March 7, 2018

The Great Los Angeles Parking Experiment

From Bloomberg:

In Los Angeles, it’s perfectly legal to build a new apartment without a refrigerator, a balcony, or air conditioning. But you can’t build one without plenty of parking. In most cases, in fact, you have to build at least two spaces per unit — and no fudging with tandem or compact spaces. That makes housing much more expensive. Removing parking requirements would be one of the simplest ways to ease California’s housing crisis …
Angelenos tend to assume that if the law doesn’t require builders to provide at least a couple of spaces per dwelling, cars will be endlessly circling the block looking for spots on the street. But that’s not the case.
In 1999, the city created a natural experiment with the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, designed to encourage the transformation of vacant commercial buildings in the historic core into housing. Among other provisions, the ordinance exempted converted buildings from parking requirements. Developers couldn’t subtract parking, but they didn’t have to add it. “The law created a set of downtown buildings that faced the same market conditions as other properties — the same amenities, crime levels, and transit access — but that did not have minimum parking requirements,” writes UCLA planning professor Michael Manville in a study of the results. “The ARO therefore lets us compare what unregulated developers did with what they would have had to do if they were regulated.”
Manville estimates that between 1999 and 2008 developers created at least 6,900 new housing units in the exempted area, or more than three-quarters of those added in downtown L.A. …
What mattered, it turned out, was the flexibility the exemption provided. Some luxury buildings opted for more spots than required, upping the average, while one building provided no parking at all. Most important, the exemption allowed developers to rent parking off-site, sometimes in uncovered surface lots, instead of digging expensive garages. They met residents’ needs in ways city regulations would normally prohibit.
“Removing parking requirements doesn’t remove the problem (buyers might still want parking), but it does remove the one-size-fits-all solution,” Manville writes. “Developers can provide parking in the way they think is best, the same way they already provide pools, fitness centers and other amenities.” The result was “more housing with less parking, often in buildings and neighborhoods they had long ignored.”
The experiment worked in downtown. There’s no reason to think it couldn’t work throughout the city, especially if combined with another key ingredient in the downtown trial: eliminating free street parking. “When cities don’t give on-street spaces away for free, developers will provide — and drivers will pay for — spaces off-street,” writes Manville. Let the market work.

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  1. The piece about LA is fantastic. Michael Mortensen has written similar about Vancouver, and both describe well how tricky the numbers are to make work to build housing unless something major is done about:
    1) Parking (require less)
    2) Land Cost (somehow skip land lift)
    I’m hesitant to knock balconies and green spaces like is done for LA (and is less onerous here in any case) … as I’m interested in seeing how far addressing the above could go in changing the numbers to an affordable (even Affordable?) balance.

  2. Unfortunately not only in California are people addicted to cars, often out of necessity or because it is a status symbol. Metro Vancouver drivers now experience Los Angeles style congestion, but for the most part we still insist on providing underground car parking costing at least $30,000 per car spot. Locally, North Vancouver is trying to change that in Maplewood by mandating not only car parking but also two secure bicycle parking spaces per dwelling unit. Given the current lack of frequent transit on the North Shore, developers are likely reluctant to build housing with zero car parking even if permitted by the municipality perhaps out of fear of lower profits. Considering the cost of residential parking and the associated parking at the destination, mandating parking does not help affordability. Fortunately there is currently a focus to make communities more walkable and cyclable and transit friendly. If developers on the North Shore are encouraged to provide convenient in-suite bicycle parking in place of car parking by also allowing more living area, affordability is improved as is the likelihood of travel by bicycle rather than by car.

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