Cities and developers are preparing for a world with less parking

By Robert Benner

Chandler, AZ, may be the first city to recognize that apartment dwellers will need less parking in the future. In anticipation of autonomous vehicles, the city is changing its zoning code to loosen parking minimums in new buildings. Developers welcome such flexibility, as building parking can be expensive and AVs and other emerging technologies, such as ridesharing and bikesharing, are reducing the need for tenants to own personal cars.

A number of cities, such as Seattle, have recognized this trend among their residents and have lowered parking requirements. But Chandler may be the first to change its regulations specifically in anticipation of autonomous vehicles.

Chandler, a city in the Greater Phoenix region, has had Waymo AVs testing on its streets since 2016 and has had time to understand the potential impact these vehicles may have on everything from transportation to land use and economic development. AVs have a particularly strong potential impact on the need for parking among residents. While non-AVs today sit idly during a large majority of the day, AVs operating in a shared capacity have the ability to significantly reduce the need for personal car ownership as they move from passenger to passenger, and thereby reduce the overall need for parking. This is especially true in a city’s central downtown, where AV adoption may allow parking lots to be converted into new developments.

Understanding the potential of these impacts, Chandler has proposed two specific changes that will allow developers to build less parking than is traditionally required in anticipation of more AVs in their city.

Under the first change, if developers are able to show that self-driving vehicles and ridesharing will be used regularly by apartment dwellers, their parking requirements could be reduced by up to 40 percent. Under the second, developers are allowed a 10 percent reduction for each loading-zone space. The city’s zoning administrator has the authority to reject a reduction in parking minimums if they feel it would have a negative impact on parking availability in the city.

It is too early to assess the impact of zoning changes like the one in Chandler, but it is clear that the city has gotten the message that they will need to adapt in order to keep up with current trends and new technologies.

Chandler’s proposed zoning changes come as developers across the country are preparing for a world with less parking in response to new travel modes, including AVs, that reduce the need for personal car ownership.

Among developers, there are many questions about how much parking they need to provide for new apartment buildings as travel and commuting preferences among their residents is changing. With the rise of new ridesharing, carsharing, and bikesharing options, many residents are choosing to live car-free, and AVs provide the ability to grow this trend. As a result, developers are seeing empty parking lots that were full only a few years ago and are concerned about building parking for new projects that residents will not need.

In more urban areas, developers such as the NPR Group have 0.5 to 1.5 parking spaces per apartment on average, but developers in large cities such as Boston are beginning to build projects in these markets with no parking at all.

Eliminating parking in all new buildings will not be possible, regardless of current trends. This is especially true in suburban areas, where the NPR Group builds 1.6 to 1.8 spaces per apartment. While residents in these areas may take commuter rail or other modes to get to work, they still require personal cars for most non-work trips.

Developers are using studies such as the Kingsley Apartment Renter Preferences Report to help understand what tenants are looking for when choosing an apartment and how parking fits into this equation. Not knowing exactly what parking requirements will be in 10 years, they are trying to find a balance between too much and too little.

The amount of parking in a development can have make-or-break effects on profitability. Parking can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $60,000 per space, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council and National Apartment Association, and can be difficult or expensive to convert to another use once built. Too much parking means the developer loses out on valuable space that could be used for additional units, while too little will prevent access for car owners and make units difficult to market.

Adding to the challenge is that many developers hoping to lower the amount of parking they provide run up against strict local parking minimums. As trends that reduce the need for car ownership continue, cities and developers both will have to work to determine what the proper regulations for car ownership and parking will look like. In thinking about how AVs will affect these trends, Chandler, AZ, has taken the first step.

Robert Benner is a Program Associate at Smart Growth America