Point/Counterpoint: Parking Reform Now or Later (or Never)?

What better time than Park(ing) Day (or should I say “Parrrrking Day”) to break out a fascinating piece from the magazine known as Parking Today, “the leading publication serving the diverse needs of
today’s parking industry.”

The trade pub recently ran a debate between parking planner Don Norte and performance parking guru Donald Shoup. Norte contends that cities shouldn’t adopt reforms like off-street parking maximums until they have reached a certain level of density and transit service:

Once a city or region has achieved transportation efficiency by
accommodating the number of trips generated by the appropriate mode of
travel, then the option of reducing minimum parking requirements across
the board can truly become a positive and cost-effective solution for
our policymakers.

But holding off on parking reform will only interfere with cities’ attempts to become more walkable and transit-oriented, responds Shoup:

Every developer knows that cities’ minimum parking requirements are
often the real limit to urban density. Minimum parking requirements
often force developers to provide more parking than they would
voluntarily provide, or smaller buildings than the zoning allows.
Off-street parking requirements do not promote a walkable and
sustainable city. Instead, off-street parking requirements promote a
drivable and unsustainable city.

If West Hollywood or any other city waits until there is excellent
public transit before it reduces its off-street parking requirements,
most people will continue to drive everywhere, even if Santa Claus
miraculously builds the transit system.

If planners insist that cities must have good public transit
before they can reduce their off-street parking requirements for every
land use, cities will never get good public transit. The smartest step
cities can take is to convert all their minimum parking requirements
into maximum parking limits, without changing any of the numbers.

More from Shoup, including plenty of observations that apply to parking reform in New York, after the jump.

City planners have no professional expertise or training to set parking
requirements. They don’t know how much parking spaces cost at any site,
and they don’t know how the parking requirements affect development or
the transportation system. City planners also know little about the
effects of parking requirements, but they are expected to know exactly
how many parking spaces are required for every land use.

In trying to foretell the demand for parking, urban planners
resemble the Wizard of Oz, deceived by his own tricks. No one should
blame planners for dispensing the elixir of ample free parking,
however, because everyone wants to park free. Nevertheless, planners
can be faulted for their pretension to special skills in dealing with
parking. Planners cannot predict parking demand any better than the
Wizard of Oz could give the Scarecrow brains or send Dorothy back to

  • JK

    How ironic that the opponent of parking reform generally, makes an argument for parking reform specific to New York City:

    “Once a city or region has achieved transportation efficiency by accommodating the number of trips generated by the appropriate mode of travel, then the option of reducing minimum parking requirements across the board can truly become a positive and cost-effective solution for our policymakers.”

    Well, New York City is that city, so why isn’t it eliminating the minimum parking requirement?

  • Don Norte

    I rececently read the No. 33, Fall 2008 edition an article in “ACCESS” published by Berkley College and written bt Marlon G. Boarnet that sums up the realities to the Shoop theory.

    “For some time, transportation policy has been split into advocates for and opponents of automobile travel. Bt focusing on modes, rather than the needs of people and places, the debate has failed to take cognizance of a singular reality in most growing urban areas. Fast-growing metropolises need both expansions in infrastructure that supports automobile transportation AND planning that supports alternatives to the automobile. It is not a matter of choosing one or the other, but rather of distingushing appropriate locations and contexts for each.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Don, here’s the article you’re referring to in a PDF. And here’s the permalink to Don’s original article in Parking Today.

  • I might add that I disagree with both you and Boarnet, specifically with this premise: “car travel will remain the dominant mode of transportation for the foreseeable future.”

    I live in a place where car travel is not the dominant mode of transportation – at least in terms of population. There are a few places like that in California, such as the 94103 zip code in San Francisco, where 57.8% of households had no cars available in 2000.

    For reasons of conservation, clean air and safety, I would like to see the dominance of cars reduced in the foreseeable future. Boarnet’s article doesn’t prove that it can’t be, it assumes that it can’t be. Sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • Ian Turner

    There are actually a total of 200 ZIP codes in the country, accounting for 2% of the nation, where there were at least 500 households and where a majority of households had no vehicles available. Contact me privately for a list.



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