Parking Reform is Building Momentum

Parking lot with hundreds of empty parking spaces. Cars only park along the edges.

By Ian Thomas

A State Senator, a local Planning Commissioner, and a national advocacy leader all agree on at least two points – parking mandates are very harmful to communities and the parking reform movement is gathering momentum.

America Walks’ June 5 webinar, “People Over Parking: Advancing Affordable Housing and Walkability through Parking Reform,” featured Minnesota State Senator Omar Fateh, author of a bill to prohibit communities across the state from enacting minimum parking requirements. Although the “Minnesota People Over Parking Act” did not become law in the 2024 legislative session, Sen. Fateh confirmed that he received strong support from members on both sides of the aisle and plans to introduce his proposal again next year.

As explained by Chris Meyer, Chair of the Minneapolis Planning Commission, parking minimums are built into the zoning code of almost every municipality in the United States. Designed in the 1950s to address a concern about shortages, these rigid rules require real estate developers to include specific numbers of parking spaces in their plans – an apartment complex must have two spaces per unit, a cafe needs one for every 100 square feet of internal space, etc. In the early 2010s, Chris realized that these mandates were causing suburban sprawl and car dependence, and decided to do something about it.

Chris Meyer stands by a table weighed down with copies of Donald Shoup's book "The High Cost of Free Parking"

First of all, he bought a copy of Donald Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking” for every member of the Minneapolis City Council (an act of generosity he repeated this year with the State Legislature, see photo). Then, he lobbied for a repeal of minimum parking requirements, so the city would become more walkable, reduce its carbon footprint, and build more affordable housing. As a result, Minneapolis removed the requirements for developments close to transit stations in 2015 and eliminated them citywide in 2021.

Tony Jordan, President of the Parking Reform Network, was the third webinar guest. His organization provides education on the harmful effects of parking mandates and advocates for ending them. During the webinar, Tony discussed the gathering momentum for parking reform across the country. In the nine years since Minneapolis’ pioneering move to allow owners of land near transit to choose how much parking they needed, hundreds of cities have enacted similar partial reforms and dozens have eliminated mandates citywide. Tony also gave an overview of the Parking Reform Network’s resources and advised local advocates to engage public officials in discussions about the high cost and negative impact of current parking policies.

The webinar was co-facilitated by America Walks Board Member Arlis Reynolds and State and Local Program Director Ian Thomas. Arlis, who is also a City Council Member in Costa Mesa, CA, asked the panelists whether parking reform is a popular issue for local candidates running for election. The general consensus was that it can be a successful progressive position as long as the details are explained clearly and myths are dismissed. For example, removing government mandates is not the same thing as prohibiting parking– developers can still build as many spaces as they want. In response to Ian’s question about the alignment of political parties for or against parking reform, Omar, Chris, and Tony all agreed that there is plenty of bipartisan support with environment-focused liberals and small-government conservatives opposing parking mandates.

To wrap up the webinar, each panelist gave their 30-second “elevator speech” in support of parking reform.

Check out the full recording of the webinar:

Tony Jordan Slides