Parking Planning Paradigm Shift

More efficient parking management can benefit everybody, including motorists, businesses, residents, and any planner who becomes an expert on this subject, as I can report from experience.

11 minute read

July 5, 2018, 1:00 PM PDT

By Todd Litman

When it comes to urban parking, there is bad and good news. The bad news is that most cities experience parking problems. The good news is that, with good planning, these problems are solvable. More efficient parking management can benefit everybody, including motorists, businesses, and residents, plus, any planner who becomes an expert on this subject, as I can report from personal experience.

Since writing the book, Parking Management Best Practices [pdf], and related reports [pdf] and articles, I have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars as a parking management consultant. You can too! Parking management planning requires familiarity with about a dozen strategies—such as sharing, regulations, pricing, improved user information, and incentives to use non-auto modes—applied with common sense to increase parking efficiency and address specific problems. Since every location is unique, this ensures job security for planners who can help communities to develop integrated parking management programs.

Parking is a timely issue. Parking planning is undergoing a paradigm shift, a fundamental change in the way problems are defined and potential solutions are evaluated. The old paradigm assumed that parking should generally be abundant and inexpensive, preferably free, and therefore highly subsidized. This is unfair because it forces people to pay for parking spaces they don’t need, and is inefficient because it encourages people to own more drive more than they otherwise would, increasing traffic problems. This contradicts many community goals, including increasing fairness and affordability, reducing traffic problems, and more design flexibility that creates more attractive and lively neighborhoods.

Excessive and inflexible parking requirements greatly reduce urban housing affordability. Structured and underground parking generally cost $50,000 or more per space, plus operating costs for maintenance, ventilation, security and fire suppression. As a result, it is virtually impossible to build lower-priced urban housing with conventional parking requirements.

The old paradigm might be justified in suburban areas where land is inexpensive and most travel is by automobile, but is harmful in cities where land is costly and travel is multi-modal. Many urban parking spaces cost more than the vehicles they serve, representing a large and regressive subsidy for driving. There are better solutions!

The new paradigm favors reduced parking supply more sharing of parking facilities, more efficient regulations and pricing, and incentives to use non-auto modes. It includes strategies such as improved user information, more convenient payment systems, and improved travel options. This does not assume that vehicle parking should be eliminated and everybody forego driving, but it does recognize that parking is costly and abundant parking encourages driving and sprawl, so virtually everybody benefits from more efficient parking management.

Old and New Parking Paradigms Compared [pdf]

Old Parking Paradigm

New Parking Paradigm

Parking problemmeans inadequate parking supply.

There can be many types of parking problems, including inadequate or excessive supply, too low or high prices, inadequate user information, and inefficient management.

Transportationmeans driving.

Travelers may use various modes. Not everybody drives.

Abundant parking supply is always desirable.

Too much supply is as harmful as too little.

All parking demand should be satisfied on-site. Walking distances to cars should be minimized.

Parking can often be provided off-site, allowing sharing of parking facilities among various destinations.

Parking should generally be provided free, funded indirectly, through rents and taxes.

As much as possible, users should pay directly for parking facilities.

Parking should be available on a first-come basis.

Parking should be regulated to favor higher priority uses and encourage efficiency.

Parking requirements should be applied rigidly, without exception or variation.

Parking requirements should reflect each particular situation, and should be applied flexibly.

Innovation faces a high burden of proof and should only be applied if proven and widely accepted.

Innovations should be encouraged, since even unsuccessful experiments can provide useful information.

Parking management is a last resort, to be applied only if increasing supply is infeasible.

Parking management programs should be widely applied to prevent parking problems.

Land use dispersion (sprawl) is acceptable or even desirable.

Dispersed, automobile-dependent development can be harmful.

The new parking paradigm changes the way parking problems are defined and solutions evaluated.

Many communities are starting to implement new-paradigm policy reforms. Below are examples.

Jurisdictions Reducing and Eliminating Parking Minimums

Many North American towns and cities are reducing or eliminating parking minimums, as documented in Progress on Parking Minimum Removals Across the Country, a crowd-sourced map by Strong Towns. Last year, officials in Buffalo, New York and Hartford, Connecticut eliminated parking minimums for commercial and residential developments. Many other municipalities have removed parking minimums for at least one part of the city or have lowered or removed minimums for certain uses.

 Communities Reducing Parking Minimums

Communities Reducing Parking Minimums

Right-Size Parking Study

The King County Right Size Parking Project has developed practical tools for more accurately calculating parking demand, taking into account geographic and economic factors. The study used detailed vehicle ownership and travel survey data to determine the parking demands in particular neighborhoods in the Seattle, Washington region. It found that parking demand per unit declines with increased transit proximity, local population and employment density, and parking price (the amount that residents must pay extra, if any, for a parking space), and increases with rents, unit size and number of bedrooms. The resulting model can be used to determine the parking supply needed in a particular development.

