Simple Data Shatters The “There’s No Parking” Myth

The amount of on-street parking spaces available in an approximately three block radius of 16th and Humboldt, the site of a 108-unit development. Source: Denver Public Works
The amount of on-street parking spaces available in an approximately three block radius of 16th and Humboldt, the site of a 108-unit development. Source: Denver Public Works

Concerns over a parking shortage that prompted a change to the city’s housing policy are completely overblown, according to a newly released parking inventory from Denver Public Works [PDF].

The Denver City Council is on the verge of baking expensive parking requirements into the zoning code that will slow the growth of Denver’s inadequate housing supply and make new homes less affordable. At the core of this policy change are a few loud residents, terrified of losing on-street parking spots to newcomers, who claim there’s no room for new apartments because there’s no place left to park.

“The street parking potato sack is full,” they say. “There is no more room for more potatoes.”

Some Council members have, er, eaten this argument up. To justify new parking requirements on small lots, they simply point to their constituents’ concerns over the purported parking shortage. A proposed 108-unit development at the corner of 16th and Humboldt in City Park West sparked the outrage.

But the parking inventory paints another picture. Workers counted how many cars each block holds, and recorded how many empty spaces were available on a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On a given weekday, an average of 187 on-street parking spaces were available in a three-block radius of this intersection: 138 at 7 p.m., 168 at noon, and 257 at 5 a.m.

A parking inventory of North Capitol Hill. Image: Denver Public Works
A parking inventory of the entire North Capitol Hill area includes parking data around 16th and Humboldt (click to enlarge). Image: Denver Public Works

The majority of parking spaces in the vicinity are unrestricted or restricted to two hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., which favors residents who park their cars overnight.

“While we try to collect data on days we feel best reflect normal conditions, it’s still a snapshot in time,” Cindy Patton, with DPW’s Transportation and Mobility division, said in an email.

Of course on-street parking availability fluctuates. But the snapshot disintegrates the “there’s no parking” myth established by the not-in-my-backyard crowd, and validated by Council, which voted 7-6 this week to advance the parking requirements to a May vote.

The current parking exemption on small lots (left column), would yield much more housing than the parking requirements going to vote in May (right column). YIMBY Denver created this chart based on data from Community Planning and Development.
The current parking exemption on small lots (left column), would yield much more housing than the parking requirements going to vote in May (right column). YIMBY Denver created this chart based on data from Community Planning and Development.

There is, quite literally, always a parking space available for residents. If there wasn’t, they’d still be circling the neighborhood today after coming home from work last night. A more accurate representation of the “problem” current residents face is that there might not always be a parking space in front of their homes, available on-demand.

This slight inconvenience is why City Council is considering a change to Denver’s housing policy that would exclude new residents, dilute walkability, and make housing less affordable. But the final vote is not until May. Given Monday’s vote, the margin of support could be thin enough to change.

  • mckillio

    How ironic, I was literally just wondering how much parking is available in Denver in general. It’s also very ironic that there are more open spaces around there than proposed units. However, how many other lots within three blocks of here are eligible/likely for development?

    • Alison Torvik

      Two

  • Anthony

    This is probably the best paragraph of yours I’ve read. Bravo:

    “There is, quite literally, always a parking space available for residents. If there wasn’t, they’d still be circling the neighborhood today after coming home from work last night. A more accurate representation of the “problem” current residents face is that there might not always be a parking space in front of their homes, available on-demand.”

    • TakeFive

      Even gave me a chuckle.

  • MT

    We should also count the garages full of junk that could be used for parking, while the owners of such garages park on the street and complain about the lack of parking.

  • greenbuildingindenver

    I don’t really think that the presentation of unbiased facts is the best way to influence the decisions of Denver City Council.

