Denver Warming to the Idea of Parking Maximums

All those green areas are used for nothing but storing cars. Image: Ryan Keeney
All those green areas are used for nothing but storing cars. Image: Ryan Keeney

One overlooked reason for the traffic swamping Denver streets is all the real estate we’ve set aside to accommodate parking. The city is rife with monolithic parking structures and asphalt lots that beckon to people with cars. All that parking creates a vicious cycle by degrading the pedestrian environment and generating traffic that slows down buses.

In most neighborhoods, city policies force developers to bake parking into their projects at a median cost of more than $17,000 per stall, which drives up housing prices for renters and homeowners. In downtown, though, developers build massive amounts of parking despite the absence of city-imposed requirements.

If Denver wants to have great transit and walkable streets, our parking obsession has to go. The city’s policy makers recognize this and are starting to get serious about reforming the status quo.

“I’d like to look at parking maximums,” Director of Transportation and Mobility Crissy Fanganello told the crowd at an Urban Land Institute of Colorado forum last week. The room was full of developers and people she called “city builders.”

With parking maximums, developers would devote less space to cars and make more room for housing, jobs, and commerce. Without parking maximums, the city’s investments in transit, biking, and walking won’t go as far as they should.

Take the rapidly developing neighborhood of River North, for example, where Fanganello says 11,000 parking spaces are in the pipeline. If all that parking gets built, the neighborhood’s streets will be saturated with curb cuts and overwhelmed with car traffic, and fewer people will choose to travel by other means.

“When you put in that many parking spaces and you don’t have the street network that can support the movement of that many vehicles, I worry that we’re not managing the expectations of people — that they’re gonna go to that neighborhood the same way that they’re visiting all the other neighborhoods in Denver — by car,” Fanganello said. “We’re really needing and asking that it have a different result. The built environment needs to adjust in order for us to be truly successful.”

The city’s internal conversations on parking maximums “are very preliminary,” Fanganello said, and are intertwined with other policy options like charging higher rates for on-street parking and ensuring newly built parking garages can be adapted for homes and other uses in the future.

It’s likely that parking maximums would be set on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, not citywide, said Caryn Champine, director of planning services with Denver Community Planning and Development. One area would probably be selected on a trial basis before parking maximums are scaled up.

Fanganello says parking maximums would need buy-in from developers who rely on financing from banks, which sometimes see low parking counts as a financial risk.

And any parking maximum policy would also need approval by the Denver City Council. The council will have to develop the kind of policy leadership that was absent this summer, when council members ignored CPD’s recommendation and voted to require more parking in dense, urban contexts — even though a parking shortage did not exist.

  • TakeFive

    Wut… please don’t hate on Elitch Gardens. The only parking inside the amusement park is people parking their butts on the rides. 🙂 Redevelopment of the parking lots is under consideration by the owners and the City. With respect to the Pepsi Center who knows what Kroenke/KSE will do or when? Auraria has a master plan that will eliminate the parking lots but will include monoliths. Most of the parking lots are merely placeholders for future development by landbankers. See… cranes in the air.

    As for parking maximums that’s a very interesting idea.

    • mckillio

      Kroenke owns Elitch Gardens too.

      • TakeFive

        He’s a part owner and I think minority owner of Elitches but I’ve never seen the partnership agreement so I don’t know specifics.

  • TakeFive

    In most neighborhoods, city policies force developers to bake parking into their projects at a median cost of more than $17,000 per stall…

    No particular issue with the source or that cost figure but for a more local and recent discussion of the topic see here: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=150276&page=538 and especially here: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?p=7931764#post7931764

    which drives up housing prices for renters and homeowners

    You and your Streetsblog friends can argue that till the cows come home and it will never be true. Only in ‘talk radio land’ can you intentionally repeat something incorrect over and over and expect it to morph into a fact. 🙂 Anybody that knows anything about real estate knows that the owner/landlord will charge whatever the market will bear and not a penny less or more (in theory). Individual strategies like demand pricing aside it’s the buyer/renter that determines market value. Now the (parking) cost will affect the proforma analysis to see if a project is viable to build or not but that’s a different topic.

    • iBikeCommute

      “Anybody that knows anything about real estate knows that the owner/landlord will charge whatever the market will bear and not a penny less or more (in theory)”

      Don’t you think that the market will bear a higher price for an apartment with parking than an apartment without? Anybody who argues that a parking spot downtown or in cap hill doesn’t carry a premium belongs on talk radio 🙂

    • MT

      And if some homes don’t get built because the required parking makes the project not viable, supply will be more limited and prices will go up.

      • TakeFive

        Exactly – that’s how a free market functions. When you have excess supply the viability of new projects evaporates except for niche or specialized areas. That’s what will cause rents/prices to drop.That’s a good thing.

        When you say ‘required’ parking, I assume you are talking about zoning? Builders – contractors will build whatever they can get funding to build. Most of Denver’s projects include waaay more parking than is required. It goes to what the lenders and investors require to fund projects. If they are comfortable with building little or not parking it’s totally fine with me. Most have not been comfortable doing that.

        • TakeFive

          BTW, it’s worth noting that there’s no shortage of builders willing to build crap if that’s what investors want? In this current cycle Denver has been blessed with institutional quality developers and investors that have wanted an institutional quality project.

          • MT

            Not sure what that has to do with parking.
            Parking =/= quality

          • MT

            Lenders and investors requiring lots of parking is a problem also.

            They are continuing to do what they know, and would see something different as risky, I get that.

            Parking maximums could be helpful. Maybe some outreach/education from city planners to show them less parking can be successful.

        • MT

          Except in the cases where developers have been comfortable doing that, some people threw a fit and eventually convinced city council to change zoning.

          • TakeFive

            Don’t even start with that small lot trumped up nonsense. In historical neighborhoods what counts first is the opinion of those who have lived in the neighborhood for at least 15 years and then 10 years and so on.

  • mckillio

    Yes, please.

    • TakeFive

      I think it’s an interesting and worthwhile idea. The problem will be getting placeholder buyin. I’ve already heard some grousing from businesses and their customers about a shortage of parking. Changing people’s stinkin’ thinkin’ is always a challenge.

  • Haggie

    The idea of a 1:1 parking ratio for an urban multi-family dwelling is completely absurd. Specially in areas around light rail, BRT, or other efficient public transit. I’ve seen cities with long-range development plans that show new multi-tiered parking structures being building into the mid 2020’s. They may as well be planning for for stables and hitching posts.

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