More Efficient and Equitable Parking Policies in Seattle, Washington

The Seattle City Council recently passed Flexible Use Parking legislation which allows existing and new parking spaces to be shared, eliminates parking requirements for affordable housing units (up to 80% Area Median Income), and requires, “unbundling of parking in leases” for new development so renters are not required to pay for parking spaces they do not use. This is part of the city’s Neighborhood Parking Reforms.

San Francisco Value Pricing Parking  

SFpark is a demand-responsive parking pricing program which periodically adjusts meter and garage pricing up and down to match demand in order to meet a performance-based target of 85% maximum occupancy rates. Previously, municipal parking was priced at $3 per hour at all times and locations. The program adjusted these prices to maintain its target. Prices increased in 31% of cases, declined in 30%, and remained the same in 39%. Motorists can virtually always find an unoccupied space, which increases convenience, particularly for deliveries, passenger pick-up, and quick errands.

Vancouver Parking Requirements

The City of Vancouver applies reduced and more flexible parking requirements for multi-family dwellings to support efficient transportation, smart growth and affordable housing planning objectives. These new standards are based on parking demand studies [pdf] showing declining vehicle ownership rates. City staff proposed a Sustainable Transportation Credit Program that allows developers more flexibility based on specific location and circumstances, based on the LEED TM Green building rating system. Developers receive credits for reducing total parking supply, providing carshare vehicle parking and transit passes to building occupants.

Reduced and More Flexible Multi-Family Parking Requirements

Toward Zero Parking: Challenging Conventional Wisdom for Multifamily identifies North American cities that are eliminating parking requirements and encouraging more efficient management, and provides guidance for implementing such reforms. For example, officials in Buffalo, New York, removed parking minimums citywide for commercial and residential projects of less than 5,000 square feet (465 sq m), and Hartford, Connecticut, scratched parking minimums across the city for commercial and residential developments, regardless of size. Many other municipalities have removed parking minimums for at least one part of the city or have lowered or removed minimums for certain uses. San Francisco has gone a step further, establishing parking maximums for downtown and nearby areas well served by public transit, capping the amount of parking that developers are allowed to build for multifamily housing.

From Minimums to Maximums

Some cities now limit parking supply. Boston, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Zurich, have all capped the total number of parking spaces allowed in their city centers (Kodransky and Hermann 2011; Weinberger, Kaehny and Rufo 2009). Parramatta, a major suburb of Sydney, Australia, changed its minimum parking requirements into maxima, as indicated in the table below. This is part of the district’s plan to reduce traffic problems and encourage use of non-automobile modes.

Parramatta Parking Maximums

Land Use

Maximum Parking Spaces Allowed

Child care centres

1 space per 4 child care places

Commercial premises

1 space for every 100 square metres of gross floor area

Drive-in take away food and drink premises with seating

1 space for every 10 square metres of gross floor area or every 6 seats (whichever is the lesser)

Health consulting rooms

1 space for every 300 square metres of gross floor area

Hostels and residential care facilities

1 space for every 10 beds, plus 1 for every 2 employees, plus 1 suitable for an ambulance

Hotel accommodation

1 space for every 5 hotel rooms or suites, plus 1 for every 3 employees


1 space for every 2 motel rooms or suites, plus 1 for every 3 employees

Multi dwelling housing: 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms

1 space for every dwelling, plus 1 space for every 5 dwellings for visitors

Restaurants or cafes

1 space for every 10 square metres of gross floor area or 1 for every 4 seats (whichever is the lesser)

Seniors housing (other than residential care facilities)

1 space for every 10 dwellings, plus 1 for every 10 dwellings for visitors


1 space for every 30 square metres of gross floor area

Warehouses or distribution centres

1 space for every 300 square metres of gross floor area

In 2016, Parramatta converted its parking minimums into maximums as part of the city’s efforts to encourage more compact and efficient development and reduce traffic problems.


GreenTRIP is a Traffic Reduction and Innovative Parking certification program for new residential and mixed use developments. It rewards projects that reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. It expands the definition of green building to include robust transportation standards for how people get to and from green buildings. Each certified project receives a Project Evaluation Report, which describes the project location and details and inventories how the project meets GreenTRIP standards. This rewards developers for reducing traffic problems and associated costs.

CIVITAS Examples

CIVITAS (City VITAlity and Sustainability) is a network of European cities dedicated to cleaner, better transport. CIVITAS examples include 26 innovative parking management programs in 20 cities, indicated in the following map.

Case Studies for Parking Management Catalogue

The European PUSH & PULL Project focuses on synergies between parking management and mobility management measures studied by the. “Push” strategies include the introduction of paid parking, the increase of fees, or the reduction of supply to encourage travelers to use more sustainable transport. The income from parking can be earmarked to finance “Pull” measures, such as improving and promoting sustainable alternatives.

This catalogue contains measures on the city level but also on the site level (workplaces / universities / hospitals) and on a national level. The description includes objectives, steps for implementation, potential barriers and how they have been overcome, costs and impacts. These 24 best practice examples were selected and prepared as case studies using criteria such as “Implementation status”, “Innovative approach” or “Availability of evaluation data or documentation.” 

