Too Much Parking Makes Neighborhoods Less Equitable, but eTOD Can Help

Excessive parking requirements result in  low-density development that wastes land. Image: CNT
Excessive parking requirements result in low-density development that wastes land. Image: CNT

Over the next few months, the Center for Neighborhood Technology will be hosting workshops and webinars on equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD). These include topics such as new technology and eTOD and social service delivery in eTOD.

Earlier this week, CNT hosted a workshop exploring the impact of parking requirements on eTOD. Peter Haas, chief research scientist at CNT, was the first presenter of the workshop.

Some benefits of eTOD outlined in the presentation include reduced transit commute times, public health benefits, and the creation of more affordable housing. However, some of the benefits of eTOD have been overshadowed and undermined by the growing correlation between upscale TOD and the displacement displacement of longtime residents. For example, within a half mile of the California Blue Line station in Logan Square, 39 percent of units with rents under $1,000 have disappeared since 2000, according to CNT. When TOD doesn’t serve residents of all income levels, it doesn’t help to make our communities more equitable.

The MiCA Towers near the California Blue Line stop in Logan Square, an upscale TOD project that was accused of having an insufficient amount of on-site affordable units, 10 percent. Photo: Borna Khoshand
The MiCA Towers near the California Blue Line stop in Logan Square, an upscale TOD project with 10 percent on-site affordable units, which many affordable housing advocates argued was insufficient. Photo: Borna Khoshand

After housing, Haas said, transportation is the second highest cost to a household budget. That expense is particularly steep when a household is car-dependent. During the workshop, Haas also walked the audience through CNT’s eTOD Social Impact Calculator. This tool allows users to analyze financial, social, and environmental benefits of eTOD projects in Cook County. For example, if you plug in an address near the aforementioned California stop, you can see the number of grocery stores within a mile of the station, and and jobs accessible via transit within 30 minutes, among other data. The calculator provides a good idea of the potential benefits of eTOD at a location.

The next presenter was Lindsay Bayley, senior planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. She noted that the benefits of improving transit access and reducing auto dependence include making a neighborhood more affordable and equitable, and less of a drain on city services.

Bayley gave a brief overview of the history of Chicago’s zoning requirements for parking. The first zoning ordinance implemented in 1923 didn’t include parking requirements. Our city became much more car-dependent over the next three decades, an in 1957 there was a major overhaul of the ordinance that involved thoroughly codifying parking requirements. In 2004, a new zoning ordinance was approved, which didn’t change the parking requirements, but added some parking maximums were. In 2013, the city’s first TOD ordinance was passed, which halved the usual parking requirements within 600 feet of transit stations. In 2015 the ordinance was strengthened by expanding the TOD zones and essentially eliminating the parking requirements in these areas altogether.

A slide from Bayley's presentation.
A slide from Bayley’s presentation.

“A city that can reduce dependency on cars is going to be more equitable,” Bayley said. “Parking requirements also undermine public transit.” Parking mandates, Bayley added, also reduce safety, because driveways cause potential conflicts between drivers entering and existing parking areas and pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers. They can also result in lower-density development, since providing the parking required for taller buildings adds to construction costs.

Parking requirements can also discourage new development without subsidies, serve as a barrier to redeveloping existing buildings, make affordable housing more expensive to build, and encourage the construction of taller buildings that are no longer at the “human scale,” Bayley said.

Even a small number of parking spaces can make construction more expensive, which causes rents to go up for all units. Eliminating minimum parking requirements, Bayley said, does not mean new buildings won’t include any parking, but that developers will have more flexibility to respond market demand. Some cities that have eliminated minimum parking requirements include London (2004), Mexico City (2017), and San Francisco (2018).

Even a modest number of parking spots can significantly raise rents. Image: CMAP
Even a modest number of parking spots can significantly raise rents. Image: CMAP

In the last part of the presentation, Bayley went over the equity piece of TOD and parking minimums. Parking requirements are more likely to burden poor people, since the inclusion of a parking space in the cost of an apartment raises its rent, and because they are less likely to own cars. Dollars spent on parking spaces are dollars not spent on building housing for people.

Some strategies to promote equity include unbundling parking from housing costs by charging a separate rent for spots, and selling parking separately from the cost of a condominium. A holistic approach to transportation should be pursued, including on-street parking and residential permits.

Making eTOD work also requires the city to prioritizing transit options for residents by increasing train and bus service. “It’s a lot easier to increase capacity on transit than increase capacity for cars,” Bayley said. “Our bus system has the potential to move more people.”

To learn more about CNT’s series on eTOD, go to their events page.

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    There are so many single-story bank chain buildings in my neighborhood, many located adjacent to the rapid transit stop. Considering that these are the same institutions responsible for questionable lending practices, wouldn’t it make sense to require them to contain affordable housing? Is there anything preventing an ordinance from singling out a specific type or use to contain affordable housing?

  • rohmen

    I mean, all of this sounds correct in a vacuum, but there doesn’t seem to be much discussion (outside of seemingly acknowledging the problem) of the current reality of TOD development in this City. TOD development right now is almost entirely synonymous with luxury development.

    I agree that parking minimums aren’t a good thing, and should be abolished to an even greater degree, but TOD developments themselves do not actually seem to be helping lower income residents in this City, outside of the more indirect benefit of potentially/hopefully slowing the pace of displacement through apartment conversions into higher rent residences by increasing the high end rental stock.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I think we should all be more than a little concerned when we’re hearing about programs that have worked in cities like: “London (2004), Mexico City (2017), and San Francisco (2018).”

