The Inner Ring Residential Parking Study examines the relationship among cost of providing parking, residents’ choices about vehicles, and zoning requirements for parking within a geography described as “the Inner Ring,” encompassing neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, western Queens, and northern and central Brooklyn. These neighborhoods were selected for study because, of the areas where zoning requires residential parking, they offer the greatest potential to reduce parking requirements and improve other transportation options that can contribute to reduced auto ownership. Based on extensive analysis, the study identifies several principles to guide parking policies and to inform future discussions about land use and parking in Inner Ring neighborhoods.
Inner Ring Residential Parking Study (38.5 mb)
Neighborhood Profiles (9.4 mb)
Built Parking and Affordable Housing Technical Appendix (18.8 mb)
Household Travel Survey Technical Appendix (4.9 mb)
This study examines key issues related to determining the appropriate amount of required off-street parking for various neighborhoods. To promote the City’s environmental and quality of life goals, zoning regulations for off-street parking must strike a balance: Providing parking can be costly, particularly at higher densities which require structured parking, and excessive parking requirements could hinder housing production, making housing less affordable. In addition, households that live in dense, transit-rich neighborhoods own fewer cars, and they drive them less, so it makes sense to have lower parking requirements in these neighborhoods. This also means that achieving transit-oriented growth in these neighborhoods contributes to an overall reduction in vehicle ownership and driving, which is beneficial to the environment. To sustain this kind of growth and continue to attract and retain residents, though, the quality of life in these communities must remain high. This requires not only fostering mixed-use neighborhoods with pedestrian-friendly streets and access to shopping, services, and employment, but also maintaining an adequate supply of residential parking for people who choose to own a vehicle, even if they use it infrequently.
As the noted parking scholar Donald Shoup observed in his book The High Cost of Free Parking, there is no intrinsically “correct” amount of parking to require for a new development. Demand for parking is a product of numerous factors, including the price charged for parking, which is in turn shaped by the supply of parking in the area. A thorough evaluation of parking requirements will therefore examine not only the requirements themselves, but also the interactions between off-street parking regulations and the marketplace – the developments that provide parking and the people who use it.
Today, except in the Manhattan Core (Community Districts 1 through 8) and a portion of Long Island City in Queens, New York City’s Zoning Resolution requires new residential buildings to provide accessory parking for a percentage of residential units. Each zoning district specifies a minimum requirement, with the highest requirements in lower-density districts, which are concentrated in areas that are less well served by transit, and the lowest requirements in higher-density districts, which are generally close to transit. The amount of parking required can be reduced for affordable housing, and in medium- or high-density districts, parking can be waived for smaller buildings and sites.
This study focuses on a geography identified as “the Inner Ring,” encompassing neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, western Queens, and northern and central Brooklyn. The Inner Ring was selected for study because, of the areas where zoning requires residential parking, it offers the greatest potential to reduce parking requirements and improve other transportation options that can contribute to reduced auto ownership. Though physically, demographically and socioeconomically diverse, neighborhoods in the Inner Ring share several characteristics important to transit-oriented development: they are dense, mixed-use communities close to subway lines, where many residents can frequently reach destinations by transit, on foot, or otherwise without the need for a private car. They also have relatively low rates of automobile ownership and commutation by car.
By combining for the first time building-level data on motor vehicle registrations, new housing, and zoning requirements, along with a household travel survey and data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this study seeks to understand how parking requirements factor into developers’ decisions about providing parking spaces for new housing; how off-street parking affects the choices residents make about owning, using, and parking vehicles; and how the cost of providing parking may affect the development of housing, including affordable housing.
