New Guidance for City Leaders on Parking & Mobility Choices

Cities across the country have been raising the bar for climate action with parking policies and incentives that shift travel from cars to healthier, low-carbon mobility choices. From San Diego to Boston, and from Atlanta to Saint Paul, “transportation demand management” (TDM) practice has considerably increased in ambition in recent years. TDM is an umbrella term that can encompass practices from subsidizing residential transit passes to installing showers in an office building—and it is an impactful policy arena that is critical to undoing the polluting, unsafe, and inequitable legacy of car dependence. We are excited to share a new Implementation Guide developed by our partners at Nelson\Nygaard, to support city leaders in advancing sustainable, safe, and equitable transportation in their communities. This guide summarizes lessons learned from Nelson\Nygaard’s work with cities participating in the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge, each of whom have developed and implemented TDM and parking policies that are setting a new standard for local climate leadership.

A recently-installed protected bike lane in Atlanta

Dustin Chambers for NRDC

Parking and TDM policy are critical levers to eliminate pollution from urban transportation systems—but just as importantly, these policies help make cities safer and more affordable for all, ensure more equitable development, and give small businesses more flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. These benefits are also mutually reinforcing—constructing fewer parking spaces helps discourage driving; while encouraging walking, biking, and public transit use reduces the need for parking in new and existing developments. By contrast, the high-polluting status quo encourages driving and prioritizes cars and other large vehicles over people, driving up the cost of living and exacerbating existing inequities in transportation access.

The Climate Challenge has helped build much-needed momentum on municipal parking reform and TDM policy, working with a diverse array of city staff and partner organizations. Climate Challenge partner Nelson\Nygaard has been involved in policy design and implementation in several Climate Challenge cities pushing the envelope on TDM and parking policy, including Atlanta, Austin, Saint Paul, and several more whose policies are pending formal approval. Along the way, Nelson\Nygaard staff have captured several key lessons learned, which we are now proud to share in The New Transportation Demand Management: An Implementation Guide for City Transportation Officials. All this work signals the acceleration and normalization of cities taking a comprehensive approach to supporting safer, more equitable, low-carbon mobility choices.

Several other cities have successfully advanced pioneering parking and TDM policies with Climate Challenge support, including Boston, Honolulu, and San Diego; and Minneapolis, Portland, and Washington, D.C. each pursued new policies in addition to their Climate Challenge commitments. All of these cities (and several others, whose policies are still under development) stand on the shoulders of policy pioneers like Buffalo, NY—among the first major U.S. cities to fully eliminate minimum parking requirements, decades after they became commonplace—and San Francisco, which developed a ‘points-based’ policy system that has inspired similar TDM efforts across the country.

What have Climate Challenge cities accomplished in the past few years?

  • Atlanta: In partnership with local transportation management associations Central Atlanta Progress, Livable Buckhead, and Midtown Alliance, the City of Atlanta adopted a new TDM policy to guide development in its fastest-growing neighborhoods, starting in 2020.
  • Austin: In the City of Austin’s December 2021 update of its Transportation Criteria Manual (see Chapter 10 for TDM strategy), one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. added new TDM rules to ensure that new development supports walking, biking, and public transit ridership.
  • Boston: Following two years of planning, workshops, and stakeholder engagement, in October 2021 the City of Boston launched a points-based TDM system to reduce driving and parking demand in new developments, and paired this reform with new, context-appropriate parking maximums for large developments.
  • Denver: The City of Denver adopted TDM requirements for new developments that took effect in June 2021, using a points-based approach with stronger requirements for larger developments.
  • Honolulu: Signed by Mayor Caldwell in December 2020, Honolulu’s Bill 2 eliminated minimum parking requirements for residential new construction, enabling residential builders to reduce housing costs in new development.
  • Minneapolis: Following their leadership in legalizing multifamily housing in all residential development, the City of Minneapolis eliminated minimum parking requirements and strengthened TDM requirements in new developments, with unanimous City Council support.
  • Portland: Portland enacted a TDM plan requirement for multifamily developments in mixed-use corridors in late 2019 and eliminated minimum parking requirements for small residential developments in 2020 (quickly followed by an impressive state parking reform).
  • Saint Paul: Presented with two options, the Saint Paul City Council voted in August 2021 to fully eliminate minimum parking requirements and pair that reform with a points-based TDM planning process to further strengthen incentives for new development to support walking, biking, and public transit.
  • San Diego: In two rounds of parking reforms in 2019 and 2021, San Diego removed minimum parking requirements for all developments near the City’s most frequently-served public transit stops and stations, and the City’s 2020 Mobility Choices ordinance added TDM requirements to further encourage walking, biking, and transit in new developments.
  • Washington, D.C.: The nation’s capital has strengthened its comprehensive TDM approach through a recent update to its “Guidance for Comprehensive Transportation Review” (originally published in 2019; updated in January 2022), as well as through the passage of a citywide parking cash-out program, mandated by the local passage of the 2020 Transportation Benefits Equity Amendment Act.

One of the most important forms of government innovation is recognizing a broken status quo and undoing the systems that reproduce it. City leaders who have framed minimum parking requirements as a contributing factor to the housing affordability and climate crises have had success in eliminating these burdensome requirements. Framing these reforms as central to achieving priority city goals is a key lesson from this recent wave of policy progress, as recently summarized by Delivery Associates, the Climate Challenge’s lead partner for government innovation.

Thanks to hard work of both staff and partners in each of these cities, municipal climate leadership is increasingly synonymous with fully eliminating minimum parking requirements and pairing this critical reform with a citywide TDM policy that aligns development incentives with goals to enable safe walking, biking, and reliable public transit options for all. These policies were already common sense—and now, with a stronger-than-ever precedent for action, it’s incumbent on cities and states to make these parking and TDM policies commonplace. Together, parking and TDM reform will push public and private sector infrastructure investments to be safer, more equitable, and lower-carbon. Both will be necessary at this critical time when we need all hands on deck to transform our transportation system.

We could not have put it better than Saint Paul City Councillor Mitra Jalali, who, in reference to the Council’s overwhelming vote to eliminate minimum parking requirements and strengthen the City’s TDM program, told Streetsblog, “Cities should just do this. Just do it! It really can be that simple.”

About the Authors

Zak Accuardi

Technical Strategist, Transportation, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program
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