CNT Study of D.C. Parking Could Pave the Way for Better Chicago Policies

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A screen shot from Park Right DC development tool, which Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology helped create.

Chicago’s City Council recently passed a beefed-up transit-oriented development ordinance that eliminates parking minimums for new residential buildings near transit. However, new development outside of the TOD zones still are still generally required to provide a parking space for every unit.

A report co-authored by Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology provides more evidence that this kind of arbitrary parking mandate is inappropriate. It makes an argument that instead of parking minimums, evidence-based projections should be used to determine how many – if any – spaces should be built. The study, which focused on Washington, D.C., was honored last week as the best transportation and land use paper of 2016 by the Transportation Research Board.

CNT did similar research in the Seattle metro area about five years ago when King County Metro, the region’s transit agency, hired the nonprofit to look at parking use at multiunit buildings in the area, according to CNT’s chief research scientist Peter Haas. A subcontractor did parking counts at about 230 buildings in downtown Seattle, the neighborhoods, and suburban areas, tallying the number of cars parked late at night on weekdays, to get a sense of the total number of automobiles owned by residents.

The King County study also took into account the building size, income levels of the residents, transit access, and the density of people and employment in the surrounding areas. “We found that just about everybody had built too much parking,” Haas said. “Only about 60 percent of the spaces were being used.”

Using that data, the researchers developed the King County Right Size Parking Calculator, which provides estimated projections of the number of parking spaces per unit that are likely to be used at multiunit developments in different parts of the county. Seattle has since changed its zoning to allow for zero off-street parking in new buildings on transit corridors.

Leaders in Washington, D.C. who wanted to make an argument for reducing parking minimums heard about the King County study. The D.C. transportation and planning departments contracted CNT and other consultants to do the same thing within the city limits.

This time, the researchers looked at about 120 buildings and did a statistical regression for factors like transit access, job access (with a breakdown for retail jobs), and walkability. Once again, they found that parking was overbuilt by about 40 percent. “That seemed odd, but when we brought it up with the people in D.C., they said that’s what they had estimated anecdotally,” Haas said.

The consultants used the data to create Park Right DC, a similar tool as the King County calculator. The DC version lets you zoom in on a neighborhood, click on one or more parcels, and predict how many parking spaces would be needed for various kinds of developments on the site. The DC projections range from 0.3 to 0.9 parking spaces per unit.

Arkadia Tower

This new tower in Chicago’s Greektown has 350 units and 356 spaces. A parking calculator tool could make the case for building less spots. Photo: Steven Vance

CNT would also like to develop a tool for predicting “right size parking” in the Chicago region. In the past, they’ve sent people to various local neighborhoods and suburbs to count parking use at buildings near ‘L’ Metra stations. They’ve also done similar work in the Bay Area. In all of the regions they’ve studied, they found roughly 40 percent of off-street parking spaces weren’t being used.

In recent years, they have been other studies related to Chicago parking space use. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning looked at on-street parking occupancy in Wicker Park-Bucktown and found that, while there’s perceived parking shortage, there are actually plenty of available spaces – they just need to be managed better.

The Metropolitan Planning Council (with help from Streetsblog’s Steven Vance) created a transit-oriented development calculator. This allows people to input the location, size, and type of a proposed parking-lite development and predict the benefits in terms of additional retail sales, tax revenue, nearby jobs, residents, annual transit rides, and affordable housing units.

While CNT doesn’t yet have plans to create a King County or D.C.-style tool for predicting parking use at new buildings based on surveys of existing buildings, they did get some funding to publish a policy paper on parking in Chicago. CNT’s transit-oriented development manager Kyle Smith recently completed the paper and it’s under review, so it should be released soon.

Hopefully CNT will create a “right size parking” calculator for Chicago in the not-to-distant future. That would provide ammunition for the argument that parking requirements should also be reduced outside of the city’s TOD zones.