San Francisco Eliminates Parking Minimums

Photo:  Tim Adams/Wikimedia
Photo: Tim Adams/Wikimedia

In a win for housing affordability and walkability, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted last week to eliminate the city’s minimum parking requirements.

The reform, approved by a 7-4 vote [PDF, page 7] last Tuesday, makes SF the latest city to dump antiquated rules that constitute a huge hidden subsidy for driving. Hartford, Buffalo and Minneapolis have all either moved to or done away with parking minimums in the last two years alone.

According to estimates by SF’s planning department, minimum parking rules add between $20-50,000 to the cost of an apartment in the city. They also undermine pedestrian safety, requiring dangerous driveways to be built in some of the most densely populated, walkable areas of the city. And they also contributes to traffic, encouraging residents to own private cars, instead of take the train or bus or bike.

The mandatory parking rules date back to the 1960s and required [PDF], for example, one parking space for every six classrooms at an elementary school. In some places, they require one parking space per housing unit.

San Francisco has allowed developers to skirt those regulations through a exemption process. But this reform will make it much cheaper and easier to build at a walkable scale in one of the nation’s most walkable cities.

38 thoughts on San Francisco Eliminates Parking Minimums

  1. Here’s hoping Boston and other cities will do the same. When you see housing built with a garage door facing the street you know you’ve hit peak car.

  2. Congratulations, Agenda 21 has you firmly in it’s grips……Until the Earthquake does us part….and then, no pity from me. Ride your little Chinese busmobile to Heaven.

  3. Excellent news. Though I live in Maine now, where parking isn’t much of a problem, SF is my hometown and I well remember how frustrating the antiquated rule was, and its negative effect on public transit (which is the only intelligent way around town for most purposes).

  4. How about replacing the antiquated transit system. People own cars many reasons, even in dense urban centers, one of them being lack of decent mass transit. Sorry, Angie. SF is hardly “walkable” outside of maybe the area east of Van Ness and, quite frankly, a good chunk of this area isn’t safe to walk even during the day. As for “cheaper” good luck with that. The savings from omitting the parking requirement per unit is minimal in a city where the median price is over a million.
    I grew up in Buffalo. The downtown area is filled with surface parking lots. Outside of maybe Allentown area, most residential districts are comprised of single family or duplex homes with driveways.

  5. And speaking of classrooms and parking…the city only allows a fixed number of residential permits for SFUSD teachers. Given that parking is scarce on school campuses many teachers are forced to leave their classrooms every two hours to move their cars. Given that many of our teachers live outside of the city due to high cost of living taking public transit isn’t an option.

    “And they also contributes to traffic, encouraging residents to own private cars, instead of take the train or bus or bike.” Do you write much?

  6. A random and entirely unrepresentative commute is the penultimate reason the city of Boston should continue to require every single new housing unit include storage space for automobiles, regardless of the additional tens of thousands of dollars that each parking space costs homeowners? Not compelling.

  7. “SF is hardly “walkable” outside of maybe the area east of Van Ness.”

    One can only imagine the twisted, extreme definition of ‘walkable’ that you’ve contorted yourself into using here, all to promote fossil-fuel burning at any cost.

  8. My kids have attended two different large public schools in SF and their teachers who lived outside SF primarily used public transit (or transit + bike) even though neither school is near BART or a ferry terminal. The few that drove did not leave their classrooms every two hours to move their cars: they either parked in the staff lot, or paid to park, just like other people driving into the city do.

  9. Sounds like you’re the one with twisted, extreme definition. I’m pushing for better transit so fewer people have a reason to drive. But, interpret it as you like. I couldn’t care less what you think.

  10. Oakland is tragic. All the new buildings contain obscene amounts of parking. They must want to be a suburban backwater city with no street life.

  11. Great, the bizarre smoke/mirror Agenda 21 argument, brought to you by tea party stragglers and the Koch brothers. Have any of it’s proponents even read A-21? It’s doubtful, or else they wouldn’t be trotting it out in situations that have nothing to do with it.

