Parking Policy Reform More Important Than LEED Certification

Todd Litman's picture

Local governments are increasingly encouraging or even requiring LEED certification in new development, which is nice, but most continue to require generous minimum parking supply, which contradicts their goals. Average car-owning apartment dwellers generate more greenhouse gases by driving than by heating, cooling, lighting, and otherwise operating their home. Inefficient transportation policies not only increase energy consumption and pollution emissions, they also exacerbate other costs and problems: traffic congestion, traffic accidents, roadway costs, inadequate accessibility for non-drivers, and sprawl. Described differently, more efficient transportation and parking policies are far more important than LEED certification in acheiving true sustainability.

Here is one example sent to me by community activist Jon Petrie.

The City Of Vancouver, BC built a 98 unit market rental apartment tower above the new Community Center at Kingsway and Main designed to achieve Leed Gold certification. This building is located in a very walkable area with abundant local services, close to five major bus lines. It is an ideal location to encourage car-free living.




However, the building also has 78 underground parking stalls (0.8 spaces per unit). These parking spaces are unbundled (rented separately from housing units), but priced at just $35 per month, although the cost-recovery price would be about $250, so residents' parking, and therefore vehicle ownership are still subsidized by about $215 per month. If parking were efficiently priced, apartment rents could be reduced about $200 per month, greatly increasing housing affordability in a city with a severe housing unaffordability problem.    

Conventional parking policies, such as generous minimum parking requirements in zoning codes and unpriced on-street parking, are intended to maximize parking supply and minimize user charges. They reflect the assumptions that parking is inexpensive to provide, that everybody drives everywhere, and that high rates of vehicle ownership and use create no significant problems to society. If any of these assumptions are questioned, current parking policies make no sense.

So why do cities continue with these inefficient practices? City officials fear the burden of increased enforcement of public (particularly on-street) parking spaces. Motorists want abundant, free parking at every destination and popular culture demonizes parking regulation enforcement, so city councilors and other public officials would rather foist the cost burden on developers than deal with the details of creating an efficient, fair and publically acceptable set of parking regulations and enforcement practices.

Vehicle ownership rates are actually declining in cities such as Vancouver, which are improving alternative modes (walking, cycling, public transit and carsharing) and creating more accessible, walkable communities, plus parking pricing and enforcement technologies are improving, so it makes sense to shift from our current, wasteful practices to more efficient parking management.

If we want to achieve true sustainability, LEED building certification is practically irrelevant if we fail to implement better parking policies and encourage more location-efficient development.


For information see: 

CNU (2008), Parking Requirements and Affordable Housing, Congress for the New Urbanism (; at  

Owen Jung (2009), Who Is Really Paying For Your Parking Space? Estimating The Marginal Implicit Value Of Off-Street Parking Spaces For Condominiums In Central Edmonton, Canada, Department Of Economics, University Of Alberta; at

Todd Litman (2005), "Parking Costs," Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis: Techniques, Estimates and Implications, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (; at   

Todd Litman (2006), Parking Management Best Practices, Planners Press (;

Todd Litman (2006), Parking Management: Strategies, Evaluation and Planning, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (; at 

Todd Litman (2008), Recommendations for Improving LEED Transportation and Parking Credits, VTPI (; at

Todd Litman (2010), Parking Pricing Implementation Guidelines: How More Efficient Pricing Can Help Solve Parking Problems, Increase Revenue, And Achieve Other Planning Objectives, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (; at 

Nelson/Nygaard (2009), Getting More with Less: Managing Residential Parking in Urban Developments with Carsharing and Unbundling, City CarShare (, funded by the Federal Highway Administration; at

Donald Shoup (2005), The High Cost of Free Parking, Planners Press (  

Rachel Weinberger, John Kaehny and Matthew Rufo (2009), U.S. Parking Policies: An Overview of Management Strategies, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (; at

Todd Litman is the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.



