Sustainable Urbanism: development and transportation practices based on a long-term economic model that accounts for the costs of their ecological effects. Future urban sustainability requires a holistic consideration of our ideas about the relationship between the built environment and mobility. Ultimately, that means we must reconsider parking.

Consider Seattle’s urban future in light of the following estimates:

1. Population Growth. There are no official Seattle-only population forecasts, but we can extrapolate from recent history. According to Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI), the City of Seattle gained 17,355 people between 2010 and 2012. A Census Bureau estimate puts the gain at 25,875. Assuming that ESRI’s nominal figure is the constant biannual growth rate, that’s 156,195 new residents by 2030. If this estimate is accurate, Seattle faces a projected growth pressure of nearly twenty-five percent over eighteen years. How will we move these people? Where will we house them? How will we make Seattle an increasingly walkable, enjoyable, activity rich, sustainable, economically successful and economically diverse place to live? Our answers to these questions will determine whether Seattle is a sustainable city going forward.

2. Mobility Spatial Efficiency. According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), typical on-street auto parking requires 200 square feet of space per vehicle, exclusive of right-of-way for maneuvering; a parked car in a garage takes up 300-450 square feet depending on the specifics of maneuvering aisles and structural design. On the other hand, a seated human using public transit or a bicycle consumes about twelve square feet. This comparison demonstrates how private cars steal precious space from the urban fabric of a sustainable and growing city. A study shows that cars are parked ninety-five percent of the time. Do we really wish to incur the costs of allocating at least two-hundred square feet of our city’s built environment for each usually-parked private car when only twelve square feet are needed for each resident to be comfortable and highly mobile?

Let’s imagine that half of these 156,195 additional residents by 2030 brought a car with them: 78,097 cars. According to ITE standards, we would need to allocate approximately 200 square feet to park each one in on-street parking spaces. To park them would require 358 acres of parking spaces—imagine a square lot composed entirely of parking the length of thirteen football fields on each side. If we leveled downtown Seattle and paved everything from James Street to Olive Way, from First Avenue to Summit Avenue, that entire area could be covered with the added cars. Scarce space in our built environment has more valuable purposes than storing seldom-used assets, especially in places where we concentrate sustainable mobility investments. Seattle, like many other cities, faces a stark choice: park more cars or have active, walkable, aesthetically pleasing, sustainable urban environments.

To fit more people, more activities, and more economic drivers into the same space comfortably we must enable people to live comfortably and conveniently without a private car. Doing so recovers 200-450 square feet of space per adult currently under-utilized as car storage. We can use that space gained for human-oriented activities: sidewalk cafes, parklets, housing, and activated space inside buildings. People already demand those spaces in our urban villages and urban centers through their willingness to pay higher rents. Further, by focusing development on people, not underutilized cars, we can save on overall development costs.

I propose that ‘urban villages’ are the places to start. If we want to live in an ‘urban village’ that is within ¼ mile of a frequent transit stop, in an ‘urban center’, in a station area overlay district, in an area where there is a lot to do and a lot of people to meet and where there are cycle tracks, parklets, and side walk cafes, then we should consider the idea that what we want is to live without the car-related infrastructure that steals precious space from our happiness, comfort, and convenience for something we use only five percent of the time. Those who want a personal private car could choose to live in Seattle’s other wonderful neighborhoods or to rent unbundled, monthly parking in a commercial parking structure located on the periphery of the urban village or the quarter-mile (5-minute) walkshed around transit stations, and pay market rates that recover the costs of building and maintaining that parking space.

As a commercial mortgage loan underwriter I know two things. 1) The cost of parking is a loss leader for development given the present rates most apartments charge for subterranean parking spaces. In urban and CBD areas off-street parking generally requires over $200 per month in income to break-even. 2) Banks aren’t exactly visionaries and at times neither are developers. Their primary worry is risk: before this decade, there was a risk that no one would want to live, work, or shop in buildings without parking. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Millennials want to live without the hassle of owning a car and still have convenient, reliable, rapid mobility options. Boomers, while far more attached to their cars as a generation, will likely drive less with age.

Seattle zoning regulations already allow this convenient, sustainable lifestyle. New commercial and multi-family residential developments without parking are permissible under Seattle zoning code, in an ‘urban village’ that is within ¼ mile of a frequent transit stop, in an ‘urban center’, or in a station area overlay district (see: Seattle Municipal Code, Tables A & B for 23.54.015, sections II). Still, developers often over-park their developments in the belief that units will be more marketable, in order to obtain financing from risk adverse lenders or because they don’t fully realize what the market trends are. Currently, developers typically build about one parking space for every two apartments in the Belltown Urban Village and Denny Triangle Urban Village of the Downtown Urban Center. If we think this is a good idea, we’re not thinking ahead.

