Will Philadelphia Reverse Its Progress on Parking Requirements?

Lower parking requirements have encouraged construction of housing instead of car storage, but the reforms still face political resistance.

A bill in the City Council would roughly double residential parking requirements throughout Philadelphia, raising housing costs. Photo: PlanPhilly
A bill in the City Council would roughly double residential parking requirements throughout Philadelphia, raising housing costs. Photo: PlanPhilly

In 2012, Philadelphia slashed minimum parking requirements for new buildings, part of a package of zoning and tax reforms to help the city add housing and development without generating more car traffic.

The policy worked: In Center City Philadelphia, parking lots have been developed into apartment buildings, while parking occupancy rates have dropped.

But policies to encourage housing for people instead of car storage don’t sit well with everyone. For the second time in the last few years, Philadelphia Council Member Jannie Blackwell is pushing to reverse progress on parking requirements and roughly double minimum parking rules throughout the city.

Jake Blumgart at PlanPhilly reports:

Blackwell’s bill would require housing developments built in most multi-family zoning districts to provide six parking spaces for every 10 units of housing. The current law requires three spaces for 10 residences. The increased mandate would affect even the densest zoning districts, which are mostly found downtown and in University City, the commercial heart of Blackwell’s district.

Under the proposed bill, developers would have to provide seven parking spaces for every 10 housing units in industrial-residential mixed use areas like Kensington and Callowhill.

In single-family districts and the most common multi-family district (RM-1), three parking spaces would be required for every 10 housing units, whereas none are required now. Those two categories are how a majority of the city is currently zoned.

Blumgart reports that the city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously against the measure. But Blackwell’s bill might have legs in the City Council, where President Darrell Clarke has proposed something similar in the past.

More recommended reading today: Baltimore Innerspace says that if Baltimore is ever going to build the Red Line light rail project, which Governor Larry Hogan strangled, local politicians need to get serious about advocating for it. And Wash Cycle evaluates the claim that “cyclists are the worst” using actual crash data.

  • 1980Gardener

    I wonder about the basis for this – are developers seeing more demand for parking that the developments offer?

  • AMH

    If they were seeing higher demand, they would likely respond by building more. A minimum is not a limit.

  • 1980Gardener

    I agree, but was thinking that such demand may have spurred the interest in reversing the minimums.

  • LazyReader

    All this proves essentially is that people that can’t park won’t move. Carless or car free people might move there but are they movers and shakers that contribute to significant tax revenue. We treat parking garages like basements; It’s not exactly the social
    gathering place. Trying to find an additional use of what most consider a
    blight. But you need to have lots of parking even in major cities or
    the retail and commercial activities leave or fail to be attracted, so
    why cant parking structures be beautified. Turn of the 20th century major cities built some of the most stunning architectural pieces, our train stations of the 20th century. Infrastructure that looked good. a parking deck can be a work of architecture too. To help the public appreciate the building’s novel function for its time. Buildings of an industrial or utilitarian nature used to blend well in their urban environment. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/14696fd667db8d6340bc2d33b38fc673da29481aff56392da581a4188a6131f7.png

  • Jared R

    She’s caving to constituents who are probably starting to scream about parking “difficulty.”

  • 1980Gardener

    Perhaps, but I would think the market would take care of that – after all, parking is a great perk many developers promote and which attract buyers.

  • Jared R

    Right, but that’s not how politicians work. They put up policy that they can point to to fit their constituents’ demands (not saying the auto lobby isn’t one of her constituents).

  • davistrain

    The term “car storage” as applied to parking spaces is a common usage in Streetsblog articles, but here in the LA area, it is usually referring to the facilities in industrial areas where recreational vehicles, “project” cars and similar things on wheels that aren’t going anywhere for an extended time are kept.

  • A parking minimum of 6 spaces for 10 apartments is considerably lower than in many US cities, where one parking space per bedroom is sometimes still the minimum. Many US urban areas not on the East Coast, mostly built after Euclidian zoning began, have found out the hard way that even suburban TOD directly at mass transit stops still require a substantial amount of parking for resident’s non-transit trips.

    Here in Metro-Denver outside of our immediate downtown area we have seen a drop to 0.75 parking spaces per bedroom in certain walkable/transit neighborhoods. While transit, walking, and bicycle advocates are pushing for a deeper cut in parking requirements the only place that has happened so far is within a short bike ride of downtown Denver, where housing costs and other living costs are rising at an out-of-control rate, to the point where below a certain amount of middle-class income you can’t afford to live there even if you have a half-dozen roommates.

  • Michel S

    Yes, but Philadelphia also has very onerous zoning and height restrictions, so “building more” isn’t possible w/o a variance. And guess who has to approve your variance? You guessed it: Councilwoman Blackwell.

    This bill will give Councilmembers much more control over who gets to build in their Districts by controlling who gets the variances, and it will force development to comply with their outdated standard rather than reacting to market forces.

  • Wanderer

    Philadelphia is a very walkable city. It has a citywide walkscore of 79, fifth in the country among cities with over 300,000 population. Much of the core of the city has retained a walkable fabric of rowhouses and buildings built to a streetwall. Philadelphia embodies the old urbanism that new urbanism is trying to emulate. Metro Philadelphia (the Delaware Valley) ranks high in per capita transit ridership. The city’s largest employment centers–Center City and University City–have strong transit service.
    This is to say that in many parts of Philadelphia a low car/no car lifestyle is feasible for those who want it. Philadelphia’s urban revival is not based on ease of car access but largely on walkability. Raising parking requirements is not the way to go.

  • Anon

    Philly may be walkable, which is useful to people who live walking distance from most of what they do, including work (which is not most people, especially those who aren’t rich), but everything else mostly sucks.

    There’s 2 actual subway lines + PATCO. They work fine. The trolley lines are painfully slow (being street-running in mixed traffic) outside of the small subway portion. SEPTA Regional Rail is slow as well and a very limited reach (and limited weekend schedules).

    I’ve never used Uber/Lyft as heavily in any other city as I have in Philly, because there’s just no good way of getting to things that aren’t walking distance most of the time.

  • Wanderer

    Regional rail is not that slow. Its system average speed is 21 MPH, which isn’t great, but isn’t horrible in a big city. Transit analysts have repeatedly commented that Regional Rail is potentially a tremendous asset, going to so many corridors, but it’s underutilized. And the Regional Rail lines in Philly all connect up with each other, a condition which New York and Boston are now spending big money to replicate. Philly could use those lines to get a lot of rapid transit for far less money than rail construction elsewhere.

    Surface transit in Philadelphia doesn’t have dedicated lanes, and I agree that it often gets very slow and unreliable. The trolleys are the most vulnerable. I know that railfans were upset when SEPTA replaced the 23 trolley with a bus, but at least the bus can go around obstacles.

    SEPTA’s studying Bus Rapid Transit on Roosevelt Boulevard, which seems like a good idea. But other corridors need help too.

  • Philly is a superb bike town, with abundant bicycle lanes, and with drivers who, by New York standards, are relatively polite to bicyclists, in that they respond to hand signals.

    So that’s the way to get to places that aren’t walking distance.

  • Wanderer

    The narrow streets in much of Philadelphia inhibit speeding by auto drivers, another advantage for cyclists.

  • I remember happening upon St. John Neumann Way, and being shocked! Then I found the cluster of small streets down towards South Philly.

    I look forward to visiting again soon.

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