With 3.3 Parking Space per Car, Why Do We Complain About Parking? Parking Development Requirements Now & Future
In 2010 it was determined that there were 18.6 million parking spaces in Los Angeles County or 3.3 parking spaces per automobile. The same survey concluded that Los Angeles County devoted almost 200 square miles to parking. This is more than the 140 square miles devoted to all streets and freeways. The report called this 200 square miles a parking crater.1 The problem is not having parking when and where you want it.
No Los Angeles County is not Contra Costa County. But to conclude that Contra Costa is radically different is simply a result of our Bay Area versus “La-La Land” bias. We too have dense urban areas and urban sprawl.
How does a developer determine how much onsite parking to provide in their proposed development, the requirements, how the numbers are developed and the potential future of parking? This article focuses on Walnut Creek where I serve as a Transportation Commissioner.
Onsite parking requirements are technically unique to a jurisdiction. There are many similarities between jurisdictions; however key influencers are the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the State Legislature. The MTC exercises influence through various grants and recommendations.
How Onsite Parking Requirements are Generated
California requires each jurisdiction—counties, cities and agencies—to develop and maintain 20-year general plans2. The process for developing each plan is arduous and lengthy involving all of the stakeholders in the community—citizens, businesses, city staff, and consultants. Once a draft is developed along with an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the plan, it is shepherded through various commissions and public hearings with the final decision made by the governing body. Usually this is either the County Board of Supervisors or the City Council.
Between general plans, a jurisdiction can develop specific plans for various sections of the city or county. These can be as small as one parcel. For example, the Orchards Shopping Center3 on the corner of Oak Grove Road and Ygnacio Valley Road in Walnut Creek was a single-parcel specific plan. Walnut Creek is currently developing two more specific plans—West Downtown Specific Plan4and the North Downtown Specific Plan5. Besides being smaller, they can be very detailed as to the types of housing or business and the architectural design of the buildings.
Each plan is required to provide and plan for numerous elements of the general plan. Of particular interest to developers is the Land Use element. Once the entire plan is adopted, the jurisdiction starts the process of making the zoning code conform to the new land use designations. Parts of the zoning code6 determine the requirements for onsite parking.
- Multiple family residential: 1.25 parking spaces per studio unit; 1.5 per one-bedroom unit; 2 per two-bedroom unit; 2.25 per 2+ bedroom unit. Each unit will have one covered space.
- Single family residential: two covered parking spaces per dwelling unit.
- Horse stables: one parking space for each four horses boarded on site plus one per employee.
- Eating establishments with full alcoholic beverage service: one parking space for each five permanent seats and one per 75 square feet of floor area available for portable seats and/or tables for the area devoted to eating and drinking plus one per 45 square feet of public assembly area.
- Eating with take-out service: one parking space per 50 square feet of gross floor area (GFA)
- Funeral and interment services: one parking space per 45 square feet of public assembly areas
- Offices, business and professional spaces: in the core area, one per 250 square feet of rentable floor area on the ground floor; one per 285.7 square feet of rentable floor area above the ground floor. Outside the core area, one per 250 square feet of rentable floor area.
This list is not exhaustive or ever representative. It is only to demonstrate the granularity of the code. Who knew that you had to provide one automobile parking space for every four horses?
Hold On There Is More!
As an incentive, to encourage specific types of development the Walnut Creek Zoning Code allows a reduced requirement to provide onsite parking. Eliminating the need to build an underground parking space for one car can be quite an incentive. To encourage more dense development near BART7, the reduction is 0.25 parking spaces per studio and one bedroom unit; and 0.5 spaces for two-bedroom units. BART-proximate is defined as a parcel, any portion, that is within a half mile from the closest point of the Walnut Creek or Pleasant Hill BART station property. This distance is measured along street frontages using the most reasonably direct, legally permissible path. The determination of whether or not a development meets this requirement is made by the city’s Transportation Planning Manager8.
How Did We Get Those Numbers?
Where do minimum parking requirements come from? No one knows.9The only source of data that systematically relates parking demand to land use is a report generated and published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. This report calculates the parking generation rate—the average peak parking demand observed in case studies–for 64 different categories of land use10. For each land use, this publication reports the “parking generation rate,” defined as the peak parking occupancy observed in surveys by transportation engineers.11
This report is how Walnut Creek concluded that a good horse-boarding facility needed one parking space for every four horses. Most jurisdictions do not have the time and more importantly the money to do extensive research for that determination.
Future of Parking
Dr. Donald C. Shoup’s12 thesis is that we should price parking based on demand. The elimination of minimum parking requirements does not imply ceasing to plan for parking. Rather, planners can focus on the quality of parking, not the quantity. Properly pricing curb parking and eliminating minimum parking requirements will improve transportation, land use, and urban life.13
For better or worse, Walnut Creek is one jurisdiction that is moving slowly towards pricing parking based on demand. For example, I am unable to park in front of my own home without paying for a parking permit. It is the requirement for living within a restricted residential parking area. Another example is the reduced requirement near BART. The city is also considering demand-based public parking. Potentially the cost of parking will change throughout the day based on demand.
 Better Institutions Blog http://www.betterinstitutions.com/blog/2016/1/2/map-a-parking-lot-with-all-of-la-countys-186-million-parking-spaces Retrieved Feb. 18, 2018 citing: Parking Infrastructure: A Constraint on or Opportunity for Urban Redevelopment? A Study of Los Angeles County Parking Supply and Growth, Journal of American Planning Association (2015 Volume 81 – Issue 4).
 “State of California: General Plan Guidelines” http://www.opr.ca.gov/ The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. State of California. Retrieved Feb.18, 2018.
 http://www.walnut-creek.org/departments/community-and-economic-development/planning-zoning/long-range-planning/shadelands-gateway-specific-plan Retrieved Feb. 18, 2018.
 http://www.walnut-creek.org/departments/community-and-economic-development/planning-zoning/long-range-planning/west-downtown-specific-plan Retrieved Feb. 18, 2018
 http://walnut-creek.org/departments/community-and-economic-development/planning-zoning/long-range-planning/north-downtown-specific-plan Retrieved Feb. 18, 2018
 Walnut Creek Municipal Code Sec. 10-2.3.206 Off-Street Parking and Loading Spaces Required
 The other types of development are Low Income Units and Very Low Income Units.
 Walnut Creek Municipal Code Sec.10-2.3.207 Table C Multifamily Residential Off-Street Parking Requirements For Low Income Or Bart Proximate Units
 Shoup, Donald C. The Trouble with Minimum Parking Requirements, Transportation Research Part A Vol. 33 (1999, p. 549-574), https://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/Trouble.pdf Retrieved Feb. 19, 2018.
 Shoup, Donald C., The High Cost of Free Parking, Access, (10, Spring 1997) https://www.accessmagazine.org/spring-1997/the-high-cost-of-free-parking/ Retrieved Feb. 15, 2018
 Shoup, Donald C., The Trouble with Minimum Parking Requirements, supra.
 Dr. Shoup, B.E. (Electrical Engineering, Yale), Ph.D. (Economics, Yale) is Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Urban Planning, UCLA
 Shoup, Donald, C., The High Cost of Free Parking, supra.