What will residents do without private cars if we still haven’t finished our Seattle Subway network, if bicycles and walking won’t do, and if buses don’t serve our destinations? In fact, we already have alternatives. Instead of parking privately-owned cars in our new, close-in, human- and transit-oriented developments, we can substitute off-street parking for private cars with reserved spaces for car sharing services such as Zipcar and Car2Go, spaces that could even serve electric vehicles.

According to Zipcar, one shared car can replace fifteen privately-owned cars. Car sharing reduces the required parking for 105 single-person apartment units to 7 spaces, with cars serving as a supplement other transportation modes. Removing personal private-car parking in favor of car-share spaces frees up fourteen out of fifteen off-street parking spaces for other uses, increases mobility choices, reduces negative externalities, increases the amount of active space in new buildings, and creates more sustainable neighborhoods with easy access to sustainable mobility.

As a matter of policy, if a developer wants to build a new building in an ‘urban village’ that is within ¼ mile of a frequent transit stop, in an ‘urban center’, or in a station area overlay district then that developer should only be allowed to provide at most on- or off-street parking for share-cars, bicycles, and handicapped, essential service, and commercial delivery vehicles. By removing personal private-car parking in favor of car-share spaces we can reactivate the gained space for more sustainable uses, uses that prioritize people over cars.

I believe we can build a successful, sustainable Seattle. Most of the regulations and opportunities are already in place. The Puget Sound Regional Council has even produced a “Parking Management Plan Checklist for Regional Growth Centers” (2003) that begins to move towards some of what is discussed here, including thinking long-term about urban development, providing for bicycles, encouraging shared parking, unbundling parking, moving parking away from centers, and preferring carpools, rideshares, and (by extension) car sharing. While most developers may not have caught on yet, Seattle is ready. We can grow sustainably and compactly without the negative effects of more privately-owned cars. It’s simple. It’s all about the parking.

Ben Broesamle is an aspiring real estate development and investment leader specializing in human- and transit-oriented development. He presently works as an analyst in commercial real estate finance and is on the board of Seattle Subway. He holds a BA in geography from UCLA where he concentrated in urban and regional development studies and minored in environmental studies. He moved from Los Angeles to Magnolia in 2010 where he now commutes via the 33 or 24.

52 Replies to “Sustainable Urbanism Means Less Parking”

  1. Nicely written article Ben, and welcome to STB.
    I’ve long advocated for converting on-street parking lanes as a higher and best use of the space allocated to storing a vehicle for hours on end. I wonder how many acres of space that would free up if none existed.
    Transit has not been doing a very good job of increasing it’s overall mode share from single digets to something respectable, like 1/3 or half of all trips taken. Yes, transit to specific areas (CBD), during the peak of the peak is doing nicely, but that’s a small number in the big scheme of things regionwide.
    Your reference to dependence on autos for the bulk of all trips (~80%) is very real. Not many Americans are willing to consider going carless. BUT, having options that preserve our precious mobility, save us lots of money, and are nearly as convenient as personal ownership could be a real game changer for lots of us.
    Maybe city hall needs to run a bunch of PSA’s advocating for citizens to kick the habit, ditch the car, lose the space on the curb, enroll in a shared-car program, and when all else fails, actually rent a car for the trip to grandma’s house.
    Most of us would choose the $5-$10,000 annual bonus willingly..

    1. Thanks, Mic. Appreciate the kind words.

      And I completely agree with you. What may be too subtle in this article is my interest in perfecting TOD first, and then allowing other neighborhoods to adopt similar policies later on. The locations for this policy are all essentially TOD districts: “urban centers”, “urban villages” within “frequent transit overlays”, and “station area overlays.” I think it’s the right proposal for these already-defined transit destinations. They’re the places to start; they have the most transit service: the most potential to increase transit’s mode share and the most potential for adoption of different lifestyle.

      Sure, cars are still a requirement for many in today’s car-prioritized society, but I hope we can begin to slowly-but-surely kick the private-ownership habit.

  2. I want to say up front that I agree with most of the things in this article and the general premise. I think it’s good. I get that the space in our growth areas of the city are truly valuable. You illustrated that point well that acres of floor area could easily be wasted in parking instead of places for people and the environment.

    Even as a land use planner though, I don’t see the compelling interest as a regulator to fully force parking structures out of the urban centres and villages. We know that developers of mixed-use and residential structures already over-provide parking. And naturally, they’re still going to want to provide additional parking onsite in centres even so. That is problematic to be sure. However, *fully* restricting that right to construct parking in very close proximity is a bit over the top while saying “sure, you can build a standalone parking structure a half-mile away, no problem”.

