This post is available in Spanish on ITDP Mexico’s website here.
On July 11, Miguel Ángel Mancera, Mayor of Mexico City announced the “limitation of parking spaces in the city construction code”. This new norm changes minimum parking requirements to maximum depending on the land use of the construction. This puts Mexico City, the largest city in North America, far ahead of American cities in this commitment improving land use, prioritizing people over cars.
As our cities grow, street space and real estate are becoming ever more valuable commodities. However, outdated regulations still require developers to build huge amounts of parking for residential and commercial buildings, regardless of factors such as car ownership, proximity to transit, and market demand. This has a whole host of negative consequences, including incentivizing driving, creating congestion, and reducing the space available for more important purposes, such as housing, transit, and public space. In the past week, there have been several great pieces written on the importance of this change, particularly in how it related to affordable housing, a growing need in nearly every major city.
For housing, the limit is 3 parking spaces per unit no matter its size, and for offices bigger than 100 square meters, the limit is 1 parking space per every 30 square meters. It also considers mandatory space for bicycle parking and the creation of a Fund to Improve Mass Transit that the developers must pay as they approach the maximums in the Central area of Mexico City. More details for this new regulation can be found here (in Spanish).
This major policy change is a result of ITDP Mexico’s advocacy over the last 10 years, when we began working with government agencies to develop alternatives to the private car, as well as mechanisms to reduce its use. To achieve this, the rational management of parking was key. So in 2014, with the support of the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (SEDUVI), the research study “Less parking, more city” (“Menos cajones, más ciudad”) was born providing enough evidence to show the need of a change of paradigm. This study evolved into a proposal to modify the Construction Code that ITDP delivered to Mexico City’s Government in 2015.
Less Parking, More City gathered evidence of unsustainable trends for the city such as more square meters are being built for parking spaces than for housing. In other words, we are constructing buildings to allocate cars, while we are sending people to live in the periphery of the city, far away from their jobs, their families, and their everyday lives. This clearly goes against our aim of the inclusive and equitable cities.
Another finding of the study is that more than 40% of everything built in Mexico City is parking spaces, above any other land use including housing. In average a parking space requires between 27 m2 and 150,000 mexican pesos (about 8,500 USD) of direct constructions costs (a conservative estimate). In the 251 big real estate projects analyzed between 2009 and 2013, more than 250,000 parking spaces were constructed, with an estimated cost of 37,000 Million pesos. With that money 18 lines of Bus Rapid Transit (Metrobús in Mexico City) lines could have been built to move more than 3 million users per day.
On the other side, statistically, the demand per parking space is lower than that previously mandated by minimum parking requirements. When comparing the quantity of parking spaces in the projects, we noted that in the great majority of cases, builders try to get as close as possible to the minimum required. 67.7% of the cases studied devoted less than 10% of parking spaces above the bare minimum required.
Besides this, it is important to note that due to the size and dimensions of the land and projects, it is very difficult for developers to make exactly the bare minimum quantity required, so it usually actually turns out to be greater than this. For example, a development has a minimum of 90 parking spaces allowed, but logistically the project needs at least 3 stories for parking with a capacity for 40 parking spaces on each, so it makes economical sense for the developer to just build the 120 parking spaces.
Once this kind of evidence was gathered and the best international practices were studied, the cooperation between agencies and individuals among a diversity of areas has been necessary for the implementation of this proposal. It is important to highlight that this collaborative dynamic could function as a replicable model for the implementation of positive public policies in our cities. This collaboration was aided with a contest to rethink parking lots; an idea from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), with the support of strategic allies coming from private companies, civil society organizations, and a multidisciplinary jury of prestigious members: architects, urban planners, economists and public policy experts. During the award ceremony, in February of this year, the City’s Mayor announced the need to reform the current Car Parking Norm, as part of his mobility and development government strategy for a more people-centered City.
A change of policy of this importance is not the work of a single individual or institution. ITDP Mexico supported the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, and the Ministry of Mobility in the process of technical discussion with the different important guilds that are essential in the on-the-ground implications of this, such as the Real Estate Association (ADI). At the same time, agreements were made with the National Association of Supermarkets, Convenience and Departments Stores and also with the National Chamber of the Industry of Development and Promotion of Housing with the best of intentions to reach win-win agreements. The Legislative Assembly also recognized the need to reform the policy, and the role of civil society was incredibly important. Bicitekas, WRI, editorial house Arquine and, of course, IMCO, were all key to creating this more powerful, cross-cutting and lasting public policy.
