America Builds Way Too Much Parking Near Transit

At Oakland's Fruitvale Village transit-oriented development, car trips and parking usage are far lower than what industry standards anticipated. Photo:  Eric Fredericks via Flickr
At Oakland's Fruitvale Village transit-oriented development, car trips and parking usage are far lower than what industry standards anticipated. Photo: Eric Fredericks via Flickr

It’s an open secret that American engineering and planning standards call for too much parking at developments near transit. Now a new study from Smart Growth America and Reid Ewing at the University of Utah quantifies how much extraneous parking gets built for projects that are supposed to support walking and transit.

Industry standards like the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Parking Generation Manual are based on suburban models that overestimate the number of car trips generated by mixed-use development and development near transit.

The new study looked at parking occupancy at five transit-oriented development sites (TODs) around the country and found a scandalous amount of empty space, Transportation for America reports.

These TODs include fewer parking spaces than industry standards recommend, and those spaces still never fill up. Table: Smart Growth America

Even when developers built fewer parking spots than the ITE standards recommend, they still built too many. Here are the topline numbers from the report [PDF] summarizing the research:

With so many other ways to get to these stations, it is not surprising that fewer people drove to these TODs than ITE’s guidelines expect. The developers of these TODs recognized this, and built parking accordingly. All TODs included in this study built less parking than recommended by ITE — between 23 to 61 percent of ITE’s guidelines.

Yet even this reduced amount of parking was not used to capacity: peak occupancy fell below actual capacity supplied. The ratio of demand to actual supply was between 58 and 84 percent. The actual parking supply was less than recommended supply according to ITE, and the actual peak occupancy was much less than the ITE supply guidelines, in a range between only 19 to 46 percent.

Fewer vehicle trips is one likely reason why parking occupancy rates were lower than ITE’s recommendations. Another reason is that parking is shared between commercial and residential uses at two TODs, is shared between transit and park-and-ride uses at one TOD, is unbundled with apartment rents at two TODs, and is priced at market rates for commercial users at three TODs.

The number of car trips at these TODs comes in much lower than the standard model predicted. Table: SGA

More recommended reading: Seattle Transit Blog reports that local infrastructure boosters say Seattle should stand firm in its commitment to protecting immigrants, regardless of whether it hurts local budgets. And NRDC reports on Georgia’s new solar roadway.

51 thoughts on America Builds Way Too Much Parking Near Transit

  1. Oakland (Fruitvale Village) is moving in this direction. At the end of 2016, all parking requirements were removed downtown, and parking requirements citywide were reduced by approximately 1/2, to an approximate ratio of 0.5 spaces/unit required. That isn’t quite down to 0.0 — but that can be revised in the near future, perhaps as a conditional use permit for zero parking near BART stations.

  2. “It’s an open secret that . . . ” is how you start the article. What a devious phrase. It kinda implies that it’s a universal truth that we all agree upon. And yet if anyone questions that, then you can reply “Ah, but that’s the thing with a secret”! Those who disagree just don’t know the secret! Brilliant!

    Mendacious and snide, but I have to admire your deft manipulation of words to further your agenda.

  3. If the ITE guidelines are based on suburban models then they’re assuming free parking; the standard in most suburbs. Fruitvale charges a modest $3/hr: not enough to deter customers but enough to deter driving from an easy walking distance away.

    There are a lot of suburban customers who won’t think twice about driving three blocks to pick up a cup of coffee. Unless the cafe charged a buck for parking. That’s enough to influence some to walk.

  4. Did I ever mention how much I hate statistics?

    The close in Englewood CO station’s over 900 spaces does seem like a lot. But here’s the thing: I’m sure they were just guessing and since it’s just surface parking there’s no problem in developing part of it later. See, problem solved.

    The totally suburban NIne MIle Station parking garage has the 2nd most parking spaces at over 1,200 and is typically jam-packed and over-flowing. So that’s the poop on two of nearly 80 Park “N Rides in Denver.

  5. Quick, simple, dumb question: Why do we want to discourage potential suburban riders from taking advantage of light rail?

    “With so many other ways to get to these stations…” Why yes, I’m dying of curiosity to know how this helps suburban riders?

  6. The article is not talking about parking garages for commuters– it’s talking about parking garages for apartment buildings and other developments that are built next to rail stations.

    For someone who lives in such a building, having ample free parking will encourage car ownership and discourage them from taking light rail.

  7. $3/day, not $3/hour. Big difference. And it might be enough to deter someone in easy walking distance, but it’s cheaper than bus fare, so it’s still at the level where it encourages people to drive rather than take the bus.

  8. If parking is priced according to the market, as it is in some cities with smart parking systems, then yes, of course. Providing free or super cheap parking is NOT letting the market decide.

  9. as the commenter above mentioned, this is about parking in developments, not park & ride parking at stations.

