Image by Payton Chung licensed under Creative Commons.

Buffalo, New York, recently got rid of an archaic law requiring developers to include a minimum number of parking spots for each building. Even though DC reduced parking minimum requirements last year, Buffalo’s example makes you wonder: Could the city do away with them for good?

Parking minimums are rules that require developers to build a minimum number of parking spaces depending on building type and size. They lead to garages and lots that eat up valuable space that could be used in other ways. Without them, the market can help decide how much parking is necessary, or whether anyone needs it at all.

It’s pretty well documented that an overabundance of (generally free) parking comes at a cost.

  • It costs space: In the United States, off-street parking consumes an area roughly the size of Connecticut.
  • It costs the environment: By creating parking that’s cheaper than its actual cost, we encourage people to choose traveling by car over traveling by public transit, bike, or foot.
  • It costs developers: Building a parking garage that might or might not be needed is expensive, and that space could be put to use for other purposes.
  • It costs our communities: Not only are we missing out on revenue that could come from either charging for parking that is already available or using space earmarked for parking for something else, it also costs them in terms of walkability and livability.

This video from Ottawa explains the problem well:

Buffalo eliminated its own parking minimum requirement as part of an overhaul of the city’s zoning code. It is the first city in the United States to eliminate parking minimums on a citywide scale, as reported by Mark Sommer in the Buffalo News.

“The changes in zoning and in land use will affect the city in numerous ways by promoting walkable neighborhoods, mixed developments, historic character, environmental sustainability and mass transit,” writes Sommer.

DC’s parking minimums still, well…exist

In 2016, the DC Zoning Commission unanimously approved changes to the zoning code that reduced minimums for buildings located near public transit and even eliminated parking minimums in all parts of downtown.

But for the most part, parking minimums still require developers to tack on a certain number of parking spaces when building single family housing, apartment buildings, retail and service buildings over 3,000 square feet, hotels, and industrial buildings.

Eliminating parking requirements doesn’t mean eliminating parking altogether: it simply means letting developers look to the market to determine how much parking is in demand and building accordingly. Our neighborhoods, our cities, and our environment will benefit from it—which is to say we all will benefit from it.

Susan Balding is a bike commuter and former bus driver with a passion for living in and creating more walkable, bikeable cities. She lives in Cleveland Park with her cat.