    Does anyone familiar with these places think these are the cities Chicago should be emulating for affordability?

    New construction is expensive. TOD advocates seem hell bent on focusing on everything but this one inconvenient truth. It’s also not true that density brings lower prices. Land supply is fixed. Increasing demand for land – which is what TODs are obviously meant to do – when combined with the expense of new construction means the demand curve shift vastly dwarfs countering pricing pressure downward due to the supply curve increases you see in terms of new housing units. Oh, and the housing units – they aren’t for families. So TOD is undermining the school system at the same time it is allegedly stabilizing neighborhoods. Yonah Freemark’s paper should be mandatory reading – with a test required – for any developer and public official pitching TOD.

    The bus TOD they are proposing for parts of the city that actually *do* need investment is for sure more promising, and strikes me as at least in the spirit of what organizations like CNT are trying to promote. But I think we should all note how we are seeing bus TOD only as the housing market is slowing down and the Mayor isn’t running again.

    So color me cynical, but I’d say the fact the City didn’t promote TOD in those areas *first* tells you how much faith we should put in the City’s commitment to it and TOD as a viable urban planning model. Because that’s the problem – it’s a model, not a system integrated with everything else, like school enrollments, CTA capacity studies, green space acquisition, etc.

  • rduke

    I seethe with anger every time I walk past the shuttered MB Financial at Western and Armitage. It’s not even a bank anymore, it’s a single drive-thru ATM with the footprint of an entire lot. It’s preposterous.

  • Lynda Lopez

    Definitely agree that a conversation about TOD has to be centered within the reality that’s the housing in itself is inequitable. I don’t think eliminating parking requirements is the end all be all, though it’s a valid conversation to consider within our housing. I think the bigger issue is how TOD is so synonymous with luxury that it’s difficult to have a conversation about equity within that context, which partly means we need to figure out a model of TOD that would actually serve working families in this city. Maybe then we can have more nuanced conversations about aspects such as parking requirements.

  • planetshwoop

    Creative reuse of bank branches and shopping malls is soon going to become an important urban planning topic. There is an empty bank branch in Lake Bluff we would love to move into… Turn the drive through into a porch; lots of light and walking distance to the train (sigh)

  • planetshwoop

    Jefferson Park would be a case study to compare to Logan for different ways to implement TOD. It’s probably not eTOD but different from Logan.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Not happy to also be in the shuttered Blue Line bank branch club. Chase bailed out of the storefront across the alley from the Belmont stop maybe 6 – 9 months ago.

  • planetshwoop

    Re: 39% of apartments under $1000 we lost since 2000….

    It is really important to indicate if that figure has been indexed against inflation. If it hasn’t, then it is a useless statistic for the point being made.

  • planetshwoop

    Would you say besides senior or subsidized housing, that much non-luxury housing is being built?

  • Michael

    Correct. The rate of inflation from 2000 through end of 2018 is 47.8%. So a 39% increase as the article states is actually LESS in real, inflation adjusted dollars today than someone paid in 2000.

  • rohmen

    No, as obviously very little non-luxury is getting built, though obviously a market is out there for it. But I’d also say the TOD ordinance itself hasn’t seemed to help the situation much (if at all).

  • planetshwoop

    I think this is an issue, and the framing of it isn’t helping. Almost all development I see is: a) luxury towers or really expensive condos b) flippers making house prices go up and c) senior or subsidized housing. So it’s not really a TOD problem, it’s an “all housing” problem. TOD is just the same.

    Most of the senior housing sails through unopposed because it is typically more or less parking-free. Politicians like it – they can harvest the votes for re-election – and builders like it because it tends to be pretty reliable cash flow.

    I work in finance, and tend to see things in that lens. I think the incentives for building affordable housing don’t exist, and thus everyone focuses on the luxury market. It would be interesting to see if local capital could actually fund and build something like what LSNA is asking for in the form of 3 flats or the classic U-shaped apartment buildings. The institutional money seems to only want to go high-end.

  • rohmen

    Agreed that it’s an “all housing” problem. I just have a problem with the sweeping generalization that some of the presenters made that reducing auto dependence and increasing transit access makes neighborhoods more affordable and equitable. It certainly can lead to that, but it’s far from guaranteed, and I think the exact opposite is happening in some areas for sure.

    It’s become desirable for many to continue to live an “urban” lifestyle as they climb the age and income brackets, and many people aren’t leaving for the suburbs anymore (or at least the far flung ones). Reducing daily auto dependence and increasing transit access is becoming a big perk for many, and is probably a lead driver of gentrification in many neighborhoods and cities (look at the march up the blue line). I think that angle has to be accounted for more in the conversation.

    In terms of why almost everything being built on a larger scale regardless of neighborhood is luxury, I’d imagine you’re right that it’s an issue of what institutional money will fund, mixed with the fact that it likely doesn’t take much more for a developer to build out a luxury unit while the rent you can charge is often substantially higher. What’s finishing out an apartment to a luxury level cost extra per unit when you’re dealing with that level of volume? A lot of it is window dressing and dedicating some space to extra amenities. If you can pull in an extra $1500 a month on the luxury rent level, I imagine the developers recoup that expense pretty quick, and start seeing extra profit per month. I imagine we won’t see a voluntary, non-incentive based course correction until the market truly saturates at that level and buildings start to have to offer steep discounts.


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