  10. I would be quite surprised if the market decides that a parking lot that is always at least 25% empty needs to be expanded farther.

  11. It’s actually both. Obviously TOD apartments dwellers won’t drive a block to the Park ‘N Ride to use transit ie. “With so many other ways to get to these stations”

  12. Yes, very often it is. Different in different cities, but there are many that have 100% subsidy. Also, unlike public transit, one person using it means another can’t, and if its too cheap, cars stay in the same spots all day, making them useless for the businesses nearby, and for people who do actually need them for short periods, such as deliveries or people with disabilities.

  13. They don’t want more parking, they want a place for themselves to park. You can provide that without increasing parking by pricing parking in a smart way. There is already so much parking that most of it is empty, because people just want the prime spots.

  14. The report shows the parking utilization rate, which means that there is too much parking in the TOD developments (since the utilization rates are so low). Unless parking in TOD development is managed by the transit agency, your comment makes zero sense, bc transit use is not as efficiently supported by parking spaces as it is by adjacent residential and office uses. If the money spent on the 30% of parking spaces that are unused were instead spent on building new office or residential it would help those suburban riders who would now live or work closer to the train station.

    Proximity to transit is more important than parking spaces near transit. If the parking is oversupplied and in turn has reduced the number of people working or living near transit, then it inherently is not helping suburban riders, it is only leading to wasted spending.

  15. I don’t think so. I accept to some extent the libertarian critique of the large gap between the ballot box and the wallet. It’s easy to say you want more parking if you can say that without simultaneously looking either at the tax increase required to pay for that parking, or the prices paid by builders/residents/shoppers at the building that is being mandated to provide the parking.

    Parking is expensive, both for the construction/materials, and more importantly for the opportunity cost of the land. If someone wants the parking so much that they’re willing to pay more for those things than someone who’d like to do something else with that land, they can go ahead and do so. But if someone just wants the parking enough to vote for someone else to have to pay for it, I’m not convinced that there’s any reason we should go along with that request. It’s not like clean air and water, where everyone really does benefit equally from its provision so that it’s worth just voting it out of the general fund.

  16. OK, so if the voters want less parking then that’s fine. but if they don’t then you think you know better?

  17. Actually many cities are finding that this pricing model works much better for everyone than free parking taking over their streets. And yes, people do support it, especially when it comes with transit improvements, which any good parking policy does.

  18. Free parking on city streets is 100% subsidized by the city. Do you need evidence that free parking exists?

  19. No – I don’t support legally regulated maximums any more than legally regulated minimums. I think parking is something that the people paying for it can usually decide better, since they’re usually the only people directly affected. Unlike clean air and clean water.

  20. Most parking lots are 100% empty much of the time. They’re usually more than 25% empty about 99% of the time. The question is whether you should design for “peak use” in the sense of one day a year, or “peak use” in the sense of the weekly peak.

    I didn’t look at the details of this study to figure out which sense of peak they’re talking about, but if peak weekly usage is only 75% of capacity, then I would guess that relatively few landowners would consciously choose to transfer more of their land or money to parking. (But I didn’t look at the details – maybe there’s a stadium that attracts a lot more crowds once a month and they can make a profit by renting spaces out for $100 a day on that day, so the market actually would add parking above the current apparently excess capacity.)

  21. Basically, I think voters shouldn’t get a say in how much parking there is. People paying for parking, or paying to use the land for something else, should get a say in how much parking there is. That’s almost never the voters themselves, even in cases of government buildings.

  22. OK, I get your point. I won’t disagree with what you suggest.

    HOWEVER, the way I read Table 3 of the source pdf where they break out “Share of all trips” they list Walk @ 19.2%; Bike @ 3.8%; Bus @ 3.3%; Rail @ 13.6%; Auto 59.% for Englewood, CO. So they’re talking about trips to the station, right? I mean for those that live nearby or 19.2% that walk and don’t drive to the station makes perfect sense to me.

    Interestingly the ONLY TOD that I’m aware of is a TCR Alexan that is presumably about 325 units – though I couldn’t quickly find an accurate count. Everything else that exists was built BEFORE the station was built.

    FWIW, TCR would have included their normal or near normal parking ratio for tenants. The fact that they can walk to the light rail station is nice; they don’t have to drive downtown. It has NOTHING to do with their need for a car and the desire to go skiing on weekends, for example.

    That station’s so-called TOD is irrelelvant to their point.

  23. It would seem that table shows trips to the station area as the area is described in the earlier portion of the report.

    As is mentioned multiple times in the report, the Englewood, CO TOD study area is not actually a complete TOD, it is a hybrid w/ development east of Galapago being big box retail that does not encourage arriving via biking, walking, or transit. This is also why this districts car mode share is larger than any of the others served by rail.

