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Minimum parking requirements: clearing up some confusion

A week or so ago Peter M posted about his hopes for 2013, which included the smooth implementation of some pretty big public transport projects like delivery of electric trains and the completion of integrated ticketing. He also mentioned the Council’s Unitary Plan as being a critical document which will be a big focus for this year. While I’m certainly interested in the completion of these public transport projects, curious about where the City Rail Link project goes next and so forth, I think my main hope for 2013 rests with the Unitary Plan – and whether we can rid it of the stupidest planning rule ever: minimum parking requirements.

I had an interesting discussion on Twitter today with a couple of well informed Local Board Members on minimum parking requirements and the need to get rid of them. While both members are certainly well informed and have pretty much the same big picture vision for transport and planning in Auckland as myself, some elements of the conversation (and a few of the other tweets which came in) suggest that there’s still something of a misunderstanding around what removing minimum parking requirements actually seeks out to achieve. Or perhaps more fundamentally, what the problems caused by minimums actually are.

Let’s use a couple of graphs to hopefully clear up some of this confusion. Firstly, let’s think about what might occur if there was no control of parking whatsoever (no minimums, maximums or anything). Clearly in some locations and for some uses you’d end up with more parking and in some locations or uses you’d end up with less parking. It might even be more fine-grained than that: perhaps if you’re building 10 apartments you think you need to provide 5 of them with two spaces each, three with one space each and a couple without any parking – to cater for different types of people who might be interested. In short, you’re going to have a market for a variety of different levels of parking – something like this:parking-marketSomething that’s often misunderstood about parking minimums is the assumption that removing them will restrict the amount of parking able to be provided in locations where the market wants to provide a lot of parking (say a Bunnings Warehouse out the back of Flat Bush). That’s simply not true at all, because in those situations if the market wants to provide a lot of parking, removing minimums will not stop that.

In short, all that minimums actually achieve is force more parking than people actually want to provide, in the situations where the market level for providing parking is lower than that minimums. This is shown in the graph below:impact-of-minimumsIt is for this reason that whether or not to remove minimum parking requirements has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of public transport available. If public transport is poor and people feel that they “need” to use their car, then the market will presumably provide the necessary level of parking. Otherwise shoppers won’t come, dwellings won’t sell, office space won’t lease. Removing minimums doesn’t, in any way, restrict the ability for developers to provide as much parking as they want. It just stops forcing them to provide more than they want.

A lot of this confusion comes from the assumption that if you don’t have a parking minimum, then you need a maximum. I’ll look at parking maximums in a future post but for now just want to ponder the question of why we need to regulate parking at all? Perhaps it truly is something best left to the market to sort out?

37 comments to Minimum parking requirements: clearing up some confusion

  • Dan

    The x-axis in the graphs should be labeled “parking demand” not “different situations”.

    • Mr Anderson

      I suppose it could be but that’s not what I am really trying to show. I am just noting that in different situations you’ll end up with different ideal numbers of carparks. The axis itself could be thought of as demand. I’m no economist.

    • Stu Donovan

      I think it would be best described as “Different development situations ordered from lowest to highest parking demand”. Hope that makes it clearer …

  • Luke C

    There is a reasonable argument for parking maximums.
    Once land is developed it is stuck that way for a long time and is expensive to change. So therefore we are building many large developments that are dominated by parking. However as fuel prices rise these developments will no longer need as much parking, and it is often quite difficult to add new development in this space due to fragmented ownership down the track and various other reasons.

    For example in office areas like Triton Drive (http://goo.gl/maps/lPFoI) there are large amounts of parking, combined with multi-storey buildings however no area large enough where a new building can be build. Therefore we will be stuck with this layout for decades to come.

    Also should be noted that excessive parking often has a terrible effect on street life, although this does depend on the orientation of this parking. Ie ok if behind the site, but negative effects from even having one set of parking bays fronting the street. For example Albany could be so much better designed by just changing the orientation and location of the parking to create a network of proper urban streets around the development.

    Parking maximums may drive higher density employment out of areas like Triton Drive and Highbrook, and instead push them to areas with better public transport which would be a big help in reducing our car dependency.