To reduce the need to build parking spaces is a fundamental step in the right direction, and opens up the opportunity for further work and strategies. ITDP Mexico will continue to work with the city and our partners to ensure this success continues, with these next steps:
- Education to the city’s residents on the advantages of this new norm, and support for behavioral changes around transport to maximize this impact.
- Follow up of the direct impacts of the policy to measure variables such as enforcement, reduction in traffic, quantity of square meters dedicated to new uses, such as more and improved public spaces.
- Continue and accelerate the options of sustainable urban mobility, specifically mass transit.
- Empower and extend the program of parking meters EcoParq, a natural and necessary ally of this change.
- Find mechanisms to allow for more supply of housing at accessible prices in the central areas of the City, ensuring that developers take full advantage of this goals of this policy.
While some world leaders deny that our climate is changing, Mexico City is sinking.
Increased heat and drought, exacerbated by the emissions of millions of vehicles in the world’s most congested city, are worsening water shortages in Mexico’s capital. As drilling goes deeper and deeper for more water, Mexico City’s foundation is eroding and causing the city to actually sink—up to nine inches per year in some areas. Climate change couldn’t be more real to Mexico City residents who, even at 8,000 feet above sea level, are seeing its impacts every day: a crumbling sidewalk here, a split in the earth beneath a bus lane there.
Unfortunately, Mexico City is no anomaly. The effects of warming air, intensified storms, and rising seas are already being felt in cities across the globe, more than 90% of which are coastal. In Chennai, India last year, a heavy typhoon caused devastating flooding with an increased intensity that may be the new norm. Rising waters and floods are particularly worrisome for Jakarta, Indonesia, forty percent of which already lies below sea level.
With the U.S. backpedaling on its climate leadership role despite major international agreements already in place, cities are now taking the lead in curbing one of climate change’s biggest culprits: transport, which is responsible for 22% of all energy-related emissions. All over the world, ITDP is working closely with cities that are finding new and innovative ways to boost sustainable transport and reduce reliance on cars. Here are just a few examples:
BRT in the USA
As urban areas grow across the U.S., cities like Boston are turning to bus rapid transit (BRT) systems to efficiently provide mobility to their residents—meaning less cars on the road and fewer emissions. In Boston, ITDP is working with the government to implement a vision for what could be the country’s first Gold Standard BRT.
Less Parking, Less Driving in Mexico City
In Mexico City, the prevalence of easy parking is encouraging driving and contributing to massive congestion and emissions. With ITDP’s support, Mayor Miguel Mancera is now pursuing a sweeping and precedent-setting overhaul of the city’s parking policy—a move that will shift more residents to public transit, reduce pollution, and deliver a crucial new source of transportation funding.
There can be an 80% cut in CO2 emissions if cities embrace 3 revolutions (3R) in vehicle technology: automation, electrification, and, most importantly, ride sharing.
Analysis from ITDP and UC Davis shows 3R synergy provides 40% reduction in urban vehicle transportation costs globally by 2050. Ride-sharing and renewable energy sources critical to its success.
As the transportation trends of passenger vehicle automation and electrification continue, new research concludes that adding extensive ride sharing to the mix could reduce CO2 emissions from all transportation sources around the globe by more than 80 percent. The report, “Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation,” examined these three revolutions in urban transportation and found all three together could cut the cost of vehicles, infrastructure and transportation system operation by more than 40 percent.
“When it comes to cars, what we learned early in life still holds true—sharing makes everything better,” said Lewis Fulton, a Co-director at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, and lead author of the report. “All the futuristic automotive technology being developed could make our cities more livable and the air more breathable—but only if we take ride sharing seriously.”
“The idea that every city resident needs his or her own car for every trip is a disaster for cities,” said Jacob Mason, Transport Research and Evaluation Manager at ITDP. “If passenger vehicles do not become predominantly shared with other people making similar trips by 2050, our cities will be choked by congestion and defined by sprawling land development and the massive emissions this system generates. But, with policies encouraging trip sharing, public transportation, cycling, and walking, the future can be cleaner and less expensive.”
The new report was produced by the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Released the week before an international climate change meeting begins in Bonn, Germany, it compares the environmental and fiscal impacts of three scenarios involving new transportation technology:
- Business-as-usual (BAU) scenario—Through 2050, we continue to use vehicles with internal combustion engines at an increased rate, and use transit and shared vehicles at the current rate, as population and income grow over time.
