Getting parking right for Auckland

This post was writtten for  Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan shapeauckland website.

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

The subject provokes strong opinions and calls for free parking. Many decisions about parking have been based on myths, false assumptions and poor evidence. When defining issues in our city as “parking problems”, as “experts” we turn to more parking as the solution.

Regulations made with good intentions, have led to poor results, holding back our city’s potential.

We now have the opportunity, through the Unitary Plan, 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 as a key link between transportation and land use, with important consequences for cities, the economy and the environment. His thinking influenced Auckland Transport’s proposal for a city centre parking zone (implemented 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.

Parking seminarAt a Getting Parking Right for Auckland seminar in April [hosted by the Waitemata Local Board and AECOM] we heard that parking supply is not the problem, rather poorly managed oversupply. A total of 80 per cent of off-street parking is privately owned, which hinders its effective use. For example, minimum parking quantities in our current district plans means some car parks are only used during the day by commuters and shoppers while other car parks 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.

Parking in the draft Unitary Plan

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 quantities (with no minimums) apply in and around:

  • City centre fringe area
  • Centres zones: metropolitan, town, local
  • Mixed-use zone
  • Terrace housing and apartment buildings zone

Everywhere else minimum quantities 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 minimum quantities around town centres but retaining them for new developments appears to be a solution for today’s lack of public transport. But 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.

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.