    A. That probably won’t service their needs/desires adequately in many instance and B. why would we want to encourage parking structure hell on the periphery? I think there is a better alternative to this.

    Instead, we should:
    1. Strictly enforce parking maximums (and perhaps reduce them);
    2. Place local neighourhood/block moratoriums when there is over-provision;
    3. Set up a comprehensive policy on maximising parking as a citywide goal; and
    4. Work with private and public operators to effectively utilise parking as a strategy implemented across the city (we already sort of see this in Downtown).

    That way, existing parking structures in buildings (as opposed to standalone parking structures) can adequately be utilised by onsite visitors/employees and/or renters and the general public who may choose to rent spaces. We also by extension waste less space that could be better used, while allowing developers, businesses, residents, and users to be adequately served by their niche mode type.

    As an added note, there was a recent article in The Atlantic Cities that talked about creating parking structures that could be repurposed in the future to other uses.

    1. I’ve thought about #4 a bit and the issue always is that agreements like this always add risk, time and complexity to projects. Share parking, which is needed to better use existing off-street parking, inherently has this problem. Projects that utilize shared parking (Northgate Station, SLU hotel) are few and far between and have to carry enough of a financial up side to bring both parties to the table.

      I wonder if a City sponsored “parking exchange” where owners/developers could buy and sell leases on parking spaces would help create a market for the overbuilt parking spaces. The leases could be set up by time of day, so for example an apartment building could lease spaces from an office building across the street from 5pm to 7am. While informal and one-off agreements like this already exist I wonder if a formalized market would bring enough people to the table to make a system like this work.

      1. The second side of what you said is exactly what I’m thinking could be successful. Simply having a mandatory database where developers can go to buy from other buildings would be excellent. The less formal means of “how many spaces are currently available” type of initiative is also good and should be standard across the city, too. Of course, that doesn’t provide the bank-backed certainty that a business/developer may require. I think there’s a lot of option out there to up the utilisation of existing stock and drive down the creation of more empty parking structures.

      2. I’ve seen many buildings where security considerations would make renting of excess parking in a building to people who don’t live or work there a non-starter. Particularly, enclosed garages that only building residents have access to.

      3. @asdf That certainly is an issue. I think shared parking in office buildings is the biggest opportunity. With that said I have leases in mind, so the users of the parking lot wouldn’t just be random people looking for parking.

    2. On the larger, city-wide scale, I think you’re absolutely right.

      I am basing this proposal on the creation of districts that truly prioritize transit and people over cars. I’m focused on creating districts people will want to travel to in order to walk in them. That requires moving the cars and parking away from the 1/4 mile walk-shed of frequent transit and especially HCT/rail stations. Otherwise cars still maintain their priority and waste space.

      1. Are you talking about something like this Subway station outside of Stockholm? The station is in the middle with shopping and service right by the station, then dense housing all surrounded by a local ring road with parking access off of it.

      2. Maybe. Looking at the satellite picture, that’s intriguing. I would still have a grid of streets, as we currently do in Seattle, but focus on bikes, buses, and share-cars for those streets within the localized district.

      3. I think that if the goal is to create comfortable pedestrianized areas, through traffic and surface parking is the biggest issue, not local access to off-street parking. For example shared street designs (e.g. pike place) are really *only* compatible with local access to parking.

        Look at Broadway/12th Ave, Ballard Ave/Leary Ave, The Ave/15th Ave. In all of these cases the first street is oriented towards the slow modes (ped/bike/parking) and the second road is more oriented toward through traffic. Buses, which you want to go fast, are actually in tension with placemaking and you can see that tension on The Ave and to some extent on Broadway.

        As for surface parking that absolutely kills pedestrian environments as you outlined. The issue is developers only have control over their property so unless there is some hypothetical parking structure very close which they can get an affordable long-term lease at they are most likely going to want some number of parking spaces on their site. The key is to reduce that number and ensure it doesn’t disrupt the pedestrian environment.

      4. I take your point.

        The goals are many. But to respond to your specific off-street parking comment: the reason for reducing or nearly eliminating off-street private-car parking is that by reducing the parking, you’re activating the space inside buildings for other uses or saving a great deal on construction costs altogether while also allowing people to live in the ‘village’ without their priority given over to cars. As Peter Calthorpe pointed out, we travel the globe to walk in cities that have pedestrian-prioritization. In conjunction with rapid transit, that’s how more and more people want to live. In order to achieve that on a hyper-localized scale I’m simply proposing the obvious: removing private-cars from off-street parking and reducing the amount of on-street parking and charging an arm and a leg for private-cars to park on the street.