    It is still interesting that despite this, ~40% of the parking spaces were unused during peak usage, and if the amount of parking per ITE guidelines had been built then 55% of spaces would have been unused. The point is that parking oversupply exists & in areas near transit stations it would be better to rebuild the unused space as residential & commercial. See the conclusion specifically about Englewood, CO:

    It points out that having these two development types adjacent diminishes the success of the “TOD” portion nearest the station. It is understood that big box retail is viewed as an important asset in suburban areas, but TOD suffers if it is surrounded by auto oriented uses that reduce the walkability & bikeability to and from the station area.

  24. BTW, Yes, my 1st impression was in error.

    When you speak of “~40% of the parking spaces were unused during peak usage” are you referring to commercial lots? And when is “peak usage”? It’s all very confusing and this station was a bad example for a number of reasons.

    Interestingly that area had the 1st large retail mall development but that was a long time ago in 1968. Anyway the TOD they are talking about is according a city plan. Problem is the only real TOD to date is the one apartment I referenced. The early retail redevelopment that occurred is marginally successful. Walmart, Kroger, Petco etc. Perhaps it’s doing better than the last time I was there. That is possible.

  25. The study summarizes what is covered in terms of parking spaces they included.

    The only mixed-use project is one development, but it is 2 buildings spanning the equivalent of 2 city blocks. so it is the basis for a larger TOD area if Englewood chose to take this development path. Every TOD starts off as one project & but must eventually develop into the diverse community that actually is centered around transit.

    For any further questions, I would suggest consulting the full study & not the executive summary PDF linked in the streetsblog post.

  26. Of course you build for peak use. Transit systems are built for rush hours. ER rooms are built for peak demand

  27. Anywhere in the city where you can easily park 24/7 has no value anyway, therefore the subsidy is zero.

    Where the city can charge for parking, they do so, through RPPs, meters and fines

  28. So the city should support the building of new multi-storey parking structures as long as they can be run profitably?

  29. Voters don’t matter for deciding how many parking spaces to build. Just like voters don’t matter for deciding how many chairs an office building needs, or how many aisles the grocery store should have.

    And it’s not that those with more money get all the parking – everyone gets as much parking as they’re willing to pay for. Often people with more money will pay for more parking, but not always. It’s unfortunate that different people have different amounts of money, but we should fix that through the tax code. It’s exactly the same as with housing. People get about as much housing as they’re willing to pay for. Sometimes richer people get more housing, but often at the same income level, different people will prioritize different areas of spending, and some will want more parking while others will want more housing.

  30. Then they are allowed to build it. No one in this thread is proposing a cap on allowable parking on private developments. They’re just proposing that private developments should be *allowed* to build less than the current legal mandates, and that public garages that aren’t able to sell all their spots at $3 a day should be *allowed* to remove some of those spots. Very much *not* the situation where people paying for parking want to pay for more than there currently is.

  31. Yes, exactly. Do you know how many multi-storey parking structures run a profit, and how many run at a loss?

  32. I can tell you that the land in front of my house does *not* have zero value. I would be happy to convert it into a larger yard, if the city would give the land to me for free. But instead, they reserve it for free parking.

  33. Every street space in a city has value. Separate from that, there is also a capital cost and maintenance cost to every parking space, paid by the city (taxes), or a combo of government subsidy and real estate investment, which raises housing costs as developers have to follow minimum parking requirements even if the market doesn’t support it.

  34. There are some contexts where cities should support off-street parking, yes, but in many cases these are at least partially empty, and only exist because of perceived demand that does not really exist, or because of minimum parking requirements that developers have to follow. It’s less question of profit than of efficiency, minimizing street congestion, and encouraging other methods of travel besides private car, particularly in high congestion areas like a city center. The benefits everyone, including those who choose to drive.

  35. In a private development I have NEVER seen a full parking lot. Never, ever. If you have an example I would love to see it. Free parking paid for by taxpayers however, there can never be enough!

    So yes, please allow any business or development to put in as much as they feel they need. I have no illusions that this will be a net gain.

  36. You have a very ‘unique’ understanding of the term ‘subsidy’. Also, you seem to equate value with cost. This is a mistake and appears to be what your entire argument is based.

  37. That’s odd. I’ve seen it many, many times. I guess we live on different planets?

    Parking needs to be designed for peak times, not quiet times. Same as ER in hospitals.

  38. Done. Now, please define value and cost in your own words. Because a second reading confirms to me that you don’t understand their meaning and this is effecting your understanding of the term ‘subsidy’.

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The Garnett MARTA station in downtown Atlanta, surrounded by parking

A Fixation on Parking Threatens Transit Progress in Atlanta

Darin Givens is frustrated with how Atlanta is planning for the future. “We don’t feel like the city is building transit that fits needs, or places that fit transit,” says the founder of local advocacy site Thread ATL. “You see nodes of density nowhere near transit, located nowhere near a MARTA station or a regular MARTA bus. We’re not matching development and transit.”