Development News Politics Transportation

The Urban Parking Paradox and the Need for Regulation

As previously discussed, providing the necessary parking to meet local government regulations can be both costly in terms of finances and social impacts to the immediate neighborhood in which the parking is built. The question should be asked about whether parking should be regulated at all in terms of how much should be provided.

In the Central Business District and historic neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine there is roughly 92 acres of surface parking lots. To put this into real terms, the amount of surface parking lots present in our urban core is nearly equal to the entire size of Burnet Woods (89 acres).

The Gateway Quarter parking garage sits empty on a typical Saturday afternoon (left), while much of the on-street parking remains readily available (right) for those looking to shop in the rejuvenated district of Over-the-Rhine.

Many of the commonly used calculations for parking requirements have been seen as arbitrarily derived. One reason this is thought to be the case is because of the limitless variables presented in each particular situation. In an area with high transit ridership and lots of pedestrian activity there should be a lesser requirement for parking than an area that is solely dependent on the automobile. This is reflected in the zoning code to a certain extent, but what would happen if the regulation disappeared completely?

No Regulation:
Parking is an amenity, not infrastructure, and should be treated as such. Government should not be regulating how many square feet of closet space there should be in each dwelling unit, nor should it be regulating how many parking spaces need to be provided for retail and office development. This is something a private developer should know based on their client demands.

If a developer feels that they can successfully renovate a handful of historic rowhouses along Race Street in Over-the-Rhine and provide zero parking spaces, then that should be their risk (or reward). Similarly, if a developer feels that they need X number of parking spaces for their new office tower in the Central Business District, then that too should be up to them. The potential problem with this approach is not providing too little parking, but rather too much.

The areas in black indicate the 92 acres of surface parking located throughout Cincinnati’s Central Business District (left) and the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood (right).

Parking Maximums:
Since some might say that no parking regulation whatsoever might allow the market to run wild and produce unsustainable results. In that case the lack of any regulation could be replaced by a parking maximum, or a cap. For Cincinnati this would make most sense in places already developed and built in a way not suitable for parking facilities. This would allow for developers to create the parking they feel is needed up to a certain extent deemed appropriate by the local government.

From there policy makers could decide whether it is in their best interests to allow flexibility with contingencies, or not. For example, a developer could exceed the parking cap if the overage was built with pervious paving, that the additional parking be shared, or if the developer paid into a fund that would then help offset the costs of other infrastructure improvements needed in the affected area.

In a nutshell though this would allow for developers, no matter how big or small, to make the decision of how much parking they actually need with regulation limiting their actions. This would prevent big box retailers from over-parking their sites and thus reduce the amount of impervious surfaces, loss of urban fabric, and other negative externalities.

Both scenarios presented above could be addressed by removing minimum parking requirements. This would enable small businesses and investors to succeed without the costly parking mandates while also not adding additional regulations through maximum parking specifications that would experience similar issues as minimum parking requirement regulations.

But in either case, the above scenarios seem to be better than the current urban parking policies currently used in Cincinnati and widespread across the United States. Both scenarios would empower small businesses and investors while also maintaining a free market system. Both situations would demand less staff time to oversee and thus reduce costs and/or improve service levels at the local government level.

Development News Politics Transportation

Examining parking policy from an urban perspective

The City of Cincinnati requires one parking space per residential dwelling unit throughout all four sub-districts of the Downtown Development District. For office uses there is one parking space required for every 750 to 1,200 square feet of office space.

These parking facilities could range from initially cheap surface lots to costly structured parking garages. Both facilities have the potential to severely damage the urban fabric in spite of design guidelines in place to improve their appearance. In addition to this damaging effect, the cost of parking is extraordinarily high in urban locations as parking spaces can cost between $20,000 and $30,000 per space in a structured parking garage. While surface lots are cheaper to construct, they squander valuable land and thus shoulder the cost of wasted revenues for local government and private land owners.

Thousands of parking spaces are being constructed underneath The Banks development with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

The high costs of parking are immediately passed on to the customer (tenant) which results in one of two things. 1) The price points go so high that many are priced out of the market; or 2) The costs become too much for the developer to be able to recoup based on market demands which stymie investment absent substantial public subsidies.

Neither scenario is ideal, but both are seen in Cincinnati’s urban core today. Within the Central Business District the demands are there for increased development, but the prices are higher than the market will bear. As a result affordable living spaces are often not built, and new office development is rare.

In Over-the-Rhine, demand historically was too low to warrant the high parking costs, one factor in under-investment in the neighborhood, did not exist. The demands now exist in several portions of Over-the-Rhine, but in order for the price points of units to be kept artificially low, and keep inventory moving, parking has come in the form of surface lots.

The purple building seen here will be demolished to make way for an above-ground parking garage to supply parking requirements for nearby developments.

These surface lots throughout Over-the-Rhine have lower initial capital costs, but cause negative externalities for the neighborhood – one of America’s largest and most significant historic districts – and put additional historic structures at risk of demolition for these parking requirements.

Cincinnati Beer Company owner, Bryon Martin, currently owns the former Christian Moerlein residence and office on Elm Street in the Brewery District. His plans are for a brewpub restaurant that would play on the history of the two buildings. Martin would also love to have a large outdoor biergarten area on the vacant adjacent lot, but says that parking may have to be the use for that space at least initially.

There are potential solutions out there to balance out this equation without extreme demands that drive price points of investment in the neighborhood to unaffordable levels, or massive public subsidies. Over the next several weeks UrbanCincy will be looking into these potential policy solutions and how they might impact investment in our urban neighborhoods, preservation of the city’s historic building stock, and help change the way in which we design our communities.