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Here’s what happened after the city of Anchorage axed parking mandates

The skyline of Anchorage, Alaska. The city recently implemented parking reforms, helping to unlock affordable housing and other benefits.
Downtown Anchorage, Alaska. Photo: Dreamstime

By Daniel Herriges, policy director at the Parking Reform Network

The day after a city repeals its mandatory parking minimums, it’s still the exact same city. Not a single parking space need be added or removed as a direct consequence of that simple policy change. For that reason, it’s vitally important for parking reformers to go back and document what happens in the months and years after mandates are removed. To observe what possibilities have been opened up that weren’t there before. Advocates in Anchorage, Alaska, are doing just that.

Anchorage ended its parking mandates citywide in November 2022. It’s one of at least 79 American cities at last count to have done so. (The word “city” is a stretch of a term here, since Anchorage has the largest municipal boundaries in the US. The nominal “city” of Anchorage includes vast wilderness areas and is home to 287,000 people — over 40% of Alaska’s population.)

The Sightline Institute documented the reforms as they happened. Parking reform in Anchorage was the subject of strong bipartisan agreement. The measure to end mandates won a unanimous 12-0 vote in the Anchorage Assembly, and was co-sponsored by a left-of-centre optometrist and a right-of-centre real estate broker. Even the city’s mayor, who had often found himself at odds with the assembly (Anchorage’s version of a city council), praised the move.

Parking reform in Anchorage was in some ways promoted and passed as the keystone of an ambitious pro-housing agenda that has continued to bear fruit. In the time since, Anchorage has also relaxed restrictions on “bonus” apartments (in other words, accessory dwelling units, or ADUs) on residential lots, created more flexibility for housing and neighbourhood-serving retail downtown, and made small-scale apartments such as triplexes and fourplexes more viable by streamlining onerous rules that previously applied to such homes (but not to single-family housing).

But parking reform is not just a housing issue. It’s so much more.

The bipartisan popularity of parking reform should be no surprise when we really look at what possibilities it unlocks. The thing we see again and again where major parking reforms are implemented is that the wins are both diverse and plentiful.

thread on Twitter/X in April from anonymous account AK_Urban documented some of those wins in Anchorage. Here are just a few of the things ending parking mandates can do (for your city too!):

Spur development where none was happening. Glacier City Center, a project in the ski community of Girdwood outside Anchorage (but within the municipal boundaries), cut its on-site parking from 40 to 14 spaces, reclaiming valuable land for additional commercial space. Prior to parking reform, only one new business had opened in Girdwood in a decade. Parking mandates were a key reason for this, Girdwood Supervisor Mike Edgington told the Sightline Institute. Girdwood’s experience illustrates that parking requirements are a highly relevant barrier to development not only in dense urban contexts, but often even more so in small-town ones. (Girdwood’s Edgington, by the way, came around to supporting parking reform based on the successful experience of another resort community: Sandpoint, Idaho.)

Grant crucial flexibility to small businesses. A Mexican restaurant in Anchorage had seen its renovation plans stymied by an untenably expensive requirement to expand an already-underused parking lot to an enormous 99 spaces. The passage of parking reform made it possible for the restaurant to undertake a phased redevelopment plan.

Make affordable housing possible. After parking reform, Anchorage’s Barratt Inn was able to be converted into permanent low-income housing in the form of 96 badly needed affordable apartments, helping to address the city’s growing homelessness crisis. The reuse project would have been illegal under the prior parking requirement.

Make missing-middle housing possible. Multiple examples are cited of small infill condo and duplex projects that would have been illegal under the previous parking code. Legalising these options makes it possible to add needed housing in established neighbourhoods.

Cut back on bureaucracy. The thread points out that a Costco store was able to alter its loading dock, removing several customer parking spaces, without having to receive permission from the planning department. This saves city staff time and money scrutinising minor decisions that are best left to individual businesses.

Right-size parking without eliminating it. What is clear from the Anchorage examples is that builders are still providing parking. Alaska’s largest city is hardly New York or Chicago. What has become possible in Anchorage, and everywhere parking reform is enacted, is that parking decisions can now be made according to the actual context and need, instead of conforming to an arbitrary and unproductive mandate.

  • This article was originally published by the Parking Reform Network. It was republished with the network’s permission. The original version can be found here.

Tags: Anchorage, Parking reform, Parking reform network
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