Introduction - What makes downtown parking special?
There are special issues associated with parking in downtown areas where land is valuable and relatively scarce and large numbers of people converge to work, shop, and visit. The lack of parking is sometimes cited as a reason for the declining vitality of a downtown business district. Some downtowns seem to thrive despite a shortage of parking because of the attractions they offer, as long as they provide alternative ways of getting there and getting around. Parking is not an end in itself but is intended to serve the needs of the various users of downtown, including workers, shoppers, tourists, and others.
Provision of adequate parking can be challenging in downtowns of all sizes. In large cities and major metropolitan areas, transportation policies typically emphasize the use of transit and ridesharing programs instead of providing low-cost downtown parking. Some smaller communities, especially resort communities, have developed systems of parking lots and shuttles to reduce the demand for parking in the town center. In most cities, there is likely to always be a need for a certain amount of parking, whether it be on-street or off-street. Some downtowns predate the widespread use of the automobile and were not laid out with parking in mind. Downtowns are typically compact, which also means that there is not ample space for parking. Parking is not intrinsically an aesthetic asset to a city's character, and extensive parking lots are particularly jarring in historic downtown environments. In metropolitan areas, for downtown businesses to successfully compete with suburban shopping centers, a workable balance of parking, transit service, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and other access options is essential.
Decisions about downtown parking and other access solutions require trade-offs between the use of expensive land to achieve a viable and attractive downtown and the provision of workable parking and access programs to support downtown's vitality. Thus, parking is only one element in a broad range of access and circulation options for downtown.
This webpage is organized into several general topics related to downtown parking.
Downtown Parking in General
This section includes general materials addressing basic downtown parking issues, principles, and goals.
- Parking management made easy: a guide to taming the downtown parking beast () prepared by the Oregon Downtown Development Association for the Transportation and Growth Management Program, 06/2001. Useful step-by-step handbook to addressing downtown parking issues including inventories and potential solutions
- The Dynamics of On-Street Parking in Large Central Cities (abstract only), by Allison L. C. de Cerreño, Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, 12/2002
- Parking: The Parking Handbook for Small Communities, by John D. Edwards, ITE, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1994 (Available through MRSC Library Loan) - Primarily oriented toward downtown parking; also a useful overview of parking issues in small cities
- Downtown Parking Made Easy: 6 strategies for improving the quality and quantity of downtown parking, by Mary Barr, Downtown Research & Development Center, 1997 (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
Downtown Parking Studies, Inventories, and Plans
Many communities have undertaken parking studies and inventories to assess their downtown parking situation and have developed plans to address downtown parking issues. This section includes information on how to develop parking management plans as well as examples of parking inventories, studies, and plans.
Inventories and Studies
- Bainbridge Island Parking LID Feasibility Study Counseling Report (), Winslow, prepared by Anthony Gibbons and Marilynn Gottlieb, 2002
- Bellevue Downtown Parking Survey Management Brief (), 2004
- Edmonds Comprehensive Downtown Parking Study () Landsman Transportation Planning and Perteet Engineering, 06/06/2003
- Everett Downtown Parking - Results of 2007-2008 Downtown Parking Management Study
- Puget Sound Regional Council Parking Inventory page - Reports and datasets from PSRC’s periodic inventories of off-street parking facilities in the central Puget Sound region.
- Puyallup Downtown Parking Study, Proposed Parking Time Limits (), 09/14/2011
- Seattle 2010 Parking Study
- Downtown Spokane Parking Study, Downtown Spokane Partnership, 04/2005
- Sumner 2005/2006 Parking Study and Recommendations ( 575 MB), Heffron Transportation
- Westport Parking Study and Commercial Design Guidelines, City Council presentation, 02/13/2007
Downtown Parking Management and Regulations
Downtown Parking Management
The management of downtown parking includes strategies to increase efficiency, parking guidelines and actions to address downtown parking needs, and downtown parking advisory committees.
- Parking Management - Strategies for More Efficient Use of Parking Resources, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute - Excellent guide to strategies that can be applied to downtown parking
- Transportation Management Associations and Parking Brokerage, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
- Regulate Parking Use - TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute - Strategies used to regulate parking use
- Ephrata, Downtown Revitalization: A Resource Book for Downtown Ephrata (), 05/2004, by Downtown Ephrata, Inc. (see p. 45, “When Parking is the Issue”)
- Kirkland Parking Guidelines for Downtown Kirkland () 2004 - Implements Kirkland's 2003 Downtown Parking Study and Plan
- Kirkland Parking Management - Section IV () Parking Management Plan, Operating Principles and Strategies for Implementation, from Downtown Kirkland Parking Study and Plan - Information on parking management zones, recommended management strategies, enforcement, and more
- Lynnwood Parking Management in City Center Subarea Plan () Final Draft, 08/2004 (see p. 58)
- Puyallup Downtown Parking Management Plan
- Tacoma On-Street Parking
Downtown Parking Code Regulations
These are sample general downtown parking regulations. Additional specific regulations addressing fee-in-lieu of parking, parking maximums, and shared parking are found in separate sections below.