    • Stu Donovan

      But what do you think about minimums? That’s the main topic of the post …

      • Luke C

        yeh totally agree about abolishing minimums. I’m just not totally convinced the free market can be always expected to deliver the right outcomes. Especially when there is no free market in road provision, especially excess peak capacity.
        Also think there is some element of developer (and retailer/tenant) ideology and inertia at work that will take a while to change them from developing buildings with lots of carparks, to buildings with less. For example doubt anywhere in Albany was forced to have more carparks than they wanted, the developers wanted it that way, and the overall result is one of the top handful of ‘urban’ centres in the region has appalling urban design, and will be difficult to fix.

    • Bryce P

      Luke, maybe quite a bit of that Triton Drive parking is due to the MPR’s?

    • “There is a reasonable argument for parking maximums. Once land is developed it is stuck that way for a long time and is expensive to change.”
      Nonsense: let the developer decide. Carparks can easily be built on. But if the developer got it wrong (i.e. too many carparks) then who cares: it is the developer’s risk and reward. Stop trying to think their business for them.
      Many new apartments developments in London’s docklands in the early noughties had severe maximums. There were fewer parks than apartments, and residents of the aprtments were barred from obtaining residents parking permits in the surrounding area. All this did was reduce the value of the apartments. So lower profits, lower taxes/VAT. I do not know the current state of affairs there.

      • Luke C

        thats probably because public transport provision was slow to follow development in the area. Read that the initial developer of Canary Wharf went bust because iof not enough public transport provision, think they were North American so presumed everyone would drive there!
        Carparks cant easily be built on if there are many large with small spaces in-between. I bet the land is valued higher now because of the better urban design outcome.

  • Malcolm M

    A parking maximum should be in place to ensure that road capacity is not exceeded. For example a CBD carpark holding 700 cars, accessed by a 2-lane road with a capacity of only 700 vehicles per hour in each direction, could potentially fully use that road capacity (eg if the carpark filled from one direction in an hour). Approvals for such carparks would need to consider
    – whether there is spare capacity on the access road
    – likely peak vehicle entry and exit rates

    • Stu Donovan

      Traffic impact assessments will already consider how a proposed development might impact on the surrounding road network. So the question then becomes one of what parking maximums would add that is not already covered by TIAs?

  • Yes parking maximums are useful, but parking minimums are a disaster. First step remove minimums everywhere.

  • lisa

    do the large private developments such as Bunnings, PaknSave etc put in the minimum amount of car parking or do they put more in than they are legally required? if so why? also what happens if private developers can reduce parking all together and restrict people from getting access to them? im not sure if public transport could be able to compensate.

    • Case in point: Kiwi Income Property want to build some commercial buildings at Sylvia Park on existing carparks, but that would breach MPRs. This is insane, SP has its own rail station and bus stops. Existing parking is not often full, this would make for a way better land use and increase carpark utility. MPRs are dumb and are holding the city back.
      Wiping them out will save Council and citizen’s time and money. They serve no good purpose yet cause many poor outcomes.

    • Stu Donovan

      I don’t follow – in what situation would a private developer want to restrict people getting access to car-parks? Unless it was to prioritise them for their own employees/customers etc, but that seems reasonable to me.

      • Stu was that meant to be under my comment- I have no idea what you mean?

        The SP example is the owner wanting to build on some of their car park but being restrained from doing so by MPRs…. nothing about restricting access?

  • Dave

    The problem with leaving parking provision to the market is that if not enough is provided then motorists will park wherever they can and create other problems. I think it is the fear of this that has driven minimum parking requirements in the first place. There are conflicting priorities between the needs of motorists who want to access a facility and the needs of the surrounding streets not to be cluttered with traffic. Left to itself the market cannot sort this out. One only has to look at the traffic chaos ensung in many developing-world cities to see what happens when adequate control of traffic is not exercised.
    Stipulated minimum parking provision may not be the answer, but neither is leaving the provision of parking to a very-distorted market. Unfortunately so-called “market-driven” motor transport is full of things which cost a lot to provide or sustain, but which are delivered free at the point-of-use to the motorist. Parking is only one of these. All need to be identified and directly charged-for, in order for the market to work as it should. This is a huge political challenge.

