The Stormwater Blog 

Contech Stormwater experts discuss designing stormwater BMP’s, regulations, maintenance issues, and all things stormwater.

Limited Parking

This month’s blog post comes from Janice Kaspersen, editor of Stormwater magazine.

Did you drive to work this morning? Was a parking space waiting for you when you arrived? Many cities require developers to provide a minimum number of parking spaces for office, retail, and residential buildings; sometimes the number is based on the square footage of the building, sometimes on occupancy. Many calculate the required number of spaces based on peak demand. As this article from the Economist notes, some cities ask for what seems like an excessive amount. Cupertino, CA—home to Apple’s new headquarters building—requires two parking spaces per apartment, one space for every three seats in a fast-food restaurant, and seven spaces per lane in a bowling alley (plus more for employees). Apple’s headquarters will have 11,000 parking spaces for 14,000 workers, and the parking will take up more area than the offices and laboratories.

Another thing parking does, although the Economist article doesn’t mention it, is add impervious surface to the landscape. This article from Stormwater by Lisa Nisenson and Clark Anderson suggests that cities reviewing their ordinances and codes can and should eliminate excess parking: “Like street design, parking occupies a conspicuous spot on the impervious audit radar. Almost all code reviews recommend reducing the amount of parking in standards. However, there is no magic code change wand that reduces spaces without some pushback from retailers, landowners, and stakeholders concerned about spillover parking. We found that successful efforts often began with parking space utilization studies. These studies look at the degree of over- and undersupply, how to handle peak parking events, and management options within a ‘parking-shed.’ Parking studies usually initiate a broader effort to ‘find’ parking spaces on existing paved areas. Even so, there are a couple of quick fixes. For example, basing parking requirements on staffed space rather than gross square footage can reflect demand while reducing spaces needed.”

The Economist article notes that after London got rid of parking minimums altogether in 2004, essentially letting market forces decide how much would be available, the number of spaces in residential areas actually dropped. In general, eliminating excess parking is a good thing, not only in terms of managing stormwater but in making a city more livable: “The more spread out and car-oriented a city… the less appealing walking and cycling become,” the article points out. “Parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else.”

Cities with minimum parking requirements also make things tough for redevelopment and infill projects, which often don’t have enough land available to satisfy them. Going underground is not an attractive option, either: “Creating the minimum number of spaces adds 67% to the cost of a new shopping center in Los Angeles if the car park is above ground and 93% if it is underground.” And everyone—even those who rely on public transportation—subsidizes that parking by paying more for restaurant meals, theater tickets, and retail goods.

It’s a fine line, though—what happens when there’s not enough parking? Drivers spend time and gasoline—and get frustrated and angry—driving around searching for an empty space. By one estimate, cars in Los Angeles’ Westwood area, which has very few spaces, drive an additional 950,000 miles per year just in the quest for parking spots.

What are the parking requirements in your city? Do you see a trend toward reducing or increasing parking spaces? Encouraging greater use of public transportation or carpooling?

CATEGORIES: Regulations

Janice Kaspersen is the editor of Stormwater magazine, which since 1999 has reached more than 20,000 surface water professionals throughout North America. She is also involved with Forester Media’s annual StormCon conference, which will be held this year in Bellevue, WA, August 27-31.

She has a degree in English and anthropology from the University of Arizona and holds a certification from the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences. She can be reached at

Post Rating


# Robert L.
Thursday, July 20, 2017 4:41 PM
In Portland, OR, the City is eliminating parking and reducing requirements to the point that high density infill is creating a lot of tension. Also, many large businesses here do not provide parking for their employees, passing the cost to their workers and the public. In turn, those employees often park in neighborhoods near transit (rather than using one of the many park and ride lots in town), forcing homeowners and businesses to now apply for and buy parking permits (~$60/year/permit) to use the street parking in front of their home or business.

Eliminating too much parking pushes the costs outside of the business that is benefiting from the savings, and onto the public that may never service them. If I need to drive to a mall, I'm going to one with convenient parking, and I should pay for that convenience. If a mall moves into a neighborhood and does not provide parking for their customers and employees, it puts a significant cost onto the public streets that will soon be substandard or in need of repairs due to higher use.

There is a good balance somewhere, but I would not suggest Portland be considered a model.
# David Corr
Thursday, July 20, 2017 4:47 PM
Robert, thanks for sharing your experience with Contech. Your right, like most things, it is all about balance.

Post Comment

Name (not required)

Email (not required)

Enter the code shown above:

Stormwater Blog Update Hubspot subscription form

We respect your privacy,
your email will only be used to send
Stormwater blog updates.