- 2 Revolutions (2R) scenario—We embrace more technology. Electric vehicles become common by 2030, and automated electric vehicles become dominant by 2040. However, we continue our current embrace of single-occupancy vehicles, with even more car travel than in the BAU.
- 3 Revolutions (3R) scenario—We take the embrace of technology in the 2R scenario and then maximize the use of shared vehicle trips. By 2050, cities have ubiquitous private car sharing, increased transit performance—with on-demand availability—and strengthened infrastructure for walking and cycling, allowing maximum shared trip efficiency.
Sharing Reduces Carbon Emissions
As long as electric vehicles are mostly powered from low-carbon electricity sources and not carbon-intensive sources like coal or other fossil fuels—an underlying assumption motivating the electrification revolution—the 3R scenario would generate 0.7 gigatons of CO2 emissions worldwide annually by 2050, as opposed to 4.6 gigatons in the BAU scenario emissions and 1.7 gigatons in the emissions in the 2R scenario. Transportation costs would plummet, costing about $8 trillion annually in the 3R scenario, as opposed to $13 trillion in business as usual or $14 trillion in the 2R scenario.
The upcoming Bonn climate talks focus on the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which targets a 2°C cap to an overall temperature change from global warming. To achieve this target, all nations must cut their CO2 emissions in half by 2050. The 3R scenario will meet this benchmark and possibly go further; researchers saw potential for this scenario to provide a cut in emissions reduction large enough for only a 1.5°C increase.
For some of the world’s leading polluters, the projected carbon emissions reduction by 2050 under the 3R scenario would be significant:
- BAU: 664 megatonnes (MT) CO2 emission
- 2R: 156 MT
- 3R: 72 MT
- Europe (European members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development):
- BAU: 483 MT
- 2R: 67 MT
- 3R: 32 MT
- BAU: 778 MT
- 2R: 254 MT
- 3R: 115 MTT
- BAU: 479 MT
- 2R: 259 MT
- 3R: 108 MT
“If our cities support electric, automated and shared transportation, the future will be cleaner, healthier, and more affordable for everyone,” added Jacob Mason. “It’s essential that we prioritize clean air transportation policies now, or we risk fully experiencing the consequences of climate change by 2050.”
The 3R scenario would also dramatically reduce the number of passenger vehicles on the road by almost one third, from 764 million currently to approximately 535 million in 2050. This is only one quarter of the business-as-usual and 2R scenarios which both result in 2.1 billion vehicles by 2050. Fewer vehicles, coupled with less vehicle travel, lessens the need for roadways, parking garages, and related infrastructure, opening up cities for more infrastructure that supports pedestrians and bicyclists.
The Revolutions Have Already Begun on the Street
Oslo, Norway’s capital, has embraced the importance of zero-emission vehicles. More than 30 percent of all new cars sold in the city are electric, a direct result of the government’s policies. There is no sales tax on electric vehicles, free parking, free tolls, bus lane access, and free transport on ferries. The government has also built more than 2,000 charging points within the city limits.
Oslo has led Norway’s national embrace of electrification–by the end of 2016, more than 100,000 electric vehicles traveled Norwegian roads. And while sharing is moving steadily forward in Oslo, the government is also working towards removing all passenger vehicles from its city center.
“Electric cars and automation are important, but they will not change much about how we move about our cities and could even make traffic congestion worse,” added Lewis Fulton. “The progress we see both in Norway and on the West Coast of North America is heartening. With a major increase in ride sharing in both taxi-like vehicles and micro-transit, we could cut traffic by at least 50%. Electrification and sharing will also be critical for cutting CO2 emissions.”
Vancouver BC, Canada, is the largest market in the world for car sharing. Nearly one in four Vancouver residents are members of one of the four car share companies in the region, with nearly 150,000 residents sharing about 2,000 cars. Vancouver has also integrated sharing into a number of functions of the city. Many city agencies are using car-share to replace government vehicles and car-sharing is replacing parking requirements, saving money and freeing up more street space for people.
Another North American city leading in ride sharing is Los Angeles, which has a goal to remove 100,000 cars from its roadways over streets over the next 5 years. The city also plans to add 10,000 new bike share bikes, attract 34,000 new public transit users, and add 8,400 vehicles to various car sharing programs. Advocates are proposing public-private microtransit systems integrated with public transit—like Kansas City has done—and developers are already planning new, people-centered uses for the city’s vast car parking infrastructure.
