Hartford Eliminates Parking Minimums Citywide

This building was converted to apartments in downtown Hartford after parking mandates were eliminated. Photo: Google Maps
This building was converted to apartments in downtown Hartford after parking mandates were eliminated. Photo: Google Maps

Hartford, Connecticut, is getting rid of mandatory parking minimums citywide, the second major American city to do so in the past 12 months, following Buffalo.

The revised zoning code no longer requires builders to include car parking in new construction. The Hartford Planning & Zoning Commission voted for the changes unanimously last night, enacting them into law.

The Hartford legislation goes farther than Buffalo’s in some ways, with fewer loopholes. (In Buffalo, the City Council can still decide to require parking through a review process for projects larger than 5,000 square feet.) But because parking mandates for car dealerships are Connecticut state law, those minimums remain in the Hartford code. Other special uses, like stadiums, will be subject to case-by-case review.

Bronin Headshot 1
Sara Bronin, chair of Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission, was instrumental to parking reform. Photo: Sara Bronin

Hartford has been building up to this point for a while. The city lifted parking minimums for its downtown about two years ago, points out Planning & Zoning Commission Chair Sara Bronin. That zoning change also eliminated parking mandates for retail and services (like restaurants and gas stations) citywide.

Without the burden of parking mandates, it was easier for developers to rehab downtown buildings, said Bronin. “There have been some buildings that have been renovated downtown in a much faster and more efficient way by not having to provide as much parking,” she told Streetsblog. “Because of that we felt that it was time to bring that same benefit to developments citywide.”

Like other Connecticut cities, Hartford is plagued by fiscal problems, and the loss of productive land to parking spaces exacerbates those issues, constraining the city’s tax base. In Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, downtown is pocked with blocks of free parking for state employees.

UConn professor Norm Garrick (star of this Streetfilm on parking craters) has led multiple studies investigating the hidden costs imposed by excessive parking on cities. Research his team conducted in 2014 found that downtown parking consumed so much land it amounted to $50 million a year in foregone tax revenue.

Together, Garrick and Bronin have been leading a conversation about parking reform in Hartford.

Support for citywide elimination of parking minimums was nearly universal, said Bronin. The reforms are expected to reduce housing costs, cut traffic, and reduce harmful runoff. About 42 percent of Hartford is impermeable surfaces, says Bronin, which contributes to water pollution and the urban heat island effect.

“For me, the environmental implications were really important,” she said. “We also believe that in deemphasizing parking we will make our neighborhoods more livable.”

  • J

    Awesome! Add it to the list at Strong towns.
    https://www.strongtowns.org/parking/

  • Jeanie

    Hartford is a decaying welfare town without hope. The parking mandate won”t help with the high taxes, corrupt leadership, and high crime. The traffic is unbearable and the services are non-existent. This is a joke. Businesses are leaving Hartford and CT

  • bettybarcode

    Thanks for the shout out to Buffalo!

  • William Perez

    Crime in Hartford has slowly been going down for several years. Downtown is safer now than back in the eighties when gangs were running rampant.

  • Michael

    State of Connecticut needs to figure out that it doesn’t do Orlando FL style-suburbia well and get back to its roots. This is a decent first step, but there’s a lot more work to be done. The state has immense rail resources (both freight & passenger), excellent Ocean & in-land waterway ports. It should stop trying to be a worse version of New Jersey, with the freeways & endless sprawl and try to be something great. It’s starting from a really good spot: it’s got the legacy urban-design DNA, the educated work force, the sub-half day driving proximity to Global Cities (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, DC).

  • Nick Addamo

    This is a bit dramatic. And with your concerns over traffic, initiatives like this should be welcome news to reduce travel demand with reduces traffic.

  • Jeanie

    Dramatic? How about factual. So the whole plan is to renovate buildings currently not being used. Now zoning states you don’t need to supply parking for the newly opened buildings, be they residential or commercial. This will only increase traffic and parking problems that already exist in Hartford.

  • Nick Addamo

    “Decaying welfare town without hope” is what I was referring to.

  • 1980Gardener

    Good move, but I would not expect much to change in the near term.

    Hartford suffers from a fundamental problem of demand – few want to live or work in the city – and until more do, the parking craters will remain.

    Downtown Hartford has seen some improvement with changing demographics downtown, and hopefully this move will encourage more empty buildings to be converted at a lower cost.

  • 1980Gardener

    I’m a bit perplexed by your comment. To many, CT’s main strength is its suburbs (none of which to my knowledge are Orlando FL style – which suburbs are you talking about?).

    And what is CT’s excellent in-land waterway port?