    • Really? Don’t you think it is more likely that the market will be better at providing an efficient quantity of parks at appropriate cost than numbers dreamt up and imposed by some bureaucrat, especially as the levels are based on vague numbers pulled out of the sky in 1950s US? Demand is dynamic and can adjust in various ways; people can vary the time of their travel, or use other modes, changes which may be preferable to the current outcome which is an enforced oversupply at most places at most times. Which adds up to appalling levels of low value land use and a Council imposed tax on development.

      Essentially it needs to be understood that providing a park for every possible driver at all places and at all times does not lead to a great city. In fact city quality and desirability is pretty much inversely proportional to ease of parking. Tried parking in central Paris for example?

      Comparing Auckland to cities with tens of millions of people in the developing world is hardly relevant. Anyway the oversupply of parking leads directly to overuse of road space otherwise known as congestion. Shouldn’t parking and driving be understood together and not treated like one is just a property issue and totally unrelated to the problems caused by the other?

      Having said all that I think it will be a long time before we will see a lot of developers choosing to bet on finding customers or tenants who don’t want carparks so I think removing MPRs will not change the city that much at all. However, on some sites it just might be appropriate and won’t it be terrible if Council regs were to prevent someone from making that gamble? Especially as apartments close to Transit stations could be a really good answer to dwelling affordability issues and could do with both the improved urban design [connection at ground level] and the economies of building without or with reduced parking.

    • Mr Anderson

      Two main answers to that in my opinion:

      1) Surely landowners will provide the level of parking they think is necessary to be successful, whether that is in terms of selling the house, leasing the office or attracting customers. Sure there’s likely to be a greater reliance on on-street parking but….

      2) Just look at places like Parnell, Ponsonby or that little West Lynn shopping area discussed in Kent’s post. They don’t have off-street parking yet the world doesn’t end. They’re successful, it’s still reasonably easy to find a parking spot and you’ll think about walking/cycling/taking the bus there.

      I agree there’s a fear of “spillover parking” which drives MPRs. I just think it’s a completely overblown fear because all the bits of Auckland that developed before MPRs seem like they work just fine.

      • Dave

        Patrick and Mr Anderson – I am in full agreement that bureaucrats stipulating minimum parking requirements (= free parking for the user) represents a huge hidden-subsidy to motorists which skews the ability of the public to make potentially better transport choices. Policy-makers then compound the error by further providing for an artifically-inflated traffic-demand, and so it goes on.

        My point above is that motor-transport which masquerades as being “market driven” is riddled with such distortions and unless they are all comprehensively tackled, the market which appears to operate remains hopelessly biased and cannot be relied upon to produce effective outcomes. Certainly there are places which function well in spite of (or because of) limited parking, but to expect this principle to work across-the-board I think is asking for trouble in a society which in so many ways still signals to its members to drive like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe I have not made my point well, but I believe this whole ugly subject needs a bigger re-think than simply removing minimum parking requirements in isolation. Otherwise we risk simply going back to the parking chaos that led to these being implemented in the first place.

        The real need is to wean society from its excessive dependence on cars, but this requires a government which is committed to such an objective. Our present government is shamefully doing the opposite and society simply follows its lead.

        • Stu Donovan

          We won’t wean people off cars until we stop building abundant free parking into every development. No matter how much the government decides to invest in alternatives, nothing affects demand for vehicle travel like a direct cost on using vehicles.

          Anything else is a very, very poor substitute.

  • James H.

    An MPR is a subsidy on private car use, that is paid for by property owners and commercial/residential tenants primarily with spin-off costs to rate/tax-payers. The cost of vehicle storage does not fall where it is incurred. Losing unnecessary off-street carparks certainly won’t result in traffic chaos, see the Wellington CBD as an example.

