The other day, I had a meeting with Sam Staley and we both lamented the paucity of good empirical evidence about how land use regulations actually affect the built environment. For the ubiquitous minimum parking requirements, the only thing I’ve seen up until now was this study about the effects for LA County’s population of 10 million. But searching on Google Scholar, I found a 2011 article called Minimum parking requirements and housing affordability in New York City in the journal Housing Policy Debate which also addresses the issue:
[…] In this article, we explore the theoretical objections to minimum parking requirements and the limited empirical literature. We then use lot-level data and GIS to analyze parking requirements in New York City to determine to what extent they are already effectively sensitive to transit proximity. Finally, we examine developer response to parking requirements by comparing the number of spaces that are actually built to the number required by applicable zoning law. Our results indicate that the per-unit parking requirement in New York is, on average, lower in areas near rail transit stations, but the required number of spaces per square foot of lot area is higher, on average, in transit accessible areas. We also find that by and large, developers tend to build only the bare minimum of parking required by zoning, suggesting that the minimum parking requirements are binding for developers, as argued by critics, and that developers do not simply build parking out of perceived marked [sic?] need. Our results raise the possibility that even in cities with complex and tailored parking requirements, there is room to tie the requirements more closely to contextual factors. Further, such changes are likely to result in fewer parking spaces from residential developers.
Unfortunately I cannot find an ungated version of the full text (if you can, please send it to [email protected]), and this earlier version doesn’t include the part that I’ve bolded.
In the comments of the post with the aforementioned study about parking minimums in LA County, Randal O’Toole, the Antiplanner, said that LA is the densest urban area in the country and so these results are not generalizable elsewhere. If that sounds surprising to you, it’s because he’s using a very primitive measure called “average density” that is in fact a poor proxy for determining whether a place is auto- or transit-oriented. Your intuitions about Los Angeles are right – it’s probably not at all out of the ordinary when it comes to auto-orientedness in American cities.
But the New York study will be interesting when I can get my hands on it because of Staten Island. If parking minimums in Staten Island are largely binding constraints on developers, then I think it’s fair to say that they are probably binding for much of Westchester, Long Island, and North Jersey. With these two studies, I think we’ve come very close to proving that a very large amount of people in and around America’s cities are forced by parking minimums to sprawl and become more auto-oriented than they otherwise would choose in a free market.
Cap'n Transit saysJanuary 28, 2011 at 4:46 am
Sorry, Stephen, I gotta say it: with the $millions that Reason gets in donations, they can’t reimburse you the $34 market value of that article? 😉
I know, it’s not like there’s really a free market in academic journals, and $34 for a single article is very steep, especially for a journal run by Fannie Mae, which is now owned by the American taxpayer. I’m just teasing you.
Seriously, maybe tomorrow you can go to Fannie Mae and ask to see a copy. Or request it by interlibrary loan; it usually takes less than a week, and often you get an electronic copy. But the easiest thing to do is probably just to send the authors the URL to this blog post and ask them for a copy.
John McDonnell saysJanuary 28, 2011 at 4:59 am
I find the need to show empirical evidence for this completely ridiculous. If you think that everybody always builds that amount of parking on their own, why would you think there needed to be a law? Why would there even be laws about it if developers all just did this on their own?
If I’m arguing, “there should be no regulation on building parking”, how is “everybody follows the regulation by choice” a counterargument? That sounds like an argument in favor, if anything.
MarketUrbanism saysJanuary 28, 2011 at 5:11 am
I agree. I’m willing to bet that you will have a hard time finding places where required minimums are not governing the parking provided.
I would also be willing to speculate that many urban/suburban developments that provide more than minimum, did so as some concession to NIMBY interests. I don’t have data to show that – just experience…
Stephen saysJanuary 28, 2011 at 5:35 am
Ha…I think they’d rather not encourage me…
Rhywun saysJanuary 29, 2011 at 5:18 am
“there is room to tie the requirements more closely to contextual factors”
Or… crazy!… get rid of any requirements? Well, it’s hardly surprising that developers aren’t paying any attention to the market need for parking and in fact would rather build less of it than more – I would imagine that most any use is more profitable than parking, all other things being equal. Thus, the perceived need to prop it up with rules and regulations – rather than, say, trusting the market to decide how much parking is needed. I think of it this way: I choose to live in a dense neighborhood with lots of shops and transit steps away from my door – that in itself should be a signal that I in fact don’t need parking. If I chose a car-centric lifestyle, obviously I would need parking. In neither case is it necessary to formulate any sort of regulation stating how much parking is required.
As for O’Toole…. He is “right” in a sense – suburban sun-belt developments ARE often remarkably “dense” compared to older and/or more easterly and northerly developments – but of course that says nothing about the actual composition of uses in such areas. A vast sea of houses crammed in cheek-by-jowl doesn’t impress those of us who managed to move beyond O’Toole’s crude measurements somewhere in our mid to late high school years….
PS. I was not aware that O’Toole styles himself as the “Antiplanner”. That seems rather unfair to me, a pro-urban anti-planner – but I suppose it fits in with his tendency to obfuscate rather than elucidate.
Alon Levy saysJanuary 30, 2011 at 2:37 am
Next time I’m on campus, either tomorrow or on Monday, I’ll see if I get free academic access – if I do, I’ll email the text to you. Scientific journals often offer free access to people using subscribing university networks.
(As a side note, it’s completely ridiculous that scientific research, much of it funded by various government grants, is unavailable to the general public. Once in a while, there are noises about compelling everything funded by the NSF to be open access, on the model of the NIH. It gets killed by people who don’t care, or who take money from Springer and Elsevier – I’m not sure which.)
Stephen saysJanuary 30, 2011 at 5:17 am
Don’t worry about it – someone (actually, two people!) emailed the paper to me already. Unfortunately the examination of minimums vs. actually built parking is limited to a few sites in Queens and doesn’t touch on Staten Island, but it’s interesting nonetheless. If you want me to send you a copy of the paper (I tried using my dad’s Penn account and couldn’t get access to it, but maybe Columbia’s got better access?), just shoot me an email…
Alon Levy saysJanuary 31, 2011 at 2:33 am
Yes, Columbia has better access; I’ve read the paper. But thanks for asking.
Daniel saysFebruary 2, 2011 at 5:29 pm
Sometimes min parking requirements are kept on the books simply for leverage, even if everyone knows they are excessive. With the stricter code, developers may be allowed to reduce parking in exchange for providing other goodies, but once the parking requirements are reduced this is no longer possible. I know of one area that actually flirted with reintroducing parking requirements to a downtown that had been exempt for many years, only to then offer the attractive option of paying a fee in-lieu of meeting requirements that would go toward a municipal parking garage. It would be interesting to compare the requirements with how much parking is, in practice, built – both above and below the minimums.