  • TakeFive

    “Slowing the growth” of Denver’s “inadequate housing supply” borders on being a myth. From a really good article by Ben Markus for CPR (which also quotes Ken Schroeppel): http://www.cpr.org/news/story/denver-construction-is-a-boomin-but-for-how-long

    In 2016, the Denver area saw a record $7.8 billion in construction projects, a 23 percent increase over 2015’s previous record, according to Dodge Data and Analytics.

    Of all those “food groups,” apartment buildings continue to lead the pack. Residential projects made up 60 percent of 2016’s construction starts. There are a staggering 25,382, mostly rental, apartment units under construction in the Denver area right now, and 26,884 more in the planning phase.

    Dan Malouff taught me years ago that the best source for affordable housing comes from buildings that are 20-30 years old (and older). Obviously in Denver that’s made more difficult by the recent explosive growth over just a few years. It does appear that the demand/supply imbalance that has driven rents ever higher is about to reverse itself.

  • TakeFive

    Can anybody make assurances that the 108 micro-units at 16th and Humboldt won’t end up in 10-15 years as just one more ghetto project? I know, not your ‘hood, not your problem.

    Not against micro units and afaik Nichols did a nice job with the Turntable Studios and the Allante Properties built Highland Place at 3372 W. 38th Ave is another good example. I’m more interested in whether the project is “sustainable” or “interesting” or is it just a big mound of crap w/o even bike parking.

    • Anthony

      No, of course there can be no guarantees. Just as 15 years ago it would have been improbable to suggest Five Points would become a desirable place for people to move to. Or 15 years before that LoDo would’ve been someplace people wanted to live. I’m a relative newcomer, but when I told a friend of mine who lived in CO in the 90’s that I was moving to Capitol Hill, he thought I was crazy for moving my wife there before he realized how it had [apparantly] changed.

      That’s with entire neighborhoods. The ability to predict what will happen with individual projects is much more difficult with variables such as change in personal preferences or citywide economics that may make these type of units undesirable and ownership/management choices. The most proven method from a policy standpoint to keep any individual building, let alone a neighborhood, vibrant and welcoming, is to mix incomes and housing types. There’s no silver bullet to prevent inadequate maintenance or “slum lords” from taking over, but having diverse communities where people are proud of their neighborhoods are the best deterrent for slum lords. Ownership and management are the best predictor to whether a building will become a slum, the surrounding neighborhood is the second best.

      • TakeFive

        Excellent reply

        I think it’s important to consider that developers are not all alike nor a particularly altruistic group. Some who intend to get in and get out could give two shits about what they leave behind.

        Micro-units can even be cool. There’s the example of Dan Gaddis and Curtis Park Neighbors on his proposed apartments on two small lots at 3021 Downing St. and 3148 Stout St. Credit: Burl Rolett, BusinessDen http://www.businessden.com/2016/09/06/developer-halves-curtis-park-micro-apartment-plans/

        “…now I think it has a lot more synergy with the neighborhood,” Gaddis said. “We really worked with the neighborhood to reduce a lot of our units, number one, and we also reached out to obtain some parking in the neighborhood.”

        “We’re really trying to bring something that’s as affordable as possible to Denver and also has good transit. That our whole idea from the beginning,” He said. “We’re a big believer in that area and everything is going on steps away from downtown there.”

    • JerryG

      The plans for these developments (they are treated as two separate buildings) are available online on Denver’s maps page. The map for site development plans is here: https://www.denvergov.org/Maps/map/sitedevelopmentplans

      I can say that, on the positive side, the building facing 16th Ave will have some ground floor retail space (potential restaurant?). On the downside, the exterior will be mostly “painted fiber cement shingles.” So…not likely to be all that aesthetically for those who favor the appearance of more historical structures.

  • jodie brownlee

    There is a plan to improve Denver’s public transport infrastructure and bike lane network. The area between the curb and the driving lane will be needed to make that happen, so giving it away as parking to developers isn’t very visionary.

    • MT

      I’d rather take away a traffic lane to expand bike and transit space than take away a parking lane.

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