Parking policies more important than LEED

Bravo, Todd. I totally agree. I would go further: LEED functions, in part, as a justification for unwise land use policies favoring new construction on undeveloped sites, as opposed to policies for redevelopment on sites with existing infrastructure. This is the case even in my economically stagnant state of Michigan. Redevelopment efforts remain lacking, and LEED is an enabling tool for local officials to favor new development.

Car-less Community

I live a block away from the new Mount Pleasant Community Centre, and hardly anyone in my building owns a vehicle. And why would you need one? Transit and bike route options abound near Broadway and Main.

Parking policies more important than LEED

Jon Petrie
From web: >Designers and builders expend significant effort to ensure that our buildings use as little energy as possible ... [However] many buildings are responsible for much more energy use getting people to and from those buildings. That’s right—for an average office building in the United States, calculations done by Environmental Building News (EBN) show that commuting by office workers accounts for 30% more energy than the building itself uses. For an average new office building built to code, transportation accounts for more than twice as much energy use as building operation.<

And >National Research Council of Canda's Institute for Research in Construction, ... found that LEED certified buildings do not, on balance, perform more efficiently than non-LEED structures, and in many instances actually consume more energy. Furthermore, the correlation between a building's LEED certification level (platinum, silver, molybdenum, whatever) and its relative energy efficiency was found to be notably weak<

Same with more details:

Another Example of Why We Need Performance-Based Standards

This is a great example of why we need performance-based green standards. LEED is paperwork and bureaucrat-heavy, not to mention expensive. We should develop measurement-based green standards instead. Developers could compete with each other for the best performance outcomes (actual measured resource use). Cities could have their own performance standards to get at these kinds of systemic problems (parking requirements) - again based on actual measurement of resource use.

Levers for Cultural Change

Readers of this column are probably thinking "How do we implement this change?" Really, this change is a cultural change--one that must happen in the broader world. Achieving LEED for buildings primarily requires the design and construction industries to participate, but for the most part do not require much, if anything of the inhabitants or regulators. In that way, LEED is something of a "Tech Fix".

I think there are a couple of possible paths to pursue, and I would be interested in hearing other people's ideas.

The first and most obvious one would be to change LEED standards. There is of course LEED-ND, but perhaps parking accommodations could be integrated into the core LEED criteria.

Another approach is inspired from bicycle advocacy. Cities can achieve a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum "Bicycle Friendly Community" rating. What are the present platforms for rating cities on their sustainable planning and policy-making efforts? Parking policies for new development would be a logical criteria to be included in such a rating system. Would it be necessary to focus in on transportation in particular for this to have impact?

Clearly, we need some new levers for this type of cultural change, and the carrot seems like it's working better than the stick.

-David Levinger



Encouraging Parking Reform with GreenTRIP Certification

Todd, we couldn’t agree with you more! This is exactly why TransFORM developed GreenTRIP, a low traffic development certification program rewarding new mixed use development for providing excellent Traffic Reduction and Innovative Parking strategies. We’ve started in the San Francisco Bay Area and have hopes to expand to other regions soon.

We invite your blog-fans to check out to learn about the certification standards, our first five certified projects or to provide suggestions for improvements to the program.

Thanks also for your excellent articles and research! They are essential for tools like GreenTRIP to build off of.

Litman makes many valid

Litman makes many valid points (a few smaller ones are correct but a bit overstated), but why present the argument in the all or nothing parking versus LEED building certification manner? They aren't both worthwhile goals? Or was the point to incite?

I'm not a planner, but I've

I'm not a planner, but I've worked in the industry. Buildings do establish uses as part of the permit process, so parking requirements would be based on those proposed uses. If somebody wanted to open a bar in a space that had an established use of retail, they would have to apply for a change of use and parking requirements would be reviewed/determined at that time. If they did not have enough existing parking for the use, they would need to find a way to provide it laptop battery.

Travel by economical sources

People should travel by buses and subway trains, these methods are both economical and less polluting. This way we can also save ourselves from creating new parking plans.

Cycles are also a good way

Cycles are also a good way for traveling.

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