Parking minimums are a problem across the continent for many reasons. They require developers to construct specified amounts of car storage every time they build a home or a business. Parking minimums require small business owners to worry about locating and paying for parking spots on top of the myriad other concerns and expenses they have.
The proliferation of parking minimums over the last several decades has resulted in the demolition of beautiful historic buildings and the ruin of productive commercial districts—giving us communities filled with empty asphalt instead of homes and businesses. Worst of all, parking minimums deprive our cities of wealth by filling them with spaces that doesn't contribute much in taxes and could be more productive as businesses or homes.
We started our #BlackFridayParking event four years ago to highlight this problem and encourage cities to change their parking policies.
Last year, as the Strong Towns staff was brainstorming for #BlackFridayParking, we came up with a crazy idea: What if we tried to track parking minimum laws in every city in the nation? We knew they were prevalent and problematic almost everywhere, but we wanted to get an idea of the scale and learn the details of each municipal code. So we asked our members, readers and listeners to help us build a crowdsourced map that would do just that. We were floored by the response and we've kept the map going since that time.
To give you an idea of how much this map has grown, here's what it looked like one year ago:
And here's what it looks like today (click on the pins to read about each town's parking policies):
- Green pins = parking minimums completely eliminated in at least one area of the city
- Blue pins = parking minimums lowered or removed for certain uses
- Orange pins = currently discussing their parking minimum laws
Part of the change is, of course, due to an increase in data submitted to this crowdsourced map over the last year. But part of it is also an increase in towns that have removed or lowered parking minimums across the continent. That's good news for everyone.
Several of our readers and members contacted us recently to let us know about those parking minimum changes in their towns. We were particularly interested to learn about communities that went from a blue dot last year (some progress made on removing minimums) to a green dot (parking minimums removed in at least one area of town). Here are some we wanted to highlight:
- Fitchburg, WI, which eliminated parking minimums in its SmartCode District. As Fitchburg's mayor and Strong Towns member, Steve Arnold reports, "There are now three SmartCode neighborhoods, the newest of which will have more than 1500 residential units."
- Lancaster, CA, which has removed minimums in the commercial zones of the city effective January 2017 (we're going to go ahead and count it now).
We encourage you to zoom in on your region in the map and explore the parking policies present there.
In our collection of updates for the map, we also heard about some new towns that are contemplating a change in their parking minimum requirements, including places like:
- Chattanooga, TN where Jonathan Hunter reports: "Form Based code was adapted for the downtown area of Chattanooga in June of 2016. The 6 month review is ongoing, but the new (hotly contested) proposal for downtown was no parking minimums. We'll see if it lasts through December, but so far the world hasn't imploded."
- Joplin, MO where Sam Anselm informs us: "As we embark on a zoning code update this year, reducing/eliminating minimum parking requirements will be discussed. I don't know the outcome of those discussions or the decision that council will make, but the topic is on the table."
And, as we shared yesterday, High River, Canada is doing an exemplary job of setting aside parking minimums in favor of a "people-first" approach to land use and transportation. Indianapolis is also making strides to decrease minimums, although the city has not eliminated them altogether.
The nuance of parking policy
In addition to updates on parking codes in towns across the country, we also received some information about another aspect of parking: garages. Mitch M. shared a perceptive comment about his town of Pittsburgh, which is currently on our map with a green pin because parking minimums are eliminated in Pittsburgh's downtown. Mitch told us:
I wanted to respond to the comment associated with Pittsburgh on your map. While the submitter may be correct that parking minimums have been eliminated downtown[...] the city and our urban development organization have actively, quite actively in fact, worked to subsidize tons of structured parking in the downtown zone. There is an inherent contradiction in the City's activities in that we may have removed minimums from the code and we may be evangelizing complete streets and mass transit and biking / walking, but practically speaking we are still building boatloads of (new) structured car parking that completely defeats all the other efforts systemically by adding more cars to the grid.
This is happening both embedded in the new, often mixed-use building construction and also with independent parking structures. After just spending half-a-billion dollars to expand our light rail a whopping mile under one of our rivers, we just can't seem to help ourselves but turn around and plow public funds into parking. [...] I just wanted to pass along what I think is a critical nuance for our case locally. Removing minimums while continuing to subsidize structured parking kind of makes the code irrelevant.
We know there's much more work to be done to end parking minimums and to end the proliferation of parking lots across America.
There are also more updates needed for this map. If you want to add to or update data on this map, please fill out this short survey. We appreciate your help in showing the nation that parking minimums are a prevalent problem, and we appreciate your advocacy to help end them.