Does Downtown Need More Parking? Or Less?

Downtown Dallas has tons of parking — 69,000 spaces, according to Downtown Dallas Inc. It will have a ton of parking for the foreseeable future. Despite that, city planners are calling for even more parking downtown, in part to help those who might someday want to call downtown home.

But economic studies and experiences in other cities such as Minneapolis and Seattle suggest that downtown could benefit more — more people, less traffic and lower living expenses — from being freed from Dallas' onerous parking requirements. The Bishop Arts District's continued thriving is thanks, in part, to the Oak Cliff oasis' having had its parking requirements cut in half in 1992. Now, Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston thinks this might be time to lower requirements in his district, which includes parts of downtown and Uptown.

No data is available on just how much builders pay on average to create a parking space in a Dallas garage, but a survey of 12 American big cities in 2014's Parking: Issues and Policies found average construction costs were  $34,000 for every space underground and $24,000 above. Those costs, said retired UCLA economist Donald Shoup in the book, can increase the density of cars and reduce the density of people in the areas where they're in effect. Parking spaces makes rents higher, too, even at complexes where residents have to pay for parking. For residents who don't drive, it's worse, as they pay a hidden subsidy for drivers and have to deal with Dallas' imperfect public transit system.

"One developer — who, coincidentally also builds in Portland — told me that they would like a zero [parking] requirement in Uptown, although I'm not totally sure Uptown is ready for it just because the transit situation's not great," Kingston says.

That doesn't mean Uptown requirements can't be loosened at all. Kingston says many Uptown developers just want the number of spaces they are required to provide to be dropped to lower than 1.5 spaces per unit, the current standard, because the developers are seeing about one car per unit. In downtown, Kingston suggest the amount of required parking for apartment builders could be dropped even further, to zero.

"In downtown [zero required parking] makes perfect sense. There are lots of car-free people," Kingston said, before bemoaning downtown's lack of a grocery store. That's what causes some people to hang tenuously to their cars, he says.

The biggest problem with getting anything done about the requirements — or even having an actual discussion about them — is getting them in front of the right City Council committee, Kingston says. When you're talking about the parking requirements for residential buildings, it would make sense to have the council's housing committee take up the issue. That's not what happens.

"We try to bring up stuff like this on the housing [committee] agenda and staff always wants to send it to economic development," Kingston says. "Economic development is the only part of the city of Dallas that has a policy statement concerning parking targets in downtown, and they're firmly of the opinion that we need more parking. That is policy that [city] staff has made that the City Council has never considered."

Despite downtown having about 60,000 more parking spaces than residents, the City Center TIF plan created by the city of Dallas Office of Economic Development really does, as Kingston asserted, call for more parking downtown.

"This category [parking initiatives] supports expansion of the downtown parking supply by providing adequate parking in the Zone that will support current and additional retail, residential, office and visitor activity," the plan says.

Developers that toss more parking spaces into downtown can get reimbursements in the form of TIF funds.

"It drives me bananas," Kingston says. "There's never been a parking study downtown that shows we need even one more space."

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