  • Here’s an example of a small block underway in Melbourne, it is right next to a rail line and station and offers bike storage but no carparking.

    http://www.ecocitizenaustralia.com.au/the-commons-melbourne-apartment-florence-st-brunswick/

    Here’s the ground floor plan: two shops, three multi-use spaces and lockable storage for the apartments above. Being able to use the ground floor for much higher value purposes than the storage of cars [the developer calculates] will enable the apartments to either be cheaper or in some other way better [bigger, better materials]. And everyone else gets a better city; no blank or grilled wall at street level but an activated and useful site instead.

    http://7florence.st/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Ground_and_Storage_Floor.pdf

    Where the local community has raised fears about street parks being swamped by new residential buildings in Melbourne the Councils have responded by granting existing residents permitted parking BUT NOT FOR THE NEW BUILDING USERS. Unfair? Perhaps, but effective.

    Melbourne is way ahead of AK in reaping the rewards of reduced parking supply and many people have responded by turning the car park they do have into storage and using Zip cars or other new rental models for out of town trips.

  • Kent Lundberg

    Here’s an interesting new building in Seattle marketed to people who get around without a car. http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2019776730_apwabuiltforbikes.html

    “it will include 250 parking stalls just for bikes. There will be 434 underground parking spots for car – but 654 apartments”

  • Having lived in apartments in Ak and overseas what I really like about that Melbourne example is that you get storage at street level that can be for anything- it doesn’t have to be a car or a bike; it’s just storage. I like my buildings like I like my cities: not bossy.

  • Dave

    I prefer a car-free lifestyle. Others on this blog prefer a car-free lifestyle. Delightful enclaves have been created where the car does not dominate and those of our mindset flock there. . .

    But there is an army of car-addicts out there who don’t see things the same way. They have been brought up expecting to be able to drive where they want, and park where they want. They are not interested in car-free enclaves. Provide them with what they feel is inadequate parking and they will simply make their own. We see this phenomenon in operation every day.

    Somehow these people have to be “won over” to a scaling-back of car-use. If this can be achieved by reducing parking supply (the logical aim of removing minimums), then great. However it is hard to see how this army will be persuaded to embrace such a future when they see our government cheerfully giving them a $12 billion inducement to drive even more. The message sent by the RON’s is incredibly counter-productive. It says that traffic-growth is still very much the way of the future and of course that means . . . . . more parking!

    Until this government and its rabidly pro-road philosophy changes, I think it is going to be very hard to persuade planning authorities to remove minimum parking requirements.

    • Mr Anderson

      I tend to think of removing minimums as not necessarily being a policy change to reduce parking supply, but rather a policy change to stop forcing people to provide more parking than they want to.

    • Stu Donovan

      Again Dave, you’ve put the cart before the horse. Let me put it thus: No society anywhere in the world has been able to develop an efficient public transport system while simultaneously giving away oodles of free parking.

      You have to tackle parking regulations first – they are the key to what you want.

  • Stu Donovan

    Nemo, I really like your graph.

    It’s worth mentioning that the horizontal line for minimum parking requirements is typically set at a level that would require approximately 30-50% of a site to be consigned to parking. So as a minimum we can expect that proportion of land to be used for parking, and more where the market demands it.

    By extension, minimums effectively prevent walkable/PT friendly developments and/or neighbourhoods from emerging even in the dense and mixed central city suburbs where they are definitely viable. Not even these suburbs are able to develop in a way that does not bow down and worship at the altar of vehicle convenience, come hell or high oil prices.

    Basically, minimums ensure that car dependence is the only option for our developments/neighbourhoods – it is automatically built-in from the outset. As someone who has happily lived in many central Auckland suburbs car-free for the last ten years I find it very frustrating. Actually, I’d go as far to say that minimums are enough to stop me even trying to become a developer in Auckland, even if it was simply to build my own home.

    Because of minimum parking requirements the only available housing option that suits my preferences (for being a car-free household) is the few remaining heritage buildings that went up before the plague of parking regulations overwhelmed our well-intentioned but somewhat disingenuous and definitely stubborn/conservative planning and engineering professions.

    I for one think it’s time for members of the aforementioned professions, such as myself, to put their hands up and admit that we collectively got it wrong; that we misled the public and elected officials into thinking that we could regulate a parking unicorn into existence at the end of the development rainbow. Like the medical profession, planners and engineers need to confront our historical failings.

    The removal of minimums is inevitable. The only question is which cities and towns will wake up the quickest, move the fastest, and thereby start reaping the enormous benefits associated with removing minimum parking requirements?

