1. Governance
May 12, 2015updated 23 Mar 2023 11:33am

Seattle is planning to replace parking spots with bus passes

By Barbara Speed

It seems a little nuts that, at a time when we should ideally be cutting back on car use, many cities still operate something called “parking minimums”. Not parking maximums. Parking minimums.

The minimums are the product of a mildly cynical equation: if you build a certain number of residences, or a certain amount of floor space, you must build a certain amount of parking spaces, too. No amount of bike racks or bus stops can be used to make up the numbers. Most British cities, and other cities around the world, have abolished comprehensive parking minimums. But in the US, homeland of the car, you’ll still often find them fully in force.

One of the few US cities which has started to take a hatchet to parking minimums is Seattle, which has removed them in downtown neighbourhoods and areas with good transit links. But recent analysis by the blog PubliCola found that, at night, 37 per cent of the parking in recently-built apartments was empty. It also estimated that those empty spaces were adding around $250 a month to the cost of renting an apartment, since parking spaces in the city can cost between $20,000 and $50,000 to build. 

So the city government is thinking of going a step further. A bill presented by the city’s departments of transport, development and planning to the city council last week proposes that developers should issue residents with transit passes or membership of car sharing schemes, in place of parking spots. This would apparently represent only a fraction of the cost of building new parking. The bill also suggested the use of parking apps, better bike parking, garages shared between groups of building, and more regular bus services. 

In the same report, the departments noted that, since 2012, when the parking minimums were repealed, only 12 per cent of new developments where parking was not required had gone parking-free. This implies that developers aren’t sold on parking-free housing – perhaps because they think customers aren’t, either.

But if the proposal succeeds, shared parking, better public transit, and a range of car-free options could convince all parties that parking should be treated as a maximum, not a minimum.

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