Ithaca Builds

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Thoughts on Parking and Minimum Parking Requirements

September 3, 2013 // by Jason Henderson


There’s been a lot of discussion generated on minimum parking requirements for new developments in Ithaca, and I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

Firstly, to define: minimum parking requirements are rules that determine how many parking spaces must be supplied on a proposed development based on various features of the proposal (number of planned dwelling units, square footage of planned office space, etc., Central Business District not included).

Given that the City of Ithaca now has a parking director, and the Board of Public Works has announced their support of abolition, my hope is that a discussion on minimum parking requirements for new development resurfaces once the new director has established a “current state of affairs” and a sound plan of action for parking managed by the City.

The social, economic, and physical implications are well studied, and I recommend turning to this short and excellent video of Cornell’s Michael Manville (link courtesy of Daniel Keough) for a brief overview of what has been identified in modern studies:



A philosophical basis for arguing in favor of abolition has roots in the inequity of placing the burden of provision on the private sphere, specifically, new building developments. Just about everywhere in the US, municipalities have decided that parking should be built municipally and provided at a cost to willing consumers, and thus we have municipal garages, metered street parking, and of course, “free” parking, which is parking that carries a public and social cost, but is free to the consumer. One could argue that public entities shouldn’t be in the business of providing parking at all, and furthermore, that car owners should establish their own private arrangements for vehicle storage, but in this case, that’s beside the point.

Any planning rule, especially minimum provisions, imply an enforced sponsorship upon the developer/owner of the good that must be supplied on the development parcel. Minimum parking requirements create one of the most extreme situations, because it involves the mandated supply of a good that generally takes up a lot of land space, making the opportunity cost high, and in addition, parking itself is not a very productive use of space. In turn, the owner must shift this burden onto the consumers of the building space, whether they are apartment tenants, office, or retail tenants.

The enforcement of this burden works a lot like a tax. Let’s use a new apartment development as an example: the development will charge higher rents because a burden of supplying parking has been put on them (and oddly enough, the building itself was contingent on whether or not it could supply the required parking). In turn, a portion of rent from apartment renters can be attributed to this burden.

Apartment renters in this example are sponsoring the cost of vehicle ownership regardless of whether they own a vehicle or not, and in addition, are sponsoring the automobile ownership of existing drivers in the area. Ideally, those that decide to own a car should pay for the full cost of that ownership and usage. These rules enforce a “me first” policy for existing drivers, whom are commonly the political constituents of those in office with the power to make change.

There seems to be an American (especially young, urban) trend against automobile-use in general, and there are countless other reasons as to why that is, but in this case, it’s quite clear that the argument in favor of the abolition of these sorts of rules is rooted in sound logic of fairness.

Of course, if minimums were done away with, then you get parking spillover into areas with “free” parking, or un-metered street parking. In this case, as mentioned in the video, the remedy is to price parking. “Free” parking is not economically free. Taxpayers right now are paying for the space regardless, and it would be a fairer and more efficient policy to price parking provided by a municipality. Parking benefit districts, restrictions, and permitting are all logical and efficient policies that should be utilized in favor of minimum parking requirements.

San Francisco’s SFPark is one example of this sort of policy, aimed at using demand-driven information to establish pricing. This sort of system is probably out of reach for Ithaca for quite some time, but given the small size of Ithaca, it probably wouldn’t take long to figure out what pricing would be appropriate, and what permitting system would work best for everyone.

As for new developments, it’s not hard to imagine that developers tend to have a good understanding of what parking demand they will see in their proposed developments, so if there is demand for parking on-site, it will be planned to meet that demand (with the consideration of opportunity cost), and will come with a price, as it should.