Why San Francisco Should Stop Requiring Parking in New Housing
December 3, 2018

 According to transportation scholar Donald Shoup, “The area of parking per car in the United States is larger than the area of housing per human.” Photo by Sergio Ruiz.

This editorial first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

 

If San Francisco required less parking, then we’d see both lowered housing prices and more efficient use of urban land. Requiring developers to build parking spaces in new projects has the effect of bringing too many new cars into the city, congesting streets, taking up space needed for more housing and harming the environment.

Developers currently are required to provide a minimum amount of parking in new buildings. The minimums vary across the city but average one space per housing unit. What if we eliminated those requirements? San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim is working to remove the minimum parking requirements for new housing or commercial developments.

We think this is a great idea.

Why? Because each parking space adds substantial costs to any building project and can even make the project unfeasible. Tenants often bear the burden of those costs. Requiring one space per unit in a multifamily building, for example, adds thousands of dollars to the cost of each unit of housing. And it takes away space that could be used for what the city desperately needs — more housing.

When we talk about the ability to get around without a car, we are getting near the heart of what makes San Francisco different from most other American cities. San Francisco is compact rather than spread out, human scaled rather than highway scaled. Even after these many decades of increasing car orientation, we are still a city where people can live without cars — especially now, when we have access to a broad variety of transit options ranging from scooters to bike shares, buses to BART.

Kim introduced legislation to do just that at the Nov. 5 meeting of the the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee. Her proposal follows the San Francisco Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation to do away with citywide parking requirements. A broad coalition of housing, transportation and environmental advocates (including SPUR) testified in support of this policy along with representatives of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the county transportation authority, and the city Planning Department. The full Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the legislation Tuesday.

SPUR has been an active supporter of this shift, going as far back to at least 2006 when we published “Reducing Housing Costs by Rethinking Parking Requirements.” Then as now, we believe that minimum parking requirements are both a waste of money and space. They are antithetical to livable cities.

By removing these mandatory parking requirements, San Francisco can build more housing while reinforcing its unique urban strengths. In doing so, it will grow more pedestrian-friendly, more transit-rich, more environmentally sustainable and more affordable.

In his book, “Parking and the City,” transportation scholar Donald Shoup writes, “The area of parking per car in the United States is thus larger than the area of housing per human.” If Kim’s legislation is passed, we can make the choice to house humans, not cars.

 

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