The Complete Parking Toolbox

Cities across the country that have engaged in professionally-run parking reform draw on a variety of methods to reduce the over-supply of parking spaces, use land more efficiently, and accommodate the needs of residents and business customers. Experts agree that no one method is always right in every area of a city. Serious parking reform is data-driven and uses several of the strategies described below.

Summarized and adapted from: “Parking Strategies to Support Livable Communities” by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning at: <https://tinyurl.com/ParkingStrategies>.

Five steps to reforming parking policy:

Step 1: Evaluation

A)  Determine the extent of parking problems — gather input (via surveys, focus groups, online forums, etc.) from residents in various categories (employers/employees, tenants/homeowners, people with disabilities/low income/elderly, etc.) to get input on ease of parking in specific areas, the location of over- and under-supply, and special needs.

B)  Conduct a parking inventory — this is essentially a count of spaces and how they are used throughout the day, to document supply and demand; include the turnover rate for a more in-depth survey; with training and volunteer help, the counting can be done at low cost.

Step 2: Education / Outreach

A)  Develop a public participation plan — the plan should build on the core values promoted by the International Association for Public Participation (see: https://www.iap2.org/page/corevalues). Use community surveys, listening sessions, charettes, roundtables, stakeholder focus groups, citizen juries, and other methods.

B)  Employ a public outreach strategy — report-out to relevant committees and community groups, use web pages, open houses, media interviews, etc.

Step 3: Strategy Development

A)  Develop strategies to handle parking demand without building more parking — aim for an occupancy rate of 85%; consider local area factors, including density levels, transit access, income, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure, etc.

B)  Start with non-pricing strategies:

  • Eliminate Parking Minimums — Generally used in downtown cores and in frequent transit corridors; a few cities have included selected urban renewal districts.
  • Reduce Parking Minimums — Some cities have reduced minimums for deed-restricted affordable housing, in mixed-use zones, or in developments with a parking management plan; Minneapolis reduced residential minimums to 1 space per dwelling unit (ADUs exempted).
  • Parking Maximums — Some cities have added maximums or replaced minimums with maximums; ADA-required spaces are generally exempted from maximums.
  • Unbundled Parking — This approach separates the cost of parking from the cost of rental housing by leasing off-street parking spaces separately; this provides a discount to households with fewer cars.
  • Shared Parking — This involves an agreement to share parking spaces among two or more individual land uses; the key to shared parking agreements is a mix of uses that require parking at different times of the day or different days of the week. Often used in downtown and mixed-use areas, shared parking can also work to accommodate apartment guests, restaurant employees, gym members, and others where one location generates more parking demand than its neighbors, especially during off-hours. Portland adopted a highly-regarded Shared Parking Ordinance in the late 1990s.
  • Improved Bicycling and Walking Infrastructure — Communities with limited or unsafe alternatives to driving should develop pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure while implementing non-pricing strategies, before attempting to implement parking pricing.
  • Peripheral Parking Lots —The primary goal of peripheral lots is to divert traffic from the central business district or major destinations where traffic bottlenecks might occur, or where parking resources may be limited; mostly used in larger cities or to accommodate long-term employee parking.
  • Employer Incentives — Employer and institutional programs designed to reduce single-occupant vehicle trips include flexible hours, telecommuting, alternative schedules, transit benefits, park-and-ride passes, shuttle services, preferential carpool spots, a cash-out option, and/or increased fees for onsite parking; employer programs are most successful when they are multi-faceted.

C)  Pricing strategies: The goals of charging for parking are to limit and centralize the amount of off-street parking, capture the true market value of on-street parking, and incentivize alternative modes. Providing safe, convenient alternatives to solo driving is important when imposing pricing mechanisms. The aim should never be tied to revenue collection, but to creating parking availability. Parking availability reduces traffic congestion associated with the search for parking and improves access to the stores and businesses where customers want to go.

  • Park-Once-and-Walk Public Parking Lots/Garages — A common form of shared parking is a parking lot or garage, generally with time limits and a fee structure; this form of parking takes less land and has higher occupancy rates than parking tied to specific buildings; most often, it is found in downtowns and major activity centers, but it can be a successful part of mixed-use or transit-oriented developments, or anywhere that livability is a goal, such as in Bend’s Opportunity Areas.
  • Variable Rates / Dynamic Pricing — Variable pricing uses technology to charge higher prices at times and locations of peak demand; the goal is to efficiently allocate parking supply and reduce congestion without reducing the number of people who travel to an area; prices and restrictions can vary by block, time-of-day, and day-of-week.
  • Performance-based Pricing — Parking fees should be set at the lowest possible price that leaves one or two spaces vacant per block; varying zones of demand can be established using data on occupancy rates and existing supply. In high activity areas with strong parking demand, prices can be set to encourage turnover with “progressive pricing”, where fees increase each hour; by removing time limits and raising prices, the 15–20% who need more time in the area are accommodated, while increasing revenue.
  • Coordinated On-street and Off-street Pricing — Sometimes, the most effective pricing strategy is to coordinate the on-street and off-street prices, so there is an incentive to go directly to a parking garage or lot, rather than cruise for an on-street space that may be underpriced; prime spaces for short-term use should be at least twice as expensive per unit of time as less-convenient spaces for long-term use.
  • Parking Benefit Districts — In residential areas, these arrangements are the reverse of residential permit programs, in that they allow residents to park on-street for free, while providing curb spaces for non-residents during slack periods; non-residents pay a fee high enough to maintain a 15% vacancy; the revenue benefits residents in the form of street improvements. A Parking Benefit District can also be established in a commercial area, with local stakeholders deciding where and how funds should be spent to improve the street environment to attract pedestrians and bicyclists who add to commercial “foot-traffic” without congesting the roadways.

D)  Select the right set of strategies appropriate for each area of the city, distinguishing between:

  • High-density, walkable, transit-rich areas
  • Low-density, no “main street”, no transit, parking-rich areas
  • Areas on the spectrum between these two extremes

Step 4: Implementation

A)  Write the Plan

B)  Develop parking signage, branding, marketing materials

C)  Establish an enforcement program

Step 5: Monitoring and improvement

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