    Apologies for the lengthy comment, but I’m getting rather hot under the collar over here in Brisbane.

  • Dave

    Stu, you put it very well and I completely agree. Perhaps I was just arguing round in circles. I’ll shut up now!

    • Stu Donovan

      Yes I think the issue is very circular – but one thing is clear, the most effective way to reduce car dependence is to stop building in massive amounts of free parking. Once you do that then alternatives actually become viable and effective.

      Put another way, if we overlay an excellent public transport network (in terms of infrastructure/service supply) on top of an area that has oodles of free parking then I still don’t think we’ll see much demand – because of the parking.

      • Yes and you can see this in action by using Google maps to visit the downtowns of quite large-ish cities in the middle of North America- eg Indianapolis:

        I’m always amazed to see whole blocks of at grade parking right in downtown of these places. Throw in the fact that where these cities are on flat plains with huge federally funded Interstate highways heading through them they have no geographical constrains to surface access [unlike Auckland] and you can see just how hard it is for them to develop walkable and thriving neighbourhoods and attract agglomeration type growth. Some of course are old enough to have good dense sections, but many of those were demolished in the freeway frenzy. Newer cities especially in the southwest like Phoenix or Albuquerque are marvels of parking/driving domination. Current attempts to add Streetcars to these places are doomed to change little, as are their desperate attempt to ‘invent’ downtowns without restricting driving and parking meaningfully.

        The Great Inversion is good on these places and the contrast with Auckland is telling. Auckland is both extremely physically constrained, pinched as it is by two harbours, so much more suited to narrow high capacity Transit systems for access than wide freeways from every point of the compass. As well as being hilly and short on cheap [at grade] parking land. Also Auckland is old enough to already have tight street patterns at its core and inner suburbs well suited to walkable intense productive land use. But we do have to stop trying to force the pattern for flat mid-western cities onto our more interesting physical geography through these regulations.

        http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/12/19/the-great-inversion/

        • John Smith

          The interesting thing about this picture is the juxtaposition of huge skyscrapers and open air parking lots. For the same total floor space, wouldn’t you think it would be cheaper to build a building half the height with twice the footprint (and, therefore, less parking)? I’m no engineer, but I assume the cost of going high increases exponentially.

          Is this landscape the result of the unfettered property market, or of minimum parking requirements? Or are the parking lots really just sites on hold while waiting for redevelopment?

          • I’m not clear about local regs, and of course they vary state to state, but this type of land use is common across many central, western, and southern US cities and there are observable common features that may be drivers or at least contributors to this morphology. As I said above they tend to be cities on flat relatively featureless plains offering little or no natural containment that works as an intensifying driver [think of Wellington v. Christchurch; high level of natural severance in the former compared to the later]. It is easy to provide wide roads from every direction in these places too.

            As for the tall buildings in the CBD we must remember that the post-war ideal was the detached house in the new suburb and the glass tower in the city, connected by the new freeway: every city was aiming for this. They’ve all got ‘em, old narrow street patterns destroyed and locals encouraged or forced out to make way for motorways and gleaming towers, this includes Auckland. So quite apart from the economics of construction you’ve got to consider the importance of fashion, or more politely; the zeitgeist. What people want [or at least think they want].

            At grade parking is landbanking, but then because it and the driving it encourages acts as a dispersant to activity its very presence lowers land value and undermines the likelihood of those blocks attracting a better use. My guess is that those blocks in the image above have been like that for decades despite the local authority probably spending millions on various urban renewal schemes…..

  • exiledantipodean

    Reasoning by analogy is always a bit dangerous, but here’s one I use effectively in conversation on this topic: A lack of jobs (unemployment) is a bad thing too, but most cities in North America/Australasia/Europe don’t have “minimum worker requirements” for businesses.

  • “ROBERT DALZIEL, a London-based architect, has always considered contemporary housing in Britain to be deficient. After years spent researching urban housing around the world with Sheila Qureshi-Cortale, a fellow architect, the pair collected their findings in a book. “A House in the City” evaluates the various examples, new and old, high-rise and low.”
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2013/01/qa-robert-dalziel?fsrc=nlw|newe|1-14-2013|4609454|37405293|

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