Proposal to Update Off-street Parking Regulations

10 October, 2022

Since the mid 20th century, minimum off-street parking requirements have been a mandate imposed on home builders throughout the country with the intention of tying parking supply to the number of units in a proposed development. The conventional thinking is this: if every new development is required to set aside space for parking, then a city will be able to manage traffic levels and balance the supply of parking with the demand created by new development.

In practice, however, minimum parking requirements have generated urban sprawl and actually encouraged car-centered, high-traffic cities. Evidence shows that abolishing parking minimums is a key priority for transforming Salt Lake City into a more livable collection of healthy, welcoming neighborhoods.

Evidence demonstrating the costs of minimum parking requirements on communities reinforces our believe that Salt Lake City should eliminate these mandates.

A 2021 paper by researchers from UCLA and USC shows that larger parking lots stimulate both car use and car ownership – in other words, they increase traffic. As the authors found, Buildings with at least one parking space per unit (as required by zoning codes in most U.S. cities, and in San Francisco until circa 2010) have more than twice the car ownership rate of buildings that have no parking”. The study also found that increased car use results in less walking and decreased use of other transit choices such as buses and bikes.

The consulting firm Urban Three has shown how minimum parking requirements also strongly dilute the tax value of properties: since parking takes up a great deal of a property’s space while contributing little to that property’s economic output, more parking means less tax output – and, by extension, fewer tax-funded public services in a city.

Additionally, as Rachel Quednau at Strong Towns demonstrates, minimum parking requirements burdens small businesses by forcing business-owners to spend money on parking instead of on other business needs. They also create a roadblock for homeowners who wish to make improvements or build new structures or units on their property. These mandates contribute to the housing crisis by also impacting home builders who wish to construct more residential units.

Another UCLA and USC paper shows the negative effect of minimum parking requirements in Los Angeles. The authors find that minimum parking requirements “undermine affordability, prevent infill and missing middle housing, and encourage a car-centric form of development that increases driving, congestion, pollution and crashes, while making walking, cycling and transit use more difficult and more dangerous”. The authors also reported that the inequitable effects of these requirements disproportionately affect “lower-income residents who rely on non-auto modes of travel and suffer most from housing insecurity”.

By approving the proposed Update to Off-street Parking Regulations, the Salt Lake City Council can address a critical piece of Salt Lake City’s housing needs by reducing the cost of building new housing, increasing the utilization of valuable land in the city, and facilitating active transportation. As such, reducing or eliminating minimum off-street parking mandates is not only a housing policy, but also an important climate policy. 

Victory! The Salt Lake City Council approved the Updated Off-street Parking Regulations at the October 18th meeting.  

Slider photo credit: American Planning Association