- Edmonds Municipal Code Sec. 17.50.010(C) and Sec. 17.50.070 - Parking exceptions for downtown
- Issaquah Municipal Code Sec. 18.09.130 - Downtown parking provisions
- Kirkland Zoning Code Ch. 50.60 - Special Parking Provisions in the CBD 1, 2 & 8 Zones
- Sumner Municipal Code Sec. 18.42.045 - Parking in Central Business district, exceptions to parking requirements in downtown
- Vancouver Municipal Code Sec. 20.630.060 - Parking control in downtown district
Downtown Parking Solutions
This section contains local government strategies to address downtown parking, and specific techniques for addressing downtown parking issues. Communities have adopted a variety of specific solutions to address downtown parking, such as parking and business improvement areas, parking pricing strategies, shared parking policies, fee-in-lieu of parking, employer programs to encourage ridesharing, remote parking lots, and commuter financial incentives.
Commuter Financial Incentives
These are incentives for commuters to encourage use of alternative travel modes (such as transit, bicycling, or walking) and to reduce the use of parking facilities.
Fee-in-Lieu of Parking
Some cities allow developers to pay a fee in lieu of providing the parking spaces required by zoning ordinances, and use this revenue to finance public parking spaces to replace the private parking spaces the developers would have provided. This is particularly useful in downtown areas and can help to fund a central municipal parking facility. This mechanism can provide flexibility and efficiency in providing parking in downtown areas and other commercial districts to meet the needs of new development; however, it cannot be used to remedy existing parking shortfalls.
- In-Lieu of Required Parking (), by Donald C. Shoup, Journal of Planning Education and Research, Vol. 18, January 1999 - Useful overview by national expert
- Redmond Zoning Code Ch. 21.40 – Parking Standards (see Sec. 21.40.010(F)(2)) - Regarding in-lieu parking fees
- Lacey Municipal Code Ch. 16.25 (see Sec. 16.25.110(D)) - Off-street parking for Central Business District
- Langley Municipal Code Sec. 18.22.130(N)(1) in Title 18 () - Waiver of off-stree parking requirements
- Friday Harbor Municipal Code Sec. 17.68.050 in Title 17 () - Downtown business area parking requirements
- Sumner Municipal Code Sec. 18.42.056(F) - Parking in East Main Street area
Meters and Pay Stations
Quite a few communities, including Bellingham, Kirkland, Seattle, and Tacoma, are using automated kiosk pay stations for parking in downtown areas.
Limits on the number of parking spaces to be provided through off-street parking requirements can help to encourage transit use and other alternatives to single-occupant automobile use. Parking maximums are used in downtowns and commercial centers where land is scarce and expensive.
- Parking Maximums, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
- Bellevue Land Use Code Sec. 20.25A.050(B) - Minimum and maximum parking requirements for downtown
- Lacey Municipal Code Ch. 16.72 - Off-Street Parking and Loading (see Tables 16 T-13.1 and 13.2)
- Redmond Zoning Code Ch. 21.10 - Downtown Regulations (see Sections 21.20.030 through 21.10.100 and Section 21.10.120)
- SeaTac Municipal Code Sec. 15.35.810 - Maximum parking requirements for city center
- Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 23.49.019(C) - Sets maximum parking limit of one space per 1,000 square feet of nonresidential use in downtown
- Portland, OR Zoning Code Ch. 33.266 - Parking and Loading (See Sec. 33.266.115 - Maximum Allowed Parking Spaces)
Parking pricing means that motorists pay directly for using parking facilities. It may be used as a transportation demand management strategy, as a parking management strategy, to recover parking facility costs, to generate revenue for other purposes, or for a combination of objectives.
Donald Shoup advocates eliminating off-street requirements and charging market rates for parking.
- The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald C. Shoup. Chicago: American Planning Association, 2005 (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
- Pave paradise? No, ditch the parking lot, by Philip Langdon, New Urban News, April/May 2005 (a review of The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup, APA, 03/2005)
- Turning Small Change into Big Changes, Chapter by Douglas Kolozsvari and Donald Shoup, excerpt from The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup, APA, 03/2005
Shared parking is often encouraged in downtown areas but may be used in other locations as well.
The provision of remote parking may work well for smaller communities, particularly resort communities. This approach has been used successfully in Jackson, Wyoming, Whistler, British Columbia, and Aspen, Colorado as well as in La Conner and Winthrop in Washington. In some locations, shuttle bus service is provided between the parking lots and downtown or ski resorts.
Other Innovative Solutions
Promoting Downtown Parking
Cities have developed brochures, maps, marketing programs, and websites to provide information on downtown parking and access opportunities.
Cities in Other States