|Austin,TX - On Thursday, May 4, 2023, the Austin City Council moved forward with the process to completely remove parking requirements for all new developments in the city’s land development code.
“Let me be clear: This in no way will eliminate a single parking space in Austin. It simply lets the market and private property owners decide how much space for storing cars they wish to provide,” said Council Member Zo Qadri, who brought forward the resolution to initiate the code amendments. “Our decades-old policy of top-down parking prescriptions has helped make Austin an overparked, sprawling, car-dependent city. Taking them out of our code will help us achieve our goals of being a safer, more accessible, affordable, and sustainable community.”
The resolution gives city staff a deadline of Dec. 31 to bring back to Council a code amendment that removes parking requirements citywide. If approved, Austin would join a growing list of American cities that have eliminated or reduced their municipal parking mandates. Advocates argue that parking requirements, induce driving, ratchet up housing costs, suppress new housing development, and hinder small businesses, among other detriments.
Recent studies show that parking reforms in other cities have led to new housing opportunities. According to the data, more than half of the new homes built in Seattle in Buffalo following those cities’ respective reforms would have been illegal to build prior to the changes.
"Removing parking requirements will encourage housing construction, reduce development costs, and move us towards a more walkable city,” said Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, another cosponsor. “I’m proud to support this initiative and look forward to seeing more connected communities in Austin."
Austin has already experimented with eliminating parking mandates. In 2013, City Council nixed them in the Central Business District. As a demonstration of how the market will continue to provide parking, the vast majority of the swarm of new Downtown towers built since then sit on top of multi-level parking plinths.
“Eliminating parking minimums will create more housing, while prioritizing transit and the environment. This market-based approach recognizes the current demand for parking will still be met, without superficially building concrete spaces that sit unused and unwanted,” said Council Member Ryan Alter, a cosponsor of Qadri’s resolution.
In 2020, Austin voters approved a multi-billion-dollar transit investment that will lay tracks for a brand-new light rail system by the end of the decade. They also gave the greenlight to $450 million in bonds to pay for new sidewalks, bike lanes, and urban trails across the city. These investments reflect an ambitious, Council-adopted goal to drastically reduce the share of single-occupant vehicle trips made in the city by 2039.
“Market-based parking is an important step in achieving more walkable and connected communities in Austin that will encourage public transit use and other modes of transportation,” said Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis, another of the resolution’s cosponsors. “Along with the climate and air quality benefits, it is our hope this process will open up more space for people, including much-needed missing middle housing, and to meet the needs of our growing City without forcing people to build more parking than necessary."
Before drafting the resolution, Qadri and his cosponsors collaborated with reform advocates and members of the disability rights organization, ADAPT of Texas. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires any new development that includes parking to provide a proportionate amount of accessible parking. To ensure that any new parking-free development remains accessible, the resolution directs staff to develop strategies to allow for accessible parking on city-owned right-of-way adjacent to or reasonably nearby the project.
“I’m pleased to be starting this conversation, and I appreciate the opportunity to assure our communities that we are not eliminating a single parking spot with this action,” Council Member Leslie Pool, another cosponsor, said. “I’d also like to celebrate the role that advocates at ADAPT played here in Austin, and in cities like ours across the nation, to help us craft the protections needed to guarantee access to parking for people with physical disabilities.”
Additionally, the resolution gained the support of the local business community. In a letter of support sent before the vote, Alina Carnahan, vice president for advocacy with the Real Estate Council of Austin, pointed out that shifting to market-based parking policies provides multiple benefits.
“First, it allows for cost savings: parking spaces can cost more than $40,000 per space,” Carnahan wrote. “The space saved by not overbuilding parking can be used for more commercial space and more housing within the same footprint, reducing sprawl and lowering per-unit or per-square-foot costs on projects.
Additionally, removing one element of the development review process helps speed up the entire process, allowing for faster delivery of new housing. Residents of new buildings and tenants in new commercial developments stand to gain the most from these parking changes.”