        It’s a lifestyle choice, prioritized pedestrians and transit in certain, rather small districts or live anywhere else with the same private-car prioritization.

      5. I appreciate your goals but I simply think there are more achievable steps before an all out ban on off-street parking. For example I think rules requiring narrower business spaces in P zones, and thus more businesses, would do a lot of improve the quality of pedestrian areas.

      6. I’d take a note out of Vancity’s Granville Street if that’s what you’re looking to achieve, Ben and Adam. I think it’s the closest model that we have. I don’t want to be a “it can’t happen here” planner, but I’m thinking Euro-style solutions/precedents aren’t exactly applicable–at this point in time. I’d rather be less pie-in-the-sky and more pragmatic so that we can get most of what you’re championing here. Your points and vision are totally in the right direction.!q=Granville+Street%2C+Vancouver%2C+BC%2C+Canada&data=!1m8!1m3!1d3!2d-123.120148!3d49.281155!2m2!1f68.13!2f79.37!4f75!2m9!1e1!2m4!1sufduuLwviPRtcA6M8QJ7mA!2e0!9m1!6sGranville+Street!5m2!1sufduuLwviPRtcA6M8QJ7mA!2e0!4m15!2m14!1m13!1s0x5486738e757a8465%3A0x4d2b3600b9e21c4b!3m8!1m3!1d71428!2d-122.184401!3d47.990331!3m2!1i1360!2i642!4f13.1!4m2!3d49.2459763!4d-123.139196&fid=5

      7. Stephen F,

        I appreciate your pragmatism. Any planner that even uses the word is probably a good person, in my experience. Now if you start talking about “implementation,” then I’ll buy the beers.

        I have only the google map you sent’s worth of information on Granville Street, but put some more levels of housing on top of those narrow retail shops and maybe add some sidewalk cafes & pubs/parklets/seating to those already-wide sidewalks and we’ve got a deal.

        Zooming out I see it’s right next to City Centre station and the Vancouver Art Museum. My proposal does lack some nod to the need for arts and culture. Italy has churches for every piazza, but Paris manages to have small parks in the middle of roundabouts with cafes on a couple corners and tall (comparatively dense) buildings in every direction. I don’t pretend it would be easy to make that happen here all at once, but it could be the ideal.

      8. I was using Granville’s streetscape as an example. Transit-and bike-only in comfortable way, rounded curbs, building frontages only (no car parking access), transit-oriented, and an attempt to activate the space. There sidewalks are wide and offer ample opportunity to go that extra effort to further activate them with street venues, vendors, cafes, and more. With the rounded curbs and vehicle restrictions in place, people feel comfortable in owning the street space in between. (If only we could actually tame 3rd Ave…) I believe the street is slowly redeveloping, but one of my City of Vancouver planning colleagues informed me that many of the one-, two-, and three-storey structures are protected. So, there’s that. But protection status in this case aside, it’s an excellent case study.

        As a resident of the U District, I’d love to fully close University Way to non-transit and bicycle traffic. It would undoubtedly be successful.

      9. Also, I’d love to do implementation…unfortunately, I don’t work for Seattle and hopefully I can get some green lights for my ideas in the jurisdiction that I serve…

      10. I think it’s great case-study. If it were morphed into a village even the size of Magnolia Village (about 9 sqaure blocks) instead of just one street, it’d be even more interesting.

        Fearing a lack of implementation I could get myself excited about is why I ended up not pursuing planning as a profession, but I respect you for diving into it anyway.

      11. You are both chasing the dangerous delusion that dimensions do not matter to the organic activation of space. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

        Granville has many issues, the primary of which is that, as a district devoted mostly to entertainment purposes, it is relatively abandoned most hours of the day and most days of the week. Even during entertainment hours, when transit too is banished from the street, you will notice that the throngs hew to the edges of the right-of-way, while the suddenly “pedestrianized” center lanes become the exclusive province of drunken vomiting.

        Simply put, Granville Street is too wide to fill up with people. In urban contexts, people are drawn to and energized by crowds, and crowds congregate in corridors thin enough for their crowdedness to be made palpable.

        Just around the corner (and the real source of the activation in your Google link), is Robson street. Robson is a pedestrian success as a city-wide magnet for retail, casual eating, and general recreational lollygagging amidst the bustle of commerce. It succeeds despite the general-purpose traffic, despite the occasional presence, even, of parking meters. It succeeds because the pedestrian space is meticulously right-sized for bustle: skinny, permeable retail frontage is mandated, and setbacks are banned; since the ’90s, driveways have been forbidden from new construction.

