Opinion piece Pippa Coom, Deputy Chair, Waitemata Local Board
A version of this post was originally published on Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan website – Shape Auckland – in response to the draft Unitary Plan proposals for minimum parking requirements.

How we regulate, control and plan for parking has a huge impact on Auckland’s urban design, the environment, housing affordability and transport.

Parking is frequently a source of aggravation and strong emotions such as was reported in the NZ Herald recently (commuters clog free spots)  with resident complaints from Mt Eden and Parnell about commuters clogging free spaces on quiet residential streets. Unfortunately many responses to parking issues are based on myths, false assumptions and poor evidence. When defining issues in our city as “parking problems”, we often believe the answer is to provide more parking as the solution.

Regulations and parkings “solutions” made with good intentions have led to poor results, holding back our city’s potential. However, we now have the opportunity, through the Unitary Plan and parking management tools, to put in place a best-practice approach to car parking that has the potential to unleash economic, social and environmental benefits.

UCLA economist Dr Donald Shoup (author of The High Cost of Free Parking) extensively studied parking’s consequences for cities, the economy and the environment. His thinking influenced Auckland Transport’s proposal for a city centre parking zone (implemented in late 2012), with the aim of better managing on-street parking as a finite resource competing for other transport priorities. The scheme applies “demand-responsive pricing” and includes the removal of time restrictions, increased on-street parking prices and extended paid parking until 10pm.

It’s early days but all indications are pointing to success, with greater availability of parking, a reduction in tickets and more casual visitors. The city also benefited from reduced maintenance costs with 62 per cent of parking poles removed. Other business centres are now looking at applying similar principles to free up on-street parking for customers.

Todd Litman, Executive Director, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Canada (an independent research organisation dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems) has recently been in Auckland speaking to business association representatives on Getting Parking Right for Auckland. His view is that we don’t have a parking supply problem but a parking management problem. We currently have 3-4 parking spaces per car. Eighty per cent of off-street parking is privately owned, which hinders its effective use. For example, minimum parking requirements in our current district plans mean some car parks are only used during the day by commuters and shoppers while others are used only at night for entertainment. Using land for empty car parks is hugely wasteful.

Traditional city requirements to include car parking with affordable housing have also been a major barrier to higher-density developments, as a car park is not always required by inner-city residents.

The parking management approach advocated by experts like Todd Litman is not anti-car but is about taking a different approach to better use the supply available. The benefits include more motorist convenience, more attractive streetscapes, greater housing affordability, more walkable communities and more development around our business centres.

So how is the draft Unitary Plan shaping up when it comes to car parking requirements? The plan requires that car parking be managed to support:
• intensification in and around the city centre, metropolitan, town and local centres and within mixed-use corridors
• the safe and efficient operation of the transport network
• the use of more sustainable transport options including public transport, cycling and walking
• the economic activity of businesses
• efficient use of land.

It proposes that maximum rates (with no minimums) apply in and around

• city centre fringe area
• centre zones: metropolitan, town, local
• mixed-use zone
• terrace housing and apartment buildings zone.

Everywhere else, minimum rates apply with no maximums, except for offices to discourage “out-of-centre” development motivated by the ability to provide parking.

The rationale is that in and around centres, maximums and no minimums supports intensification and public transport. Elsewhere the planners have explained that minimums are required as they are less willing to rely on the market to meet parking needs and are more concerned with the effects of “parking overspill”.

The removal of minimums around town centres but retaining minimums for new developments appears to be a solution for today’s lack of public transport. But in my view it creates a problem for future generations who will have to deal with the oversupply of parking and poor land use, plus the uneconomic bundling of car parking costs with housing.

The rationale for controlling the effect of parking overspill is poorly thought through. Instead we should allow the market to provide the right level of parking, allowing for overspill onto surrounding streets is a good use of otherwise empty road space. If that space reaches capacity – as has happened in our city fringe suburbs – the response should be to better manage the on street parking, for example, with a residents’ parking scheme or through pricing. The research suggests that the use of parking management tools we lead to a 20-60% reduction in parking requirements.

When providing feedback on the draft Unitary Plan’s parking requirements, take the time to consider the evidence that emerges when parking is stripped back. Cities around the world are taking a different approach and being richly rewarded.