    What changes would you like CT to make?

  • 1980Gardener

    Also, I wonder about the affect on cutting traffic – is that because people who live downtown will walk more (because they may not have a car or be able to park easily)? Or is it because fewer people from the burbs will come to Hartford due to limited parking? Or both? or some other reason?

  • kevd

    Hartford needs a larger tax base and population.
    Making residential development easier by eliminating parking minimums is a good first step.
    Another important step is redeveloping some of the numerous surface parking lots that pockmark downtown. Hartford was decimated by the 84 and 91 a couple generations ago. There is not way to get that land back as productive, taxable land in the short term. But its easy to construct on the endless surface parking. Hartford has myriad problems, this won’t solve them all, but it should help with a few.

  • Michael

    Basically each of the metro north and NEC amtrak stops, were once surrounded by coherent small towns & cities that have since been ransacked and hamstrung into mediocre suburbia. Type walmart into Google maps around hartfard to see the extent of the damage.

    The entire connecticut river is an amazing and currently unused resource. The state is extensively criss crossed by rail. Like many places, CT has adopted the model of incessant truck based freight which doesn’t work well on the legacy roadways and is extremely expensive. It will never be able to do suburbia with huge straight roads like the sunbelt, so it ought to stop trying and embrace it’s assets. Stop with the incessant freeway expansions, in fact tear them down, especially in the cities. Increase the cost of trucking to be cover the cost of road damage as there are underutilized rail and water based capacity that is being squeezed out by the gvmt subsidies. Realize that the reason the state is broke is because it’s built considerably more infrastructure than it can afford even with high taxes and that more road and pipe will make the problem worse, not better.

  • 1980Gardener

    Thanks for the comment, but I am struggling to see how it accurately reflects CT.

    For example, where is CT trying to “do suburbia with huge straight roads like the sunbelt?” And what are the “incessant freeway expansions” you talk about? I can’t think of a single one. And what is the water frieght capacity that is underutilized?

    Can you give me some specifics?

  • Alan

    If city destinations are within a quick walking, biking, or transit trip of each other, people won’t need cars or parking to reach them. It’s much easier to build destinations closer together when they don’t need acres of parking. Simple as that.

  • Michael

    I like Connecticut, but the state has a worse-than-detroit love of highways. The ratio of expensive highway infrastructure to tax paying properties & businesses in Hartford is extraordinary. There’s billions of dollars in highways in and around downtown Hartford to service about 8 blocks of offices & structured parking. At the same time, it’s completely destroyed the city’s waterfront and made the core pretty unlovable.

    https://www.google.com/maps/place/Hartford,+CT/@41.762413,-72.6838998,14.08z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x89e65311f21151a5:0xcc8e4aa8e97d5999!8m2!3d41.7637111!4d-72.6850932

    84 W from Hartford to MA has been expanded to preposterous levels relative to the trickle of traffic.

    Regarding waterways, it’s not an isolated CT issue. All of the great US inland waterways are drastically underused – the Hudson, Great Lakes/Saint Lawrence Seaway, Mississippi/Missouri/Ohio rivers, and the Connecticut river is no different. Similar waterways in Europe and Asia see constant barge activity. The difference in Connecticut is just that the opportunity cost clearly much higher than US average. Running huge amounts of freight through the state on 95, 91, & 84 – 3 extremely expensive highways – is lunacy versus moving freight on, say, I-44 between Saint Louis and Tulsa. To have a highway & freight friendly policy framework in a state as topographically jagged, and littered with human settlements in all the ideal highway locations, has been ridiculously expensive versus running 6 laners across the alligator country of Central Florida. Add to it, that the state already has enormous legacy freight rail resources and navigable waterways, it has been a particularly massive financial opportunity cost, and huge cause – if not the only relevant cause – for the state’s current fiscal woes.

    Eliminating parking minimums is like a tiny baby step. A real solution begins with getting rid of the subsidies to trucking by instituting a mileage tax of truck freight consistent with the damage they incur on Connecticut’s very expensive road infrastructure. That will move freight share to where it should be (private rail, water). At the same time, the state need to disassemble it’s countless urban highways to open up its highest value property to productive (tax paying) use. Destroying city downtowns has made no cities wealthy, and CT has destroyed almost all of them so there’s a lot of work to be done.

  • 1980Gardener

    Regarding the highways, I am well aware of the 1960s building boom. However, I was asking about your reference to the incessant building of highways. Were you talking about 50 years ago or today?

    I’m not clear what you are proposing for the waterways – are you suggesting ports to bring freight from New Haven to Hartford?

