February 6, 2013

EDITORIAL: The End of Parking Requirements

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On Monday, the Board of Public Works voted unanimously to recommend the elimination of the City of Ithaca’s minimum parking requirements. These controversial mandates require developers to build one parking space for every two housing units created. We urge the Common Council to act on the Board’s recommendation and repeal the requirements. As multiple studies have shown, minimum parking requirements create urban sprawl and raise housing costs — an effect also noted by Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, a vocal proponent for overhauling the city’s parking laws. The elimination of these requirements would allow Ithaca developers to receive faster approval for projects necessary for revitalizing Collegetown and other areas throughout the city.

Over the last several years, Collegetown businesses have shut their doors as they negotiate expensive leases and declining foot traffic. In order to strengthen the core of Collegetown, new, affordable housing units are needed. But proposed developments have been stalled by the parking requirements. In the case of the Collegetown Crossing project, developer Josh Lower ’05 has been attempting for more than two years to seek an exemption from the law, which would otherwise require the construction of 57 parking spaces for residents. Elimination of the requirement would allow Lower’s project and others to move forward.

Studies have shown that parking requirements increase urban sprawl, disincentivize walking and thereby hurt businesses in areas with high foot traffic. A 2010 study by researchers at the University of Munich showed that parking minimums “significantly increase” the amount of land devoted to parking, to the detriment of water quality, pedestrian safety and non-automotive forms of transportation. Similarly, a 2009 study by the New York City Department of City Planning found that districts with the highest parking requirements also have the lowest density, retarding economic development. Thus, we believe that these parking requirements are directly at odds with increasing the economic vibrancy of our city.

Eliminating parking minimums would also help lower Collegetown housing costs. The cost of building and maintaining parking garages is passed on to residents, as developers bundle parking and housing costs together. We believe that eliminating such requirements would likely lead developers to build fewer spaces, allowing for more residential units and decreasing housing costs. However, the city must also ensure that residents reduce automobile use, instead of moving their cars to on-street parking and crowding residential areas.

Reducing the number of available parking spaces, and thus car traffic, would be worrisome if Ithaca lacked a strong public transportation system. However, we believe Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit provides excellent service to the areas that would benefit most from the elimination of the requirements, such as Collegetown and the Commons. Myrick has been strongly supportive of efforts to improve TCAT service, helping the city secure a $4.5-million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. He has also supported alternative transportation methods, adopting a plan for a bicycle boulevard around the city. These improvements will aid development and provide a path for a revitalized Collegetown, demonstrating that minimum parking requirements are not needed to promote economic growth.