make parking evaporate or ban new parking. People with parking at their homes will still be able to drive to all the places they do today. 

New development takes time. In any given year, a small percentage of even a fast-growing city is built or redeveloped. In cities with reforms, most of the new buildings still have parking, and a small fraction of the new buildings and businesses — likely the ones built in the places most accessible by transit and biking — will have little or no new parking. In many cases, these buildings and businesses will use nearby parking, but some will be easier to access by people who aren’t driving — and that’s good!

Cities issue permits for all new buildings, and if a lot of development with not much parking is in the pipeline for a community, steps can be taken in advance to manage the situation.

The city should have an answer: There are proven and effective ways to mitigate the impacts of new development on parking. The city needs to be prepared and have a plan when concerns and questions arise.

  • Does the city know how much of the existing parking (on-street and off-street) is utilised?
  • Does city law allow for flexible and efficient use of existing parking?
  • Does the city have permit and meter programmes ready to implement when a parking crunch is on the horizon?
  • Does the city have a plan to improve transit, sidewalks, and access for other modes?

If the answer to these questions is “no” or “we don’t know,” then it’s a good idea to set the wheels in motion as soon as possible to get to “yes.”

Don’t reinvent the wheel, but don’t copy and paste either: A proactive city will direct city staff to review its existing policies and invest in curb management solutions. Parking mandate reforms are increasingly paired with studies or expansion of existing permit and meter programmes.

  • Anchorage, Alaska, approved $1 million to study pedestrian safety, right-of-way management, snow removal, and on-street parking management just before they eliminated parking mandates citywide.
  • Nashville, Tennessee, expanded the NDOT authority (Nashville Department of Transportation & Multimodal Infrastructure) to enforce and manage metered parking, and directed its staff to improve the residential permit programme as part of their reforms.

Here are a few resources to help your city prepare:

You don’t need to have it all figured out, but you do need to have a plan:

Ultimately people want to feel that the city hears their concerns. Eliminating parking mandates isn’t a radical policy, and thousands of US cities have reduced mandates or gotten rid of them in central districts or on corridors. Simply acknowledging the potential for curb congestion and directing staff to develop policies or programmes can go a long way.

  • Fund a study to develop a residential permit programme that is designed to manage parking demand from new developments. 
  • Create a database of leasable parking in areas with new buildings to help residents find off-site parking if they need it.
  • Legalise flexible use of existing commercial and residential parking so it can be used more efficiently. 
  • Update policies on enforcement and loading and drop zones.
  • Monitor new developments and parking occupancy and set trigger points for evaluating if more comprehensive management is needed.

Proceed with confidence: Parking is expensive and takes up a lot of space. Existing parking mandates are arbitrary and hard to justify. You’re doing the right thing by advocating for reforms. The sky will not fall.

Any problems that arise are very likely to be local and solvable with sensible solutions. These solutions can actually make parking more convenient for drivers, and they can raise revenue to improve sidewalks, lighting, and other things residents want.

  • Tony Jordan is president of the Parking Reform Network (PRN), a US-based non-profit organisation that educates the public about the impact of parking policies on climate change, equity, housing, and traffic. This article was first published by PRN.


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