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Parking Management

Improving parking management can boost business revenues, decrease housing costs, improve health, and lead to cleaner air and water. While parking reform can raise concerns, cities can build the community support needed to improve their parking.

Parking management plan examples:

Lost Business

Customers want to get to businesses. If parking is poorly managed, and all the spots are taken, customers may choose to shop elsewhere. Too much parking can also harm businesses by degrading the pedestrian environment in local business districts.

Setting time limits or prices on centrally-located parking can help ensure spots turn over, and are available for more people who want to buy products and support the local economy. Business customers, visitors, employees, and residents appreciate clear systems that simplify decision-making and make their visit effortless and efficient. When the parking system lacks order, people can get frustrated and may decide not to return.

Space Costs

Pie chart showing 54% of commercial land is used by parking, compared to 26% for the buildingUsing space for parking consumes land that could support more productive activities. Yet the typical commercial development in a medium-sized city uses more than half of its land space for parking - a significant cost (see chart).

Increased Stress and Anxiety

Searching for a parking space is just no fun. Some studies estimate an average 30% of congested downtown traffic is people circling the block looking for parking – slowing traffic and adding anxiety to everyone trying to get around.

Financial Costs

Surface parking lots can cost $1,500 to $5,500 per space, and parking garages can cost $18,000 to $45,000 per space in construction costs alone. Add in the costs of permits, design, land, and maintenance, and the bill adds up. Laws requiring millions of dollars to be spent providing parking mean significantly higher residential and commercial rents, and therefore higher prices. Up to one-third of an apartment's rental cost can be attributed to parking. "Free" parking is anything but free.

Financial Benefits

Well-managed parking means higher customer turnover and more revenue for retail businesses. Decreased parking requirements can reduce the cost of new development and building renovation, making housing and commercial rents more affordable. Right-sized and priced parking can mean people drive less, freeing up money spent on transportation for other uses. Finally, revenue from priced parking can be used for local area improvements like street trees, signage, improved sidewalks, or other priorities. Bend, Eugene, Hood River, McMinnville, Portland, and Salem all have parking benefit districts. Read more.

Improved Quality of Life and Healthier People

Areas less dominated by huge parking lots are more walkable, attractive, and healthful. Better designed communities can mean shorter, walkable distances between destinations, and less need to drive and sit in traffic. Less parking means fewer heat islands caused by acres of heat-absorbing asphalt. And less public space for parking can mean more trees, which beautify communities, provide shade, and make sidewalks more comfortable. Well-designed parking programs decrease time wasted searching for parking.

Preserved Historic Buildings, Cleaner Air and Water

Historic building owners often have a hard time meeting minimum parking requirements, and may have to raze adjacent structures to meet arbitrary parking standards. Well-designed parking rules can mean less damage to historic buildings and districts, increased investment in historic properties, and preservation of cohesive main streets.

Managing parking well can mean less land paved over with impermeable asphalt, less toxic runoff in rivers and streams where it can pollute the drinking water, less air pollution, and more trees.

Household Savings and Improved Consumer Choice

Like the price of gas, the price and availability of parking can greatly influence our travel decisions. But unlike gas prices or bus fares, parking costs are usually hidden and not paid by the user. Instead, they are embedded into housing costs and merchandise prices. That means people consume more parking than they would if asked to cover its costs, and people can’t pay less for parking by using less of it.

Bundling the cost of parking into other items skews travel choices toward solo driving and away from transit, walking, and bicycling. Unbundled parking, where the consumer pays for the parking he or she uses, makes the cost of parking – and the savings achieved by using non-auto modes – more transparent and fair. Read more.

For cities interested in optimizing parking, there are two major issues: parking requirements in zoning codes and the management of existing on- and off-street parking.

Right-Sizing Parking Requirements

Photo of public meeting discussing parkingTo improve parking management, a good place for cities to start is a review of the zoning code for outdated or inappropriate parking standards. For example: requiring off-street parking makes housing more expensive; areas near transit lines and good walking districts use less parking and should have lower parking requirements; and zoning code should have parking maximums to foster an environment friendly to walking.

The best parking policies are based on local conditions and data and avoid two common practices: reliance on parking standards used by other communities without regard to unique local conditions, or adoption of generic parking standards from the Institute of Transportation Engineers, which are based on peak counts in auto-dependent environments. Read more about common problems in setting requirements.

Finding the Tools to Fit Your Community

Improving parking management can be a big task. Parking reform is often controversial and stakeholders have many different perceptions and needs.

An effective parking management program typically grows out of a consensus-building process through which the major interests affected – e.g., business owners, developers, and employees and officials of local institutions – help shape the community's parking policies. Toward this end, many communities create local advisory committees and bring in outside experts to inform committee members about explain the pros and cons of various strategies. Such a process can help build a local consensus around specific policies and strategies. Business and neighborhood associations can also play a part in implementing the locally developed program.

We're Here to Help

The Transportation and Growth Management team is here to help you amend zoning codes for parking. We also offer a Model Development Code for Small Cities. For more guidance on common challenges from parking minimums to parking design, see our 82-page publication, Parking Management Made Easy (2013). We also published Parking Management Made Easy: A Guide to Taming the Downtown Parking Beast (2001).

If you're ready to do more, contact our Education and Outreach team to request a free parking management workshop in your community. Call (503) 934-0059.

  • In Tigard, businesses and citizens agreed short-term visitors should get priority for on-street parking and the City implemented on-street time limits.
  • In Springfield, stakeholders agreed on-street employee parking should be moved from the downtown core to its periphery, while selling permits for those who want to park in the core.
  • Hillsboro studied demand and supply in 2010 and adjusted parking requirements in transit-supported areas.
  • Bend, Eugene, Hood River, McMinnville, Portland, and Salem all have parking benefit districts, where part of the parking revenue is used for improvements in the area where parking is charged for.
  • King County, Washington, has a right-sizing parking project and is working with cities to set locally credible and context sensitive standards.
  • In the San Francisco Bay Area a nonprofit has developed a database of various developments and their usage of parking, allowing future developers to right-size built parking. See
  • Map of 43+ Communities Across the U.S. reducing parking minimums.

Parking Made Easy manual logoTo learn more about specific strategies, start with our in-depth guide, Parking Made Easy, which covers many of these topics:

  • Consensus-building around parking policies
  • Unbundled parking costs
  • Local parking studies
  • Parking management plans
  • Parking standards: minimums and maximums
  • Parking signs and availability information
  • Shared parking
  • Parking turnover's effect on business sales
  • Parking fees and time limits
  • Parking facility location, landscaping, and design
  • Parking availability and the 85% Rule
  • Parking benefit districts and parking cash-outs

Parking Made Easy: A Guide to Managing Parking in Your Community by Rick Williams Consulting (Oregon Transportation & Growth Management Program, 2013). An in-depth guide to parking management strategies with advice on how to evaluate local parking supplies and demand.

Parking Management Made Easy: A Guide to Taming the Downtown Parking Beast. A guide focused on downtowns.

Oregon Sustainable Transportation Initiative Toolkit offers two-page fact sheets on parking management and parking pricing, including thoughts on effectiveness.

Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program. Offers free workshops on parking management for local governments.