    Mileage taxes are a great idea.

  • Alicia

    My small city is pondering getting rid of parking minimums. I hope that proposal goes through.

  • Norman Garrick

    Michael is correct…. Connecticut abandoned its small city/village routes in the 50s and went wholeheartedly for a suburban pattern of development. In doing so they gave up the big advantage that they had over the much of the rest of the country – potentially beautify small city living for a suburban ideal that is now proving to be an albatross. Moving forward we need to look to models like Northampton (MA) and Portland, Maine and restore small town/small city living to its position of prominence in all our decisions.

  • 1980Gardener

    I don’t see how he is right – all of that happened in the 1950s and 1960s.

    what is the incessant freeway construction he is talking about?

  • Norman Garrick

    What happened in the 50s and 60s set the stage for what we are dealing with now. We are only now beginning to change our approach from a car-centric one with this change in Hartford being a primary example. But we have a long ways to go to reverse the damage that has been done most egregiously to our smaller cities like New Britain, East Hartford, Willimantic and New London. But we are also still expanding highways at the same time which is not really helpful.

  • 1980Gardener

    I agree regarding the damage – simply questioning the specifics of the comment which appear completely incorrect.

    Can you explain where CT is incessantly building freeways?

  • kevd

    There was 291 in the 90s, 84 east of Hartford was expanded around then (2+ HOV lanes, currenlty I believe.
    Wasn’t there recent talk of adding a lane in each direction to 95 from New Haven to the RI border, too? I doubt that’s feasible given the fiscal realities and the cost of land by the coast.

    The worst may have been in the 60s, but it certainly continued well into the 90s.

  • Bernard Finucane
  • 1980Gardener

    Yes, and those mistakes happened decades ago. His comment though was not about that. He was clearly talking in the present.

  • 1980Gardener

    84E was expanded in the 1980s and 291 was built in 1958.

    So are you suggesting that adding high-occupancy lanes to encourage carpooling 30 years ago is “incessant” freeway building??

    I think we all have the same views of the damage caused by the placement of Hartford’s highways, but I don’t see any need to use such exceptional exaggeration.

  • Michael

    84 was expanded to NJ turnpike-levels sometime post-2000, with huge amounts of excess pavement around the HOV lanes, and at least 100 yards across. In Hartford, the 84/91 interchanges & related ramps have been in a constant state of reconstruction for at least the last 20 years, slowly gobbling up the entire downtown to the point it is today. For at least 30 years, we’ve understood that urban sections of these highways – specifically 84, 91, 95 – have been destroying cities, yet rather than tear them down, many of the interchanges have been one-by-one modernized, resulting in more of the same: the ransacking of cities.

    To get back to my original point, if we were in Phoenix Arizona in 1960 or Las Vegas today – an endlessly flat desert plain with hardly any population – we could do the wide straight highways, big interchanges, miles of strip malls & single family housing, and 15 daily deliveries by 54 foot semi to local Walmart pretty efficiently. CT on the other hand is an undulating terrain filled with cities in every valley and tons of creeks and rivers to bridge over. Highways in CT are extremely expensive to build, so they should be used EXTREMELY sparingly and certainly not for silly things like the incessant delivery of consumer junk to big box stores. The last 60 years have shown that the model does not work – it costs way too much money and will ultimately bankrupt the government.

  • 1980Gardener

    With all due respect, it seems like you are simply making stuff up.

    — 84 was not expanded to NJ turnpike levels sometime past 2000. That is simply false.

    — Can you give one example of how 84 and 91 have been gobbling up downtown during the past 20 years? The roads havent expended at all downtown during that time.

    Given all of the problems with the way the highways were built in CT in the 1950s and 1960s, there is ample room for improvement. I see no reason to make stuff up.

  • Michael

    Around Hartford, the HOV lanes have been extended outward in all directions, the interchanges with 2, 91, 291, 384, etc have been built then rebuilt with enhancements multiple times over the last couple decades turning into ~12 miles of spaghetti junctions with all the flyovers and other non-sense. The founders bridge was rebuilt & widened. Most of the overpasses have been rebuilt at wider dimensions. I-84 now runs at least 3 lanes all the way to MA. Even today, there’s on-going projects to “modernize” –aka widen – on-ramps and add turn lanes & capacity, etc. There’s plans to widen out 84 through Danbury.

    It’s not the spectacular hammer that was the 1960s but full highways were being added through the early-1990s and the state has been rebuilding and “modernizing” bridges & interchanges at bigger and bigger scales ever since. If every 15 years each section of road is revisited and a bit of width is added or a turn lane, you end up where we are today.