The Inner Ring Residential Parking Study produced the following key findings:
The costs of providing parking and the revenues generated by parking are important factors in developers’ decisions about whether to build parking. Whether a building is eligible to waive required parking or must provide a specified number of spaces, a developer may elect to provide parking beyond what is required. The size of the building has an effect on the likelihood that the developer will provide additional parking. Smaller buildings can often provide surface parking at a low cost, and as described above, many smaller buildings provided some parking despite the ability to waive the zoning requirement. Larger buildings were less likely than smaller buildings to provide more parking than required. This can be explained in part by the fact that these buildings typically require structured parking, which is expensive to provide, and the prices most Inner Ring residents pay for off-street parking appear to be insufficient to recover fully the costs of building new structured parking. This produces a financial disincentive to provide parking voluntarily. In addition, current parking requirements were established based on the amount of parking that fits on a single level; exceeding this amount by more than a few spaces would require a second level of parking and substantial additional cost – another disincentive to the voluntary provision of parking. Developers also consider factors other than direct revenues from parking, such as the importance of parking to prospective residents. This can lead to different amounts of parking provided even for buildings of the same size within the same neighborhood.
Affordable housing is more susceptible than market-rate housing to the cost implications of requiring accessory parking, and its residents own fewer vehicles. Affordable housing subsidy programs often cannot cover the costs of structured parking, and the costs of parking cannot be recouped by charging residents, who are less able to pay for parking than residents of market-rate housing. For recent developments with five or more units, affordable housing averages many more units per building than market-rate housing, making it more difficult to use parking waivers. Vehicle ownership rates decline as household income decreases, and there is extremely low vehicle ownership in special needs housing such as low-income housing for the elderly.
Based on the findings of this study, several principles are identified to guide parking policies and to inform future discussion with communities, elected officials, and other stakeholders about opportunities to reduce parking requirements in Inner Ring neighborhoods:
Recognize that accessory residential parking facilities in the Inner Ring often provide parking for residents throughout the neighborhood, and are often operated as public parking. Most Inner Ring car owners already use “shared” parking, keeping their cars either on-street or at other garages or lots in their neighborhood. Many new large residential developments in the Inner Ring operate their garages as public parking rather than as a building-specific amenity, despite zoning regulations which anticipate that parking will be used primarily by building residents. Allowing public parking more broadly could have multiple benefits. Shared parking facilities reduce the total number of parking spaces needed to serve a neighborhood. In addition, enabling garages to rent spaces more flexibly would increase revenue, making it more likely that parking revenues cover the costs of constructing a garage, and reducing the need for housing prices to cover these costs.
Evaluate off-street parking requirements on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. While this study identified overall patterns in vehicle ownership across the Inner Ring, vehicle ownership rates varied significantly from borough to borough and among neighborhoods in the Inner Ring. The parking supply that is most important to residents is the local supply, since they generally seek to park close to their homes. It is therefore important to look at parking policy at a neighborhood level. Taking into consideration the balance between the costs of providing off-street parking and the need for new parking to support development, modifications can be considered to better match parking regulations to neighborhood characteristics. In areas where parking requirements are higher than necessary, requirements can be reduced. Engagement with community stakeholders and elected officials would be a key component of any process to amend parking regulations.
Update the parking requirements for affordable housing to reflect current programs and vehicle ownership rates. While the parking requirements for affordable housing developments have not been substantially changed in 25 years, the nature of affordable housing development has shifted in recent years toward larger buildings which are more likely to require costly structured parking. Affordable buildings are less able to support the costs of providing off-street parking than market-rate buildings, and their residents are less likely to use it.
Continue to expand the availability of transportation options in the Inner Ring.The low auto usage and ownership in the Inner Ring is a reflection of its dense, mixed-use neighborhoods with good access to transit. Surveyed Inner Ring residents who did not own cars reported frequently using shared or hired vehicles, indicating that the availability of such choices made it easier for them to choose not to own a car. Improving the range of transportation options available in these neighborhoods, including street-hail taxi service, car sharing, bike sharing, bus service, and ferry service, along with cultivating walkable destinations for shopping and services, can enable the continued growth of these neighborhoods and support a high quality of life for their residents while minimizing the number of automobiles that need to be parked.