Three ways to transform overbuilt parking into transportation options

The ills of minimum parking requirements – inducing demand for cars, increasing congestion, and raising the cost of real estate, to name a few – have been well documented.

In the last decade, broad driving-related trends, such as decreases in car ownership per household and vehicle miles traveled, suggest requiring more than one parking space per dwelling unit is overkill. A lack of interest in car ownership from millennials reinforces this trend and suggests that parking minimums may become even more obsolete over the next decade.

Policy innovations such as removing parking minimums or instituting parking maximums have seen success in their limited implementations. While these strategies may be the guidelines for future plans, it’s too late for buildings constructed following parking minimums – having built too much parking, they already incurred the sunk monetary costs of construction and opportunity costs of lost space. A parking space reserved solely for one apartment only serves that unit, but incorporating transportation options into a garage can provide value for many more tenants.

Here’s a playbook for building owners and operators:

Zipcar spaces, BeyondDC

Zipcar spaces in CityCenterDC.

  1. Create carsharing spaces

Coinciding with a decrease in personal vehicle driving has been rapid growth in the carsharing industry. The number of carsharing companies, vehicles, and individuals with memberships has grown dramatically since the year 2000. According to a report from Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, there were nearly 1.2 million carshare members driving more than 16,000 vehicles in 2015, for a ratio of about 70 members per vehicle.

Transferring excess parking from resident use to a carsharing company provides an attractive amenity to residents, while incurring no additional cost or construction to the building. Depending on the property and market conditions, carsharing companies will often rent spaces from buildings. In other cases, no money is exchanged, and mutual benefits are realized as a new amenity for tenants and a potential membership base for carsharing companies.

One of the major pluses of providing carsharing spaces in a building is that it becomes a self-sufficient cycle, further reducing the demand for personal parking spaces.

A study by researchers Susan Shaheen and Elliot Martin found that households with carsharing memberships went from an average of 0.47 vehicles per household to 0.23 vehicles per household, with 80 percent of the decrease from households shifting from one car to car-free. Additionally, a Rockefeller Foundation study found that 46 percent of millennials who own vehicles would seriously consider giving up their cars if they had a range of transportation options.

From a real-estate perspective, then, providing a reserved parking space for each household is less of a factor in deciding where to live. Communities can also receive corporate memberships to many carsharing companies, or provide subsidies to their tenants, to further increase its attractiveness.

Cost: $0
Spaces to Convert: 3
Tenants Served: About 200 (based on 70:1 ratio)


Bike parking in Seattle’s Via6 building.

  1. Install bicycle parking

Census data shows that bicycle commuting increased 60 percent from 2004 to 2014, and cities around the country are investing in more and safer bicycle infrastructure. As a result, functional bicycle storage is now a “must have” amenity in multifamily properties. Many jurisdictions require a minimum amount of secure bicycle parking for residential properties, but on nowhere near the same scale as private vehicle parking.

Compared to the size of bicycle parking spaces, vehicle parking spaces are a tremendous waste of space. The standard full-size car stall is 8.5 feet wide by 18 feet long. The 459 square feet required for three parking spaces satisfies the needs of only three dwelling units in a building. By comparison, that same square footage can accommodate enough inverted-U racks for 24 bicycles, and even more with vertical or double-decker racks.

While “transportation demand” managers strongly encourage providing residents with free, secure bicycle parking, some residential buildings in urban cores have gotten creative in turning additional bike parking into an income stream. The Via 6 Building in Seattle partnered with a bicycle shop on its ground floor to create a facility for bike commuters in nearby office buildings, charging a monthly fee for bicycle storage and other amenities. At a few hundred dollars per bicycle, bicycle parking is relatively cheap to install, and it allows the building to appeal to a growing number of bicyclists.

Cost: Up to $10,000
Spaces to Convert: 3
Tenants Served: Minimum of 24

shuttle, Atomic Taco
  1.  Offer a transit shuttle for tenants

A major obstacle for getting commuters to use public transportation is the “first/last mile” problem.

If commuters live or work more than a comfortable walking distance (usually defined as more than 0.5 miles) from transit, they are much more likely to end up driving to work, thus requiring cars and parking spots. While transit shuttles are more frequently associated with sites of employment, residential properties can also provide their residents a shuttle connection.

In exchange for one resident parking space, a property can park a 15-passenger van to be used for morning and evening rush hours. For example, four shuttles during each rush-hour period can provide a service to 30 residents a day, even at half occupancy.

Similar to the carsharing strategy, providing a shuttle to transit encourages car owners to shed their vehicles and further reduces the demand for personal vehicle parking spaces. This strategy is limited to buildings in regions with transit, but which are too far away to walk, such as outer-ring suburbs.

Cost: $30,000-$40,000 for a new van, plus part-time driver
Spaces to Convert: 1
Tenants Served: About 30

For the above strategies to become a reality, building owners must be willing to invest in these amenities, while local governments need to be flexible in their requirements. As car-ownership-wary millennials make up a larger and larger portion of the multifamily housing market, a shift away from personal parking spaces for each unit seems natural.

It is often an arduous task to remove or alter a codified requirement for an existing building; however, if building owners and operators can demonstrate that they have an excess supply of parking spaces, their local governments should allow swaps of parking spaces for other mobility options.

The result is higher tenant retention for property owners, a public benefit as a result of fewer cars on the road, and increased transportation options for citizens.

Photos, from top: An empty parking garage in downtown Silver Spring, Md. (Drew Saunders, Flickr, Creative Commons). Dedicated Zipcar parking spots in the CityCenter DC garage (BeyondDC, Flickr, Creative Commons). Bike garage at Via6 (Urban Land Institute). A van shuttle (Atomic Taco, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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1 Comment(s)

Peter Zimmer

While a good start, this does not address the problems of landlords who built to a 1.5:1 parking spaces:residential units who now find they have lots of empty spaces year round (here in the Great White North – Canada some landlords rent winter parking spaces when municiple Winter Parking Ban laws prohibit overnight on-street parking).
The built parking structures are really third-rate; below grade they are dark, often damp, require lighting, ventilation, heat, drainage, securtity, and were very expensive to build.

Let’s consider repurposing. Could this low-grade space be converted to other functions for building residents or commercial tenants to generate some revenue from these very sunk costs?
• Mushroom farming? Fungii want the dark, stable temperatures, dampness not a negative.
• Rental wine cellaring? for residents, or for others.
• Other rental storage: not so nice for filming “Storage Wars” but there’s already a roofed structure, some of the necessary walls, floors,
• Community crafts studios: pottery, woodworking, …
• Underground green houses: ….



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