        And all this without closing the street (and its pedestrian lure) to the sets of eyes that might pass by in vehicles. Parking is far from plentiful (or cheap) on Robson, and the traffic is far from fast (allowing for an easy mid-block jaywalk). But fortunately, no one ever made your mistake of thinking, “if pedestrian space is good, more pedestrian space must be better”, and of ignoring the mountains of evidence that when you tip away from a critical mass, you kill your vibrancy.

        Your theoretical University Way closure would fail, just as hundreds of similar attempts failed in the Desperate Urban Renewal Scheme decades.

      12. TL;DR:

        With every street a grand boulevard and practically no one living nearby, Magnolia Village is no Paris.

        It isn’t even Ottawa (to name just one of the stubborn pedestrian-scheme disasters using wide streets that aren’t even quite as wide as Seattle’s).

      13. Hi d.p.,

        Would you do me the favor of a 360 scroll around this google streetview link and give me your thoughts? Is this acceptable/unacceptable, and why? It has some parking, some (shitty) transit, and lots of outdoor seating and walking space for people, seating space that is often although not always filled.,-122.681373&spn=0.005893,0.009495&hnear=Pearl+District,+Portland,+Multnomah+County,+Oregon&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=45.529705,-122.681373&panoid=JuO1H930imQE4LrNCnTlMw&cbp=12,261,,0,0

        My only regret is that I chose the Pearl District, which I’m sure you’ll take issue with.

      14. Honestly, I find the Pearl a pleasant surprise every time I’m there. It has so many potential strikes against it — the sterility and whiteness, the overly self-conscious “design-iness”, the mostly useless streetcar. And yet it always has a healthy pulse (at least as much as any wealthy residential district in a smaller city can).

        I think part of the Pearl’s success is luck: It’s in Portland, the streets are skinny, the blocks are small, therefore you can easily put many places in close proximity. But the rest of its success stems from choices that leverage those inherent advantages: Setbacks are rare, excessive setbacks nonexistent. Not every block contains retail, but the ones that do are spread around rather than being quarantined on one strip. Even the megaprojects are, thanks to the block size, prevented from consuming too much space (though blocks with multiple independent developments on them are invariably better than blocks with a sole occupant).

        I think your 10th & Lovejoy link is great! The wooden-slats sidewalk says, “this place is special, and should be used for lingering and gathering,” without implying that its form should (or could) be infinitely replicated across the district. It also masterfully disabuses those who experience it of the notion that growing cities should demand vast quantities of “open space”, when what citizens really need is quality space that allow them to decompress. It also reminds users that good spaces, once created, are able to activate themselves.

        Oh… yeah… there are a couple of skinny lanes on which automobiles are allowed. And even some street parking. I barely even noticed. Because when automobiles are stripped of their primacy in the place, their absolute presence or absence ceases to be of primary concern!

      15. d.p., the charaterisation of urban renewal superblocks–tower-in-the-park reference–and the issue of creating additional public space like Granville is complete crap and you know it. You are correct to identify that the largely single use, one dimensionalness block by block is a problem for Granville, but that doesn’t mean that a space like that can’t be transformed by improvements to further activiate and fill the space with more than just through car traffic. There are plenty if ways to fix that, some of which will take quite a while to address (redevelopment, better balance of uses). Get your comparisons right.

      16. d.p.,

        Nice, a James Kunstler video, I listened to his whole podcast series in two months. I dig that guy and this video.

        I’m not sure I can add to what you’ve said regarding 10th and Lovejoy, but I can tell you that 10th and Lovejoy with a subway system entrance within 1/4 mile is my ideal. I’m not saying I’m going to be able implement it soon, but it’s what I’m working towards.

        Some things for the list of features I’m striving towards that developers can easily do with the money saved on off-street parking in front of their parcel:
        *Quality pedestrian outdoor places, “to decompress” as you say. I’d prefer if roped-off beer micro-gardens were a thing too. But this 10th and Lovejoy example is exactly what I mean, in general.
        *Add quality pedestrian design (e.g. wooden boards).
        *bicycle facilities.
        *minimal setbacks.
        *minimal on-street parking (add dynamic, demand-based pricing for private cars, see: SF park).

        In the meantime, parklets are the next best thing, a pragmatic step as they can be installed in the wide, over-parked streets we have now and even used by cafes or pubs as outdoor seating. They aren’t as permanent, but someday we might be glad of that.