The Making Parking Precious project found that cities can reduce parking and traffic problems by implementing an integrated set of smart parking management strategies based upon economic incentives and regulatory measures. Differentiated pricing schemes for parking are an effective means to reduce congestion and pollutant emissions in an urban context. Parking measures should be based on thorough analysis of parking data and facilities. Tariffs should carefully be differentiated across target areas and user groups. As all parking projects need political and legal approval, it is wise to hold working groups and stakeholder meetings to put this issue on the agenda.

The report, 16 Good Reasons for Parking Management [pdf] provides guidance for building political support for innovative parking management, including how to deal with scarcity of urban space, how to improve access and the quality of life, how to increase safety, how to support the local economy, how to reduce ‘parking search’ traffic, how to turn initial resistance into support, why to set standards, etc. The report includes facts and figures accompanied with pictures or diagrams and an explanatory text that it is easily understood and quickly summarizes the key arguments.

European Parking Management

The report, Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation, examines parking policies and planning practices through the prism of ten European cities: Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg and Zurich. It found:

  • Parking is increasingly linked to public transport. Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich and Strasbourg limit parking supply in new developments based on proximity to transit services. Zurich increased parking fees and improved transit services. As a result, between 2000 and 2005, transit mode share increased 7% and automobile mode share declined 6%.
  • European cities increasingly charge for on-street parking. In Paris, the on-street parking supply has been reduced more than 9% since 2003, and 95% is now priced. Along with other transport improvements, this reduced driving by 13%. Parking reforms are considered a more feasible way to reduce vehicle traffic.
  • Revenue gathered from parking tariffs is being invested to support other mobility needs. In Barcelona, 100% of revenue goes to operate Bicing—the city's public bike system. Several boroughs in London use parking revenue to subsidize transit passes for seniors and the disabled, who ride public transit for free.

Additional Information

David Baker and Brad Leibin (2018), “Toward Zero Parking: Challenging Conventional Wisdom for Multifamily,”Urban Land.

Paul A. Barter (2014), “A Parking Policy Typology for Clearer Thinking on Parking Reform,”International Journal of Urban Sciences.

Paul Barter (2016), On-Street Parking Management: An International Tool-kit, Sustainable Urban Transportation Technical Document #14, GIZ and SUTP (

CNT (2016), Stalled Out: How Empty Parking Spaces Diminish Neighborhood Affordability, Center for Neighborhood Technology.

The Economist (2017), “Parkageddon: How Not to Create Traffic Jams, Pollution and Urban Sprawl. Don’t Let People Park For Free,”The Economist, 8 April 2017.

Ríos Flores, et al. (2014), “Practical Guidebook: Parking and Travel Demand Management Policies in Latin America,” Inter-American Development Bank, (

William J. Gribb (2015), “3-D Residential Land Use and Downtown Parking: An Analysis of Demand Index,”CityScape, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 71-84.

David Gutman (2017), “The Not-so-Secret Trick to Cutting Solo Car Commutes: Charge for Parking by the Day,”Seattle Times.

Todd Litman (2017), Parking Management: Comprehensive Implementation Guide, Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Ottawa (2015), A 90 Second Lesson in How Parking Can Kill Cities, City of Ottawa.

Rick Williams (2013), Parking Made Easy: A Guide to Managing Parking in Your Community, Oregon Transportation & Growth Management Program.

Todd Litman

Todd Litman is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems. His work helps to expand the range of impacts and options considered in transportation decision-making, improve evaluation methods, and make specialized technical concepts accessible to a larger audience. His research is used worldwide in transport planning and policy analysis.

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Rendering of wildlife crossing over 101 freeway in Los Angeles County.

World's Largest Wildlife Overpass In the Works in Los Angeles County

Caltrans will soon close half of the 101 Freeway in order to continue construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing near Agoura Hills in Los Angeles County.

April 15, 2024 - LAist

Workers putting down asphalt on road.

U.S. Supreme Court: California's Impact Fees May Violate Takings Clause

A California property owner took El Dorado County to state court after paying a traffic impact fee he felt was exorbitant. He lost in trial court, appellate court, and the California Supreme Court denied review. Then the U.S. Supreme Court acted.

April 18, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

View from back of BART Police SUV driving down street in San Francisco, California.

Podcast: Addressing the Root Causes of Transit Violence

Deploying transit police is a short-term fix. How can transit agencies build sustainable safety efforts?

3 minutes ago - Streetsblog USA

Sunset view of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota skyline.

Minneapolis as a Model for Housing Affordability

Through a combination of policies, the city has managed to limit the severity of the nationwide housing crisis.

1 hour ago - Brown Political Review

Row of yellow Pacers Bikeshare bikes at station in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana.

Indy Bikeshare System Turns 10, Expands to E-Bikes

Pacers Bikeshare riders logged over 700,000 rides since the system launched in 2014.

2 hours ago - Indy Today

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Write for Planetizen

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.