  • 1980Gardener

    So does that mean you are finally taking back the incessant freeway building comment? If so, maybe we can discuss things that are actually going on in CT.

  • Michael

    I-84 was 2 lanes in each direction not that long ago all the way from MA to the inner Hartford suburbs, with regular exit ramps. Now, it has 3-4 general travel lanes in each direction many with multi-lane exit ramps, widened out overpasses, plus oversized-HOV lanes continuing on both sides of the city (many now with their own redundant exit ramp infrastructure). 291 & 384 and their respective interchanges didn’t even exist until the last couple decades. The corresponding street-level infrastructure has grown similarly bloated. In and around Hartford, CT DOT has “enhanced” the state highway system from bucolic country roads to these types of monstrosities.
    https://www.google.com/maps/@41.6747269,-72.8388666,3a,75y,130.94h,83.26t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1saulCPmPGsccS2g5r2SNpRA!2e0!5s20170701T000000!7i13312!8i6656

    Connecticut has a spectacular amount of expensive road infrastructure, much of which has been created through incessant building since 1950s-60s, even including over the last 30 years when the costs, futility, and lack of long term funding mechanisms should have been readily apparent.

    To get back to my original point, it’s a pattern that’s taken place to varying degrees all over the US – not just CT. In CT, however, the financial (& social) costs are up to an order of magnitude higher than in places like Phoenix due to topography, water, & legacy settlements. CT’s assets are its educated populace, pastoral setting, great small towns and cities, and rail & water connectivity to arguably the most important markets in the world. But on the building front, it simply will never be able to compete with Orlando (and the like) on building really affordable single family homes with connections to big box stores on 3 laners plus 2 turn-lane arterials, so it desperately needs to stop trying.

  • 1980Gardener

    “I-84 was 2 lanes in each direction not that long ago all the way from MA to the inner Hartford suburbs, with regular exit ramps. Now, it has 3-4 general travel lanes in each direction many with multi-lane exit ramps, widened out overpasses, plus oversized-HOV lanes continuing on both sides of the city (many now with their own redundant exit ramp infrastructure). 291 & 384 and their respective interchanges didn’t even exist until the last couple decades. The corresponding street-level infrastructure has grown similarly bloated. In and around Hartford, CT DOT has “enhanced” the state highway system from bucolic country roads to these types of monstrosities. ”

    – Yes. Everything you mention happened decades ago and none of it is evidence of present incessant freeway building. Please stop pretending that what happened in the 1950s to 1980s is somehow happening today.

    ” But on the building front, it simply will never be able to compete with Orlando (and the like) on building really affordable single family homes with connections to big box stores on 3 laners plus 2 turn-lane arterials, so it desperately needs to stop trying.”

    – Why do you think Connecticut is competing with Orlando in terms of single family homes? What do you mean by that?

  • Bernard Finucane
  • 1980Gardener

    I never suggested CT stopped building roads (or to your examples, expanding existing roads). I don’t believe any place has done such a thing.

    Is that all it takes for you to consider a state to have “incessant” freeway expansion? It seems like you are operating in a world of two extremes: either zero freeway expansion or incessant freeway expansion.

  • Michael

    This intersection shows it all, IMO. In the distance on the right, you can see the remnants of an old main street with stores right up to the sidewalk. As you can see, most of that has been torn down and replaced with B- versions of standard Orlando-style junk with the burger king and muffler shop. On the left is a grocery store where to access on foot, one needs to climb through the shrubbery. The road has been widened out to the limits and sped up to levels very incongruent with being a pedestrian. There’s extremely long distances between safe pedestrian crossings. But to make matters even worse, this is all occurring within just minutes walking of a train station with many daily connections into NYC.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@41.1405759,-73.4258564,3a,75y,175.77h,79.81t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sphW4eLlURQUhjvoqyNQ7bg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    This is the type of stuff that has been going on for years and continues to happen. I hope that it stops soon. This area could be restored relatively quickly to great community main street, with shops, wide sidewalks, and various types of housing, instead of trying to be reimagined as mediocre post-WWII suburbia. We stand in our own way with the minimum parking requirements, mandatory set-backs, various code and zoning requirements, the overly wide road and exceedingly narrow sidewalks, etc. In my opinion, it’s stuff like this intersection that are chasing folks out of New England small towns for the cities or the sunbelt – and yet we’ve spent a relative fortune to build it, and have seemed to have lost all creativity to imagine a different world, even though the remains are all around us.

  • 1980Gardener

    I am really struggling to understand where you are coming up with your claims. A few things:

    1. if you have nothing to offer about the incessant building of freeways, I think we can move on.

