How a Council Bill Requiring More Parking Could Backfire

Higher parking requirements raise the cost of housing and bring more cars to the city, and may not relieve the parking crunch anyway.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

PlanPhilly reported yesterday that the City Planning Commission and a number of community groups are having a rough time coming to terms with a bill that would increase the amount of off-street parking developers are required to provide when they build new houses and apartments.

If you’re someone who has ever struggled to find parking in the city, the bill might strike you as a good idea. More off-street parking for residents means more on-street parking for everyone else, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not. And in the long run, it could make parking more difficult and housing more expensive. My former colleague Ashley Hahn has the whole thing in a nutshell right here, but here it is in an even smaller nutshell.

Every time you create off-street parking, you take at least one parking space off the street. Whether it’s a garage or a curb cut for a driveway, if a car is going to enter a private parking space, it has to get there from the street. That means carving a space away from the curb and giving it over to the private driveway. If that driveway leads to a parking lot that stores a lot of cars, it might pay off. But the more off-street parking is required for fewer apartments, the worse that math gets. If you take away one public parking space to provide three private ones, who’s really winning?

More parking means more cars. If developers are required to build parking spaces with their apartments, they’re going to attract tenants who have cars. That ultimately means there will be more cars in the city, and the city will continue to be designed around their needs. Planners have been struggling for years to overcome the automotive paradigm and give higher design priority to walkability and mass transit — the kinds of things that make cities different, and in some ways better, than other places.

More parking may increase the cost of housing. You can read all sorts of things about how required parking ultimately raises rents and home prices. One recent study found that parking spaces can increase the rent on low-cost housing by 12.5 percent. Every time a developer has to build a parking space instead of an extra apartment unit, the costs go up — and so does the rent.

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