      17. Stephen,

        Towers-in-a-park was hardly the only damage inflicted under the banner of Urban Renewal. There were “slum clearances” to make way for highways and overblown civic buildings. There were wholesale zoning changes that outlawed established mixed-use areas and codified extreme segragation of residential from commercial from everything else.

        And, yes, there was the mostly-disastrous “pedestrian mall” zeitgeist.

        What all Urban Renewal actions had in common was a root fear of the “old city” as dirty, messy, fetid, venal, impossible to control. Bucking 6,000 years of human practice, Urban Renewalists sought to segregate spaces and segregate uses wherever possible, to apply as much conformity and placid predictability to the daily experience as they could. They thought cities could be “saved” by becoming more like suburbs, or theme parks: drive from your sterile home to a sterile lot, then shop on the sterile parquet-bricked street-mall.

        It turns out, though, that humans need bustle, need variety, need some messiness and unpredictability in their lives. These things make cities thrive. And the forces of Urban Renewal tried to kill them off.

        You can’t “further activate and fill [large amounts of] space” with event programming and whimsical street further and other committee-stamped amenities, Stephen. Not on more than an occasional basis. Places must be allowed to develop and to flourish organically… though good urban planners can certainly help to till the soil, as they have in Ben’s Portland example above. The key is to understand that you’re farming the urban environment, not Frankensteining it.



        I’m wholly on board with your list of basic principles, though I again caution that just because something works well on one corner does not make it infinitely replicable across an area. Those wooden slats, for example, will require attentive maintenance (i.e. $$) so as not to degrade into an obstruction for the disabled. And if there were parklet-style seating on every block-face in the Pearl, would there still be enough demand to bring an enjoyable critical mass to any of them?

        The crucial challenge of the next round of urban agriculture will be to figure out how to make cities that work simultaneously on an individual corner-by-corner level and on a pan-metropolitan scale. It won’t be so simple as fashioning one model and gluing copies of it everywhere.

      18. d.p.,

        I’m not completely following or informed on the examples discussed between you and Stephen, but don’t be too hard on planners in Seattle or Puget Sound. This region has a serious problem of elected leaders only being held accountable for process instead of quality of implemented results. Perhaps that’s true in other cities too, but here that trickles down to planners trying their best in an atmosphere mostly worried about holding them back and comparatively risk adverse.

        Regarding our conversation:

        I worry about being accused of Portland envy, but I admit I’m guilty of it within the confines of the Pearl District only. I’ve spent a fair amount of time there, just by myself–decompressing at 10th and Lovejoy, as a matter of fact. You mentioned earlier the point that not every block in the Pearl or even both sides of 10th have features like the wide-sidewalks with seating and the wooden slats. I agree with you on the maintenance issues, and they aren’t required in my vision, or there’s a simple fix: bricks.

        As far as parklets, I want to be clear on definitions: the parklets I was envisioning in being implemented for now are built on the street in parking spaces, similar to the Seattle Pilot Program: Some are for bars, some for cafes, and some are just public micro-parks. I don’t know the answer regarding demand, but I suspect that demand for the retrofit parklets can be based on the cafes’ and restaurants’ demand for the outdoor space.

        Can’t argue with you or anyone else making proper-treatment-for-specific-place or picking-a-winner points regarding the details. Yes, there are limited resources and we have to pick where we’re going to implement these experiments first. My overall ‘parking maximum’ proposal within a quarter-mile of frequent and/or rapid, high capacity transit access points is to simply allow 10th and Lovejoy example to be remotely possible in a city starting with Seattle’s setbacks (block size, street right of way width). I’ll eventually, probably give in and allow alley access to off-street parking, but that’s far from the ideal.

      19. I’m late to this discussion but I completely agree with d.p. assessment of Robson St vs Granville St. Anyone that has been to Vancouver knows which street is more lively, walkable and pleasant and it’s the street with more parking and more cars.

    3. What if we required repurposeable “parking structure hell” on the edges of the private-car-free districts?

      1. Would future archeologists be able to make sense of the massive Stonehenge ring of structures, then ask “What the hell were they thinking?”

      2. Sweet! Maybe some of them will be converted to pubs. 12 Pubs of Repurposed Parking Structure Hell Solstice 2047, count me in!!

  3. From a policy standpoint, we shouldn’t worry about parking maximums. We should simply start with getting rid of parking minimums. At the same time, we can keep the parking related restrictions. So, basically, you don’t have to add parking, but if you do, you have to add it in back, etc. That would allow builders to build the same sort of crap they are building now, or a place with more units. Some would keep building the same thing, but others would switch to adding more units with less (or no) parking.

    I would also get rid of the silly “back yard” requirement, but that is almost off topic.

