If you’re looking for an apartment in the city that calls itself “America’s finest,” waterfront views and proximity to downtown may be on your list of priorities. Or perhaps two bedrooms and a shared pool would be enough.
In any case, it’s unlikely you’d give much advance thought to the parking spot that would come with your new home. But it’s invariably part of the package, and certainly part of the total housing cost, says NRDC transportation expert Carter Rubin. “It could be hidden, but you’re definitely paying for it in some way,” he says.
And parking is costly in California’s second-biggest city. That’s an issue that San Diego officials are bringing to broader attention as the city works toward its sustainability goals, following in the footsteps of San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. In early March, the San Diego City Council decided to eliminate an existing mandate that new condominium or apartment units each come with one to two parking spots. (More specifically, the rule will impact housing within half a mile of a trolley or bus route.) By doing so, the city hopes to encourage more residents to use low-carbon transit alternatives to get around town.
San Diego adopted an ambitious Climate Action Plan in 2015 to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2035, and in October it became one of 25 Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge winners. The $70 million program—a partnership among Bloomberg Philanthropies, NRDC, and other organizations—provides resources to help participating cities address two of the biggest sources of carbon emissions: transportation and buildings.
One way San Diego has pledged to do so is by halving the number of car trips in busy transportation areas. Case studies have shown that free parking increases single-driver car trips (and their tailpipe emissions) by about 60 percent. The amenity also contributes to urban sprawl and traffic jams.
To study whether occupants of new homes near transit could make do with fewer parking spots, the city planning department reviewed six downtown residential buildings earlier this year. The planners found tenants were using less than one parking space per housing unit in their garages, and that some people were paying for spaces they didn’t need. Since permanent parking spots in San Diego can raise the price of housing units by up to $90,000 (adding several hundred dollars a month to rent or mortgage bills), the potential savings for residents are huge.
By eliminating the existing parking mandates near transit and unbundling the associated housing costs, Mayor Kevin Faulconer is optimistic about the future of affordable housing in his city. “We need to get government out of the way so constructing homes becomes easier, less expensive, and faster,” he said after the March initiative passed. “What we’re doing is separating the cost of parking from the cost to rent or buy a unit so San Diegans can choose for themselves to pay for a parking spot or go without parking if that works better for their lifestyle or financial situation.” Faulconer also noted that other West Coast cities that have undergone similar parking reforms have seen decreases in car ownership, higher rates of public transit ridership, and the creation of more affordable housing.
Downtown residents stand to benefit in other ways, too. San Diego will require multifamily housing developers that opt for fewer parking spaces to include other amenities, such as free transit passes, bike storage, or on-site daycare facilities.
The city’s new parking plan sounds promising—but not everybody is on board. Faulconer’s initiative passed 8 to 1, with the single “no” cast by council member Jennifer Campbell. Campbell doesn’t think the city is ready for such a reform yet. She says the existing transit system can’t currently support all of the city’s commuters—some 1.4 million workers who move throughout San Diego County daily.
“Once it’s convenient and saves money and time for people to use mass transit, they will,” said Campbell on the day of the vote. She emphasized a lack of rapid transit bus lines and light rail lines connecting enough of San Diego’s homes, businesses, and jobs.
On that front, the city is working to expand its mass transit system and to become more bike friendly. Last winter, construction began on a nine-mile network of protected bike lanes through a Downtown Mobility Plan very similar to Portland’s efforts to provide cleaner transit options to its commuters.
For Maya Rosas, director of policy at Circulate San Diego, a group that advocates for better transportation and sustainable land use, now the time to plan for a future in which San Diegans don’t need to drive everywhere. Circulate San Diego penned a detailed report back in 2016 explaining the high pollution and housing toll that parking takes on the city. “There is a lot of change that needs to happen to help our city meet our climate goals,” says Rosas. And ditching the unnecessary parking requirements is a good place to start.
Olympia, Washington, is the latest city to roll out a fare-free bus system, with traffic congestion, equity, and the climate in mind.
A surcharge on trips taken with ride-hailing services could reduce traffic, cut emissions, and help fund much-needed public transit improvements on the South and West Sides of the city.
City officials see dedicated bus corridors, scooter-share programs, and protected bike lanes as key to greening their transportation network.
The streets are hardly choked with traffic, but this Northern Rockies locale sees plenty of other good reasons to get more of its commuters out from behind the wheel.
In this sprawling Bay Area city, more than half the carbon footprint comes from cars and trucks. So the city is focusing on growing its network of safe bike paths—and fast.
In cities like New York, pocket parks may be even harder to come by than affordable housing.
In New York, a tax on driving downtown would also generate sorely needed funding for the transit system that most residents rely on for their daily commutes.
More and more European cities are effectively banning automobiles from their city centers—and it seems to be working out just fine for local businesses.
The Department of Transportation’s TIGER program helps communities thrive by funding innovative transportation projects. Congress shouldn’t let Trump do away with it.
In his new book, urban planner Jeff Speck equips citizens with the tools they need to make their cities healthier—by making them more walkable.
What does it mean for a state that’s bigger and wealthier than many countries to commit itself to clean energy? It could end up meaning the world.
Why transit-oriented development projects need to include affordable housing amid all those luxury condos and cafés.
Bosses are offering employees cold, hard cash to give up their “free” parking space at work. And it may be a win-win for everybody—including Mother Earth.
Millennials don’t just communicate differently from their baby boomer parents—they commute differently, too.
Infrastructure woes and marathon commutes plague Hotlanta. But as Georgia’s capital city grows, Atlantans are getting smarter (and out of their cars).