Parking Policy 101

TransForm headshot for the Policy Advocacy Manager, Hayley Currier

Two people talking while walking through a farmers marketImagine closing your book after your bus trip across town, walking across a bustling plaza amid smells of sugary churros and bison meatballs. You stop to pick up a few essentials at the market, then pick up your preschooler from after-school care. Holding your child’s hand and hearing about today’s art project, you let bicycles and scooters pass before crossing the bike lane to your apartment.

Now imagine getting off the bus in the middle of a sea of cars and asphalt twice as big as the only park in your neighborhood. You dodge a steady stream of cars, breathing in exhaust, as you look for your car that you’ve paid to park all day. You drive 15 minutes to the market, weaving through yet another sea of asphalt, only half full, to find a parking space. You pick up items for dinner, then drive 15 minutes again — this time to after-school care, fighting for a safe place to pull up to the curb amid the idling, double-parked cars. You gather your child and drive another 15 minutes home and pull into a final parking lot next to your apartment building, where your car sits overnight amid a herd of other vehicles that spent the day similarly.

These experiences are both real, resulting from radically different approaches to parking and land use planning. When we plan around transit and walkability, we ensure that it’s easy and safe to get to work, run errands, and reunite with friends and family. When we plan around cars, we require more and more space for them, which then requires a car to get around, which then requires more space. This is a vicious cycle that keeps us invested in driving instead of reducing emissions and pollution, as well as decreasing transportation costs.

Let’s talk about parking.

In order to build more of the walkable, affordable neighborhoods that improve life for everyone, we must only build the parking we truly need, smartly manage the parking we have, and convert the parking that we don’t need to healthier uses. This approach, gaining momentum across the Bay and the state, is at odds with decades of car-centric planning and infrastructure. Often, existing law actually requires the construction of new parking, whether or not it's needed or even wanted by the community. Cities and counties have the opportunity to change the vicious cycle of car-dependency by taking a closer look at their parking codes and zoning laws to minimize the construction of new parking, employ pricing, technology, and managers to ensure that we’re optimizing the parking we have, and incentivize the creation of parks and housing out of the oversupply.

It’s hard to manage a thing when you don’t know what you have, which is why we’ve been supporting our partners at SPUR in the development of a new Parking Census — a database of all the parking spaces in the nine-county Bay Area, including spots on streets, in lots, and in garages, for both residential and commercial purposes. Join me, lead researcher Mikhail Chester, Hilary Nixon of the Mineta Transportation Institute, and Laura Tolkoff from SPUR on Monday, February 28 from 12:30-1:30 to hear about the findings, the implications for parking policy, and how to ensure equitable outcomes as we work to put people instead of cars at the center of our land use planning.

The Bay Area Parking Census is produced by the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) in partnership with SPUR. The research was conducted on behalf of MTI by Dr. Mikhail Chester from the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University. TransForm and Urban Habitat served as project advisors.


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