    Once you did that (which would apply to everything in the low rise category and above) I would change the rules so that SF zones become, in essence, low rise zones. Apply some of the same types of restrictions (height, set back, etc.) but again, no required parking. The heights could even be a tad lower than a house. So, for example, you could build a 30 foot high house, or four row houses twenty five feet high (or a small duplex, or cottages, etc.).

    If explained properly, these changes would be surprisingly popular. Parking is a concern, but low on the list for most people. Congestion is a bigger issue for folks who drive, and required parking just encourages it. Meanwhile, the most common complaint I’ve heard is that people build ugly buildings — the required parking just contributes to that.

    1. Ross, we’ve already gotten rid of most of the parking minimums where it really matters in the City of Seattle (though the same can’t be said in every jurisdiction). There are no minimums in Seattle urban centers and station overlays. That’s why parking maximums matter, especially when they’re excessively “generous” as a maximum. Believe it or not, some developments really try to eek out every space legally buildable and that’s a real problem.

      What you’re describing additionally is access control. SDOT or the traffic reviewing division is certainly already applying those restrictions where feasible where they’ve prioritised unobstructed frontages and an alleyway/side entrance is feasible. I suppose you could crackdown further, but that would require a comprehensive, masterplanning strategy.

      I think you underestimate the importance of parking to SFR neighbourhoods. Heck, even SFR neighbourhoods in the burbs bitch about new low-rise (or in their view, high density) development in an suburban urban center 4 miles from their houses. I should know. I can only imagine the irrational outcry of SFR ‘hoods if fair swaths were redesignated in the Comprehensive Plan and rezoned for medium density development.

      1. Sorry, I disagree completely. Parking minimums are what drives crap, as noted here:

        I would say this requirement just on low rise buildings is way more important than the one that excludes urban centers. In many urban centers, you can build more than high rise. Getting rid of parking requirements on bigger buildings is nice, but it won’t have the dramatic effect that changing the rules for low rise would. With low rise, the parking requirement completely changes what can be built. In many cases, without the parking requirement, a developer could build 6 town houses instead of 4 on the same lot — a 50% increase. This makes sense financially, unless you can sell your units with parking for a lot more money. With the big apartment buildings, there just isn’t the same cost ratio. They are likely to add some parking, just not at as much.

        Very little of the city is in areas where they don’t have parking minimums. It is hard to imagine having a huge amount of growth just because of development in those areas. If you look at areas like Ballard, for example, it wasn’t those six story buildings that are responsible for all the growth, it was the duplexes, quads and smaller apartments, even if a lot of them are really ugly.

        Speaking of ugly, that is usually the first complaint. People hate the fact that houses get torn down and replaced by ugly buildings (as the article shows). This is why changing SFH zones to allow buildings like this (which do require parking) wouldn’t fly. People would whine about congestion and ugliness. Which brings me to my second point — I’ve never met anyone, anywhere, or even read comments by anyone who complained more about parking than traffic. When people complain about parking, they are just waxing nostalgic (remember when you could easily park in the U-District for free). Really, of all the complaints, that is always last on their list (“and furthermore, what about parking…”). Congestion is the first complaint, followed by ugliness, followed by parking. Well, the third helps make the first two worse, and people should consider that before defending parking minimums. My guess is that most of the people who do worry about parking haven’t thought about it much (or thought about how this increases the housing costs in the city) so that is why articles like the one in the Seattle Times help quite a bit.

      2. Ross: I agree without about SFR neighborhoods and especially that we can do better in low rise zoning, generally most everything of what you said from how I read your comment. I was arguing from the angle of people saying, “from my cold, dead, hands” regarding outlying/low rise/SFR parking spaces–essentially ignoring them in this particular proposal. However, I was also skipping the middleman on congestion. If you have literally no option of parking at all, you’ll use other modes to access the districts, modes that lead to less ugliness (as you point out), modes that are more spatially efficient, and modes that are better suited to achieve a number of goals: social, urban design, economic, and ecological.

      3. Ben: Yeah, that is a great vision, but areas with no parking whatsoever are so far in the future that I wouldn’t worry about it. Downtown has plenty of parking, both on the street, in lots and in buildings. But downtown is fine, relatively speaking. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of some of the street parking (to help move the buses faster) but really don’t see that as being that big of a deal. Likewise with the buildings containing parking — they are much better than expecting the city or the zoning code to provide your parking. Mainly, I think trying to create parking free areas right now would be a waste of political energy.