    2. What is it about the Sunbelt that people value in terms of design that CT doesn’t have?

    3. Are you familiar with all of the work CT is doing to rehab main streets?

  • kevd

    I remember when 291 was built (or “upgraded” to a limited access highway) and I was definitely not alive in 1958. (wikipedia shows a previous state route 291 existed there before it was upgraded to an interstate in 1994).
    You’re probably right about 84 NE of Hartford happening in the 80’s (which would certainly qualify as “around then” when I was referring to the 90s).

    I’m not sure when I used the term “incessant”. Perhaps you are confusing me with someone else?

    •My point• is that the highway building of the 50s and 60’s really destroyed Hartford and many cities like it, and that the mind set that guided construction continued long after the 60’s and that later, smaller highway projects were destructive in smaller ways.

    The HOV lanes were originally 3+. I’d say that those could be beneficial and 2+ HOV lanes are less beneficial (though likely not even close to worth they capital costs). If congestion around Hartford increases a reasonable first step would be to just change those back to 3+.

  • kevd

    *Special interstate highway naming note*
    84E runs from Scranton, PA to Sturbridge, MA.
    84W runs the same route, in the opposite direction.

    Both 84E and 84W were expanded between Hartford and Manchester in the 1990s. I’m not sure what other interstates around Hartford received similar treatments in 1990s, as I didn’t drive those much!

  • 1980Gardener

    “I’m not sure when I used the term “incessant”. Perhaps you are confusing me with someone else?”

    – You didn’t use that term. However, because my comment had only two points (one of which was the proper use of the word incessant, and the other about the CT River as an underutilized transport route), I figured you must have been addressing the word incessant. I’m not sure why else you would have responded to me.

  • Jea

    This would be a watershed moment if the measure was passed in a growing city with both escalating parking demand and transit demand. Hartford doesn’t have either. I was in Connecticut’s dead capital a few months ago for a conference. Come to find out most of the mid-rise towers in the Downtown region are either below 30% occupancy or completely mothballed. Thus, parking minimum legislation is a moot point. There will never be a conflict in Hartford because parking will always be plentiful. Sara Bronin sounds like an outstanding public servant but she’s working on the wrong process. Given that her husband is Hartford’s mayor (yes nepotism I know) Hartford should actually consider municipal dissolution. Even if say Bezos hit his head and decided to locate his HQ2 in Hartford; the HQ2 wouldn’t be enough to fix Hartford’s troubles. Bronin should study ways to dissolve Hartford. Parking minimums mean nothing when you’re city is an endless patchwork of open lots and dead offices.

  • kevd

    Just pointing out that some destructive interstate construction continued in CT well after the post war interstate highway building boom (though in reduced amounts compared to the 50s and 60s).
    I suppose that first phase could be called “incessant”.

    *84 was actually build in the 70s – so perhaps that should be our cutoff for that initial building boom.

  • 1980Gardener

    I agree – that is a much more accurate way to describe the situation.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Incessant means that it hasn’t stopped. It hasn’t stopped. The state’s population has been more or less flat for decades, but road capacity keeps growing.

  • 1980Gardener

    If it was “incessant” then someone would be able to give an example of such freeway building not stopping – an example from at least the past 30 years.

    Lies do no one any good. We should discuss reality, not fiction.

  • laurie feinberg

    The article speaks to downtown but not residential areas, Has Hartford removed parking in residential areas? Baltimore recently removed parking requirement downtown and we are studying going beyond downtown. Any intel on removing parking requirements outside of downtown areas?

  • kevd

    “Hartford, Connecticut, is getting rid of mandatory parking minimums citywide.”
    While it will take some time to judge the results, this includes many residential areas.
    “The city lifted parking minimums for its downtown about two years ago.”

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Shoup to O’Toole: The Market for Parking Is Anything But Free

|
We’re reprinting this reply [PDF] from UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of the High Cost of Free Parking, to Randal O’Toole, the libertarian Cato Institute senior fellow who refuses to acknowledge the role of massive government intervention in the market for parking, and the effect this has had on America’s car dependence. It’s an excellent […]

Parking Craters Aren’t Just Ugly, They’re a Cancer on Your City’s Downtown

|
Streetsblog’s Parking Madness competition has highlighted the blight that results when large surface parking lots take over a city’s downtown. Even though Rochester, winner of 2014’s Golden Crater, certainly gains bragging rights, all of the competitors have something to worry about: Cumulatively, the past 50 years of building parking have had a debilitating effect on America’s downtowns. […]