San Jose Says No to Minimum Parking Requirements

San Jose City Council took a major step towards protecting the climate and creating more affordable, livable communities.

People ride along new bike infrastructure on St. John Street in San José

Credit: Amanda Eaken

San Jose City Council took a major step towards protecting the climate and creating more affordable, livable communities on December 6 when it unanimously voted to remove minimum parking requirements across most of the city and update the city’s transportation demand management (TDM) ordinance. Cars are the biggest source of carbon emissions in San Jose and these changes will reduce those emissions by prioritizing clean, safe, equitable transportation.

Minimum parking requirements may seem like a common sense solution to problems of parking scarcity, but they come with a host of unintended consequences, including exacerbating the housing affordability crisis, reducing small business flexibility, and undermining community climate and air pollution goals. Eliminating burdensome parking requirements—and pairing that reform with incentives to support walking, biking, and public transit—is an emerging national best practice implemented in a growing list of cities. 

Forcing developers to build more parking wastes space and drives up the cost of development. A single parking space in the Bay Area can cost as much as $30,000 in a surface lot and more than $75,000 in an underground garage, and these costs are passed onto residents and tenants in the form of higher rents. Oversupplying parking also reduces how densely a city can develop, which makes transportation options like walking, biking, and public transit less practical. 

Defenders of minimum parking requirements argue that residents will own cars either way. But when parking is more scarce it becomes more expensive, which encourages people to live without cars. It is true, however, that cities must proactively provide alternatives to driving. The TDM ordinance update passed by City Council does this by requiring developers to provide transit passes, bike share stations, or other amenities that make low-carbon transportation easier.

With this vote, San Jose becomes the largest city in the country to eliminate parking minimums and joins cities like San Diego and Saint Paul, which have pursued similar reforms. NRDC supported this effort as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge, working closely with technical partner Nelson\Nygaard and local groups such as Greenbelt Alliance, LUNA (Latinos United for a New America), and Veggielution. 

These reforms will improve the lives of San Jose residents and small business owners, especially if paired with continued investment in walking, biking, and transit. By taking this stand, San Jose is demonstrating that change is possible and building momentum for minimum parking requirements to become a thing of the past.

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