        I’m most concerned about the fact that rent is so damn high right now, and that developers build crappy, ugly buildings in reaction. I’m really concerned that parking requirements are responsible for both. I also think that people who believe we can’t change this are needlessly pessimistic. This is a problem with talking to people who agree with you. If you only talk to people who agree with you, you can get an inflated view of the electorate (e. g. “How could Bush win reelection?”). The flip side is that you don’t notice when people change their opinions, or a particular issue is way down on their list of priorities. We just elected a socialist, and we think we can’t get rid of the parking requirement? As I said, the Seattle Times just ran a guest editorial that proposed just that. The Seattle Times! If we push hard enough, we can get rid of parking as part of the zoning laws. We can keep or modify some of the code (over the objection of many free market urbanists) to placate the folks that don’t want us to build crap. Then, after we build decent buildings in the low rise areas, we can try and do the same for SFH zones areas. This is pretty simple, really — we could just remove the parking minimum and be done with it. All it takes is a concerted political push, which, of course, we lack in this city.

    2. “Parking is a concern, but low on the list for most people.”

      Say what? “Most people” expect free or cheap parking everywhere they go. They have just learned not to expect it in Seattle, so they avoid going there. Or they take the bus when they’re going downtown (but not when they’re going to other neighborhoods).

      1. I’m talking about parking with regards to new construction (in Seattle). The code is written as if it existed fifty years ago, when other issues weren’t as big. Like I said, parking is really a small issue, but it looms large in the zoning code.

  4. Ben, are you not at all worried about maximums preventing projects from happening because some lenders won’t be willing to fund projects without parking? Depends on the strength of market demand, no doubt.

    I have to say that I’m becoming more convinced that maximums are needed. Because lending decisions are based on comps, overbuilding of parking becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maximums can break that cycle. I would argue that we don’t have time to wait for the lenders to come up to speed without regulatory prodding. And since lenders are in the business of lending, they’ll probably find a way to make loans if there is no other choice but projects without parking.

    1. Dan,

      Thanks for the input. I 10,000% agree with you on maximums.

      And I am not worried for lending/projects in Seattle in the districts/geographies I outline above, no. Think of Capitol Hill, or 1900 vintage buildings along any avenue downtown 4th and Pike comes to mind. Plenty of zero parking comps in those areas. Even Old Ballard Avenue has plenty of zero parking comps. The story works in the geographies I’ve outlined (‘urban villages’) that all have excellent frequent transit access.

      As I’ve said in comments, it’s slightly harder story to tell that story about low rise or recently SFR neighborhoods.

      1. Dan,

        I should add, some lenders will pass on the projects, especially ones that live and work out of suburban U.S. locations.

        Business (especially real estate) is most often not science, but art. By that I mean, if the zoning regulations in a city like Seattle say that “in an ’urban village’ that is within ¼ mile of a frequent transit stop, in an ‘urban center’, or in a station area overlay district, new buildings are only allowed to provide at most on- or off-street parking for share-cars, bicycles, and handicapped, essential service, and commercial delivery vehicles,” then lenders will get over their fears and lend on new projects.

    2. How about a comp for a zero-parking 40-story luxury apartment? It’s interesting to think about the impact a maximum of zero (or close to it) would have on high-end high-rise. Seems like maximums could also be seen as a strategy for affordability.

      Also, I’m not quite convinced that old brick zero parking buildings can be justified as comps for new 5 over 1s. If parking is a loss leader, and there are good zero parking comps as you claim, and we already don’t require parking, why aren’t we seeing a whole lot more zero parking buildings going up already?

      1. Comp for zero-parking 40-story Lux-MF:
        That’s a harder comp that I don’t have in the Seattle. Sounds like a pure equity play until it’s stabilized. The 1900 vintage buildings in Pioneer Square and 2nd/3rd/4th/5th avenues in the CBD to the north are 4-12 stories and often have zero parking. Usually office/retail/multi-family uses or some combo of the three.

        “Why aren’t we seeing a whole lot more zero parking buildings?”
        Because experienced pro’s like yourself aren’t quite convinced about a lot of things I say. :) Seriously though, real estate is not a science, we can either regulate in what we’re after or with enough equity we can build the first comps and then lenders will fall all over themselves to fund the developers who fall all over themselves to copy us. In short: lack of vision. There’s nothing holding us back except good planning for the other modes. That means making sure the share-cars are there (rather easy to do) and that the frequent transit funding is increased instead of decreased (much harder).

  5. Scott,

    I agree, even included that study in a subtle, roundabout way from the Atlantic Cities article I linked to with “incur the costs.”

    The costs are more than just economic, until we internalize more externalizes of our development patterns, but economic costs are a big deal good place to start making the case.

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