“By 2050, two out of every three people on the planet will live in cities,” said Lewis Fulton. “We need to make sure that these cities of the future accommodate everybody, and the key is how the 3Rs reduce the number of cars and their smog.”
With numerous metropolitan regions in the U.S. facing affordable housing issues, some cities are tackling the issue by revising off-street parking requirements, which, in their current form, contribute to the increasing costs of housing. In February, the New York City the Department of City Planning proposed to eliminate mandatory parking requirements for certain housing types within a specific geographic boundary. New York City is just the latest in a line of cities and states to recognize that affordable housing and off-street parking requirements may not support each other, and are taking a look at long-accepted policies which mandate that developers build a certain amount of parking per unit, regardless of demand or transit accessibility.
This movement has been spurred by the negative impact mandatory parking requirements have on affordable housing. Building often unnecessary parking is often a major
developer expense, resulting in fewer
residential units built, or increased rent while adding to congestion, climate change, and health problems, not to mention underutilized and valuable space.
Parking requirements should be reconsidered to fit local scale, demographics, and need, providing many benefits on top of the increase of affordable housing such as “revitalized and thriving town centers; significant reductions in private car trips; reductions in air pollution; and generally improved quality of life.”
The New York City Department of City Planning proposed a “transit zone” that encompasses land allowing for “new multi-family housing within a half-mile of a subway line,” where off-street parking requirements would not be mandatory for “new public housing, senior housing, or apartments reserved for people earning below a certain income.” This is significant for New York City, where 56% of all households do not own a car and rely on mass transit and other modes, according to a recent University of Michigan study. This proposal, supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, is a substantial step forward. The proposal not only recognizes that residents of the above housing types do not typically own a car, but take this understanding further by deregulating the mandate.
Minneapolis was one of the first major cities in US to look at the costs imposed by parking requirements and the effect on housing affordability. The Minneapolis City Council in July 2015 universally passed an ordinance that eliminates the parking requirements for new developments with 50 units or under, and reduces requirements to .5 spaces per unit, in areas that are “within a quarter mile of high-frequency transit.” Council Member Lisa Bender notes this policy was pursued in effort to avoid a “housing crisis in the future,” as the market, coupled with dated parking regulations, have caused “affordable-range rents to be far less affordable.” Bender notes that the ordinance would ensure that residents would “not have to pay for parking that they’re not using,” and would give “people an option to live in a lower-cost housing situation.” City council members are planning for the long-term need of city dwellers – affordable housing with low car ownership, living in the midst of TOD.
California was next, the first state to address housing affordability and parking. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in October of 2015 to “create more affordable housing by easing parking requirements.” The Assembly Bill (AB 744) will guarantee that developers can request minimum parking to help build more affordable housing units, lowering the standard to .5 parking spaces per unit for affordable and senior housing, and .3 spaces per unit for special needs housing. This is one of the first public acknowledgements of the relationship between affordable housing and mandatory parking.
NYU’s Furman Center analyzed trends regarding parking spaces built against spaces required from 2000-2008. Reviewing the corresponding table (left), developers build the minimum number of parking spaces when required to provide spots (red & green). Developers barely provide spaces when they are not obligated to do so (blue). Given the choice, developers would build significantly less parking than what’s required.
As this effort gains momentum, other cities have taken action. In Portland, parking requirements vary around access to transit, with buildings required to be within 500 feet of a transit line. In Chicago, Mayor Emanuel created incentives for affordable housing, by increasing Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and decreasing required parking for buildings with at least 50% affordable units. In San Diego, requirements are recommended to be determined by access to transit, and in London, deregulation, maximum standards, and parking taxes are deployed in response to parking minimums. Finally, in Washington D.C, the Zoning Commission just approved the elimination of parking requirements in the majority of the downtown area and decreased parking requirements everywhere within 0.5 miles of metro station entrances and within 0.25 miles of streetcar or “priority bus corridors” by 50%. The new regulations go into effect September 6, 2016.
Is the U.S. ready to choose affordable housing over mandatory parking? From the shifting attitudes of various cities across the country, the answer seems to be yes, however, while the government may not be requiring off-street parking for affordable housing, many financing entities still do. Only time will tell if parking, congestion, and the cost of housing projects will decrease and the number of affordable units built will increase due to the efforts to re-think off-street parking regulations.