Submitted by Will Toor and Mark Ruzzin

“Parking rules buried in city land-use codes have surprisingly pernicious effects.  Requirements that builders provide ample quotas of off-street parking spaces worsen traffic, multiply collisions, push up housing prices, dampen business profitability, amplify sprawl, and pollute both air and water.  Parking rules are a surprisingly potent hidden force shaping — or misshaping — our communities.

Alan Durning, The Sightline Institute

Boulder is not immune from the forces described in this quote.  Boulder has had off-street parking requirements for the last several decades that make it more difficult to create walkable neighborhoods and achieve other key community goals.  Many other cities have begun to rethink these regulations; we believe that Boulder should do so also.

In pursuit of this goal, Better Boulder offers the following recommendations:

  1. Currently, city code sets minimum parking requirements for all new development, except within the downtown and Boulder Junction parking districts.  While developers may sometimes put in more parking than required by code, in many cases code requires more parking than the market would demand.  This both makes development more expensive and reduces the total square footage of new development that is allowed, by forcing land to be dedicated to parking.  It also spreads uses out, separating them by larghe parking lots, making it harder and less attractive to walk or bike in these areas.  In other cities that have eliminated or reduced minimum parking requirements, the amount of off-street parking constructed has gone down, indicating that the code required more parking than the market was demanding.  For instance, when Seattle reduced off street parking requirements for multifamily housing, the average number of spaces/unit dropped from 1.3 to 0.8  This allowed more housing to be provided, at lower cost.  One reform Boulder could make is to reduce or eliminate off-street parking requirements for new residential development.
  2. Car ownership and vehicle miles traveled have been declining for the last decade, a trend strongest among the millennial generation.  In a number of other cities, the market has been allowed to respond to this new cohort by building apartments or condominiums with almost no parking, designed for those who choose car-free living.  Right now, this would be almost impossible in most of Boulder. The city should adopt reforms allowing such housing to be built in at least some locations in Boulder.  This would require careful planning in combination with TDM strategies and parking management tools to minimize any spillover parking in surrounding areas.  The city can use tools such as neighborhood parking permit districts to minimize any spillover parking impacts.
  3. There is extensive evidence that the price of parking is a major determination of how much people drive.  Locally, we see far lower drive alone rates in our downtown and at the university – the two places that combine denser land use with priced parking.  We support greater use of parking pricing to manage demand, so that we can simultaneously add additional density to the community while reducing the impacts that come from additional driving.  We believe that the city should encourage the expansion of or formation of new priced parking districts, which both charge for parking and eliminate the requirement that individual projects provide parking, and that the city code should encourage “unbundling” of parking in new development.  There are many commercial and industrial areas of the city which are currently served by large surface parking lots; in order for these areas to redevelop into denser land uses, parking management strategies such as unbundling, shared parking, and priced parking districts will be important tools.  The implementation of such programs should respect the investment that many developments have in their existing parking infrastructure, making changes in conjunction with redevelopment that could include density bonus incentives.
  4. When we are considering whether to support an individual development project, one of the issues that we will consider is how well the project is sited and designed to reduce the amount of vehicle traffic it generates and support a vibrant streetscape.  While these are not the only criteria, we will look more positively towards projects that:
    • include robust TDM elements;
    • unbundle parking;
    • minimize or eliminate off-street surface parking;
    • build less parking than code requires, and less than other developments in similar neighborhoods; and
    • create vibrant streetscapes, rather than surface parking or blank parking garage walls facing the street.

Better Boulder acknowledges that the above parking policy adjustments challenge long-held perceptions of the relationship between housing and automobiles.  We also are well aware of public concerns regarding the impacts that reduced off-street parking could have on on-street parking demand.  To address these issues, the city should deploy parking management tools that prevent against spillover parking.  The city also should regularly monitor on-the ground conditions to ensure the parking management tools that are implemented are effective.