Photo: Tobias Jussen | Unsplash

More Housing for People, Not Cars

Coalition of civics, environmental and mobility advocates, and builders urges City Council’s Rules Committee to vote down Bill 160710, which would increase regressive parking minimums

5th Square
Oct 15, 2019 · 5 min read

Dear Members of the Rules Committee,

As members of communities across Philadelphia, we oppose the proposed Bill 160710, Councilmember Blackwell’s proposal to create new private parking mandates and double existing parking minimums in residential and commercial buildings.

Minimum parking requirements have been proven to increase rents and housing costs, undermine City commitments to climate change mitigation and improved air and water quality, and they expose pedestrians and cyclists to more serious injuries and fatalities caused by increased car traffic.

Parking minimums are a hidden tax on non-drivers that subsidizes drivers and makes housing more expensive. Evidence shows that in Philadelphia, the cost premium for parking is anywhere from $150 to $400 per month for homes with parking included than for those without parking(“What Price Do Philadelphians Really Place On Their Parking”, Kevin C Gillen, 2017). Where parking is mandated, developers have a strong inducement to build for the luxury market, as only affluent buyers and renters can afford to pay extra for such a convenience.

Moreover, the rest of us subsidize these luxury parking amenities. Tenants who do not want or need a parking space will be forced to pay extra rent to cover their neighbors’ parking. And in mixed-use buildings with commercial spaces, all customers will pay more for food, home goods, and other needs to subsidize the cost of luxury parking, even if they take transit or walk to the store.

When the city encourages additional driving and sprawling development patterns, as this bill does, all residents are forced to pay more for the additional damage to roads, and higher costs to provide public services to spread-out development.

Additionally, mandatory parking minimums mean less new housing gets built overall. As Philadelphia faces rising housing costs, growing displacement, and widening economic inequality, we must not create more roadblocks for creating additional homes. But parking minimums burden builders with substantial additional costs, limiting housing supply and driving up prices for residents. As a result, they tilt the housing market toward producing luxury housing instead of middle class housing.

A recent case study from Portland, Oregon, provides a cautionary tale: a private developer can economically build 32 new mixed-income, market-rate homes without parking, or a mere 10 high-end luxury homes where parking is required (“In Mid-density Zones, Portland Has A Choice: Garages Or Low Prices?”, Michael Andersen, 2019). Developers will make their profits either way, but parking minimums all but guarantee they’ll make it by building luxury housing.

This bill comes at a time when more and more people are voting with their feet for less parking. Public parking utilization has been going down in Philadelphia since 2005 (Research Institute for Housing America, “Quantified Parking” 2018). Cities across the nation, most recently San Francisco and Minneapolis, have recognized this and have moved to fully eliminate the minimum parking requirements in their zoning codes to improve housing affordability, reduce transportation emissions, and make multi-family infill housing easier to build.

Donald Shoup of UCLA, the leading social scientist who studies parking, has found that minimum parking requirements worsen air and water quality, increase energy consumption, raise the cost of housing, decrease public revenue, undermine public transportation, increase traffic congestion, damage the quality of our public realm, escalate suburban sprawl, threaten historic buildings, weaken social capital, and cause increased mortality and morbidity (“The High Cost Of Free Parking”, Donald Shoup, 2011). As Dr. Shoup has observed, they do this by acting like a fertility drug for additional driving and traffic congestion. Private residential parking removes any incentive to use public transportation, virtually guarantees the user will make more car trips and increases congestion in an already overly-congested city.

Encouraging extra car trips and more widespread car ownership also works against Mayor Kenney and City Council’s commitment to our Vision Zero goals, where elected and appointed officials have pledged to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities to zero by 2030. The recently released Year Two progress report shows pedestrian injuries are headed in the wrong direction, and actually increased by 17% in the second year of the campaign.

Studies have shown that the frequency of pedestrian injuries and fatalities is closely linked to the total number of car trips. (“Dangerous Streets? Take the Bus.” Andrew Small, 2018) By one estimate, a study by the American Public Transportation Association found that increasing the percentage of people using transit by between 1.5 percent and 3 percent could accomplish anywhere from a 10 percent to a 40 percent reduction in traffic fatality rates. By increasing the total amount of driving, this legislation would be expected to increase Philadelphia’s traffic fatality rates.

Minimum parking requirements also weaken our neighborhood commercial corridors by eroding the commercial footprint in mixed-use projects and making it harder in some cases to repurpose existing buildings when a change of use required. Space in buildings that would normally be used for ground-floor commercial space is instead taken up by drive aisles, ramps, and parking spaces to accommodate the required parking. They also limit how many nearby customers there will be for commercial corridor businesses by setting too low a cap on how many people can live above storefronts or within walking distance of local stores.

Private car subsidies like parking minimums are not a realistic or sustainable solution to Philadelphia’s transportation challenges and create many more problems than they’re worth. The environmental, health, and other public costs caused by driving have become increasingly intolerable as we grapple with worsening transportation access in and around our major job centers, the challenges of climate change mitigation, and Philadelphia’s poor air quality.

We urge you to abandon efforts to raise this harmful hidden tax on renters and home buyers and instead begin working to eliminate this unfair and unaffordable tax in the next City Council session.


Bella Vista Neighbors Association
Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
Brian Murray, Shift Capital
Clean Air Council
Craig Grossman, Arts + Crafts Holdings
Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance
Habitat for Humanity
Ken Weinstein, Philly Office Retail
South of South Neighbors Association
South Street West Business Association
Sustainable Business Network
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