  12. Great news, and please include that any new parking that is built needs to be leased/bought separately from residential units.
    Now if we can only get congestion charging…

  13. The Walk Score map for SF strongly disagrees with your assessment. What part of its methodology do you consider twisted and extreme?

    Our transit definitely needs to be much better, but that’s largely orthogonal to walkability.

  14. That’s common now in SF, and unfortunately will become more so with this policy. Although the concept of eliminating parking requirements is valid for lowering building costs, it probably won’t reduce the number of parkers, looking for any space to plant their car.

  15. I loved walking in SF when I lived there and walked or bicycled almost everywhere for many miles, but the hills and stairs are daunting to anyone with mobility issues. Plus the last time I was walking there the sidewalks were filthy, lots of aggressive panhandlers, and motor vehicle traffic was not any more considerate of pedestrians.

  16. Its not a magic bullet, but what it does is allows developers to build housing without requiring space to store a car, which should save money. In a free market world, someone would decide to build a parking structure and charge what the market will bear; perhaps some would choose to not own a car.

    Parking minimums are a hidden subsidy for drivers since the cost of car storage is spread over all of society rather than borne by car owners.

  17. Board the Red Line at Andrew, ride to Porter, transfer to the Fitchburg line of the Commuter Rail and ride to Waltham. 45-50 minutes.

  18. I knwo this is unrelated to san francisco, but here in LA, if we did the same thing, what would that look like exactly? I used to live in Hollywood and in Westlake, where parking is at a premium – and is sometimes IMPOSSIBLE to find. Frankly, to not own a car in LA even in 2018 is really difficult – I did it for 3 years. Our transportation system isnt built out yet and living in a dense neighborhood with no parking is really hell.

    I support lowering or doing away with parking minimums but i’m afraid the quality of life for most of us in Southern California will significantly go down.

    There are large swaths of the city that are for all intense and purpose inaccessible by transit still. Should a city start witth lowering parking minimums or creating better options for transit?

  19. Not against eliminating parking minimums but I hardly see parking spaces as either hidden or a subsidy. Afaik, most developers consider them an asset that yields a return. Most cities generate good cash flow from metered parking spaces.

  20. If they’re high ROI, a parking minimum shouldn’t be required. Developers would just build them.

    To compare: A parking space is ~200 sq ft. A good sized apartment is 800 sq ft or 4 parking spaces. Going rate for a parking space is $400ish (or $1600 per apartment-equivalent-square-footage) … while the apartment would go for $3-4,000. Additional units of housing offer MUCH higher returns per square foot.

  21. I get your point but parking spaces can be justified as an important amenity for some, you figures notwithstanding. Also the cost to finish and maintain apartment space is much higher and would need to be deducted to get a net return.

  22. I agree parking can be an important amenity. If people need it, they can choose to pay for the unit. This law change doesn’t say there CAN’T be parking, it just doesn’t require it. Similarly, if I want a dog in my apartment, I can search to find a dog-friendly apartment. That’s my decision.

    The price difference is $1500-2500/month, or 20-30k/year … that’s more than enough to fund the apartment.

  23. My first post stated I wasn’t opposed to having no parking minimums. I’ve heard that most developers have computers and can project returns based on a various factors. Whatever they choose to do is fine with me.

  24. “…since the cost of car storage is spread over all of society rather than borne by car owners.”

    Sounds like what is being pushed for now by allowing developers to squeeze more separate dwellings – in a given footprint, and have the occupants park their cars on the street. But also, more dwellings as such usually means fewer bedrooms in each, thus a lesser likelihood of school attending children, so the localities provide fewer services per tax dollar. Good plan for convincing people to expect lesser and lesser value. Likely no coincidence that we have seen such an explosion in openings of self storage units as well.

  25. “…is valid for lowering building costs.”

    Or rather developer profits. Square footage costs would be higher to considering that garages are generally less finished then say living rooms or kitchens.

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