How Shared Parking Can Reduce Housing Costs and Cut Traffic

To reduce the amount of new parking construction, Seattle may let residential buildings share excess parking with people who don't live there. Photo:  Lee/Flickr
To reduce the amount of new parking construction, Seattle may let residential buildings share excess parking with people who don't live there. Photo: Lee/Flickr

Parking is expensive to build. It’s particularly expensive in cities like Seattle, where space is limited and land costs are high.

Sound Transit will spend $100,000 per parking space, for instance, to build garages around its new suburban light rail stations. Now imagine baking costs like that into the construction of new housing — that’s what mandatory parking minimums do.

The political appetite for eliminating parking requirements is limited, however, so Seattle officials are taking an incremental approach, reports Dan Bertolet at Sightline.

In the Seattle region, King County Metro found that more than a quarter of residential parking spaces are unused, but current rules prevent the agency from using those empty spaces for park-and-ride purposes. Now the city is looking to change those rules to enable “greater sharing of parking in certain zones” [PDF]. The basic idea is to reduce the amount of parking in new construction by making more efficient use of existing parking, and the benefits could be substantial, Bertolet writes:

While Seattle’s current efforts to eliminate barriers to shared parking may have been catalyzed by the King County Metro’s park-and-ride ambitions, the city stands to gain much more. For one, using existing parking more efficiently helps recover the sunk costs of oversupplied parking. For another, underutilized parking can absorb new parking demand, so that future buildings can be constructed with fewer stalls. Developers can build confidently, knowing that tenants can find parking nearby. Municipalities can forgo huge parking structures. To summarize the benefits:

  • Cheaper and more abundant housing (parking stalls take up space and cost upwards of $40,000)
  • Improved urban livability through better urban design and architecture
  • Reduced car use and associated climate pollution
  • More walking, biking, and transit use

One concern about allowing shared parking is that it could backfire: developers might build extra parking to sell to people not residing in their building. Seattle’s proposal would address that concern by placing a 145-stall cap on shared parking in any one development. It’s an improbable scenario anyway, because in urban areas parking costs so much to construct that it’s still likely to be a money loser for developers, even counting the extra revenue from sharing.

More recommended reading today: The Natural Resources Defense Council shares a report on how to prevent improvements to transit or walkability from causing residential displacement. And Greater Greater Washington and Seattle Bike Blog are excited about the integration of dockless bike-share data into the Transit App trip planner.

4 thoughts on How Shared Parking Can Reduce Housing Costs and Cut Traffic

  1. This is crazy. There is absolutely no way parking spaces can be shared ever. this video exposes the suffering when not enough parking

  2. Stupid is as Stupid does.

    At least with respect to the Kent Station that’s an ST2 project passed in 2008. Due to the Great Recession projects were deferred and delayed. They should have at least secured the necessary land along with needed ROW. Now (in hindsight) with the line already in operation their land pickings are slim. Seattle is a bit insane right now admittedly.

    Denver, often considered a peer city which is also booming but to a lesser degree has the following for parking costs:

    Typical industry standard around Colorado is around $3,000 – $4,000 per space on a surface lot, and $15,000 – $17,000 for above grade structured parking. It can double that for below grade levels.

    Further refinement raised the costs in the urban core to ~$25,000 per garage parking space. FWIW, RTD’s growing commuter and light rail lines include: “Park-n-Ride facilities: 80 with 31,117 parking spaces” and likely cost near the low end of above estimates given the time frame of securing land and subsequent construction.

  3. Generally, parking minimums are not the problem, at least with the cities I’m familiar with. From Charlotte to Denver to San Diego – including along transit rail – the issues is with developers insisting on building parking into their projects. They do this because the lenders and their investors insist of having the parking spaces. If you want that construction loan to break ground then….

    With respect to shared parking I can only speak to Denver (but suspect other places as well) where it’s left up to the property owner. Some office bldg’s have considered or do rent spaces in the evening. I know of one developer who is intentionally building extra spaces due to evening and weekend entertainment demand.

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