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Study: Chicago is Over-Building its Residential Parking

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Despite new transit-oriented rules, parking requirements are still too high

For years, developers of multi-unit buildings in Chicago had been typically required to build at least one space per household. That number, according to a recent study from the non-profit Center for Neighborhood Technology, is too high. The center based its findings by recording parking use in residential garages at a variety of locations and price points across Chicago last summer. Adjusted for building occupancy levels, they found that roughly two-thirds of the parking spaces in their 40 building sample group were being utilized, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

Aside from being wasteful, too-high parking requirements present a challenge to housing affordability and neighborhood revitalization. For example, if a medium-sized multi-unit project can only be six or seven stories under local zoning, it may never get off the ground if three floors must be dedicated to parking stalls and the associated ramps. Even if a development is deemed feasible, the fixed cost of constructing the parking is passed directly on to renters, regardless of use, and further drives up prices.

While Chicago’s new Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance has led to a reduction in required spots per unit near CTA infrastructure, the study found that demand for parking in those developments has decreased at an even greater rate. In other words, the ordinance often may not go far enough. With active use such as ground level retail often replaced by drab and poorly-designed garages, an overabundance of parking in newly built residential buildings can also adversely affect the streetscape and pedestrian experience.

The idea of slashing parking minimums in Chicago has been a controversial one, especially in neighborhoods where on-street parking is a daily struggle. Though a number of the city’s recent TOD projects include special provisions that exclude new residents from purchasing street permits, many still connect a reduction in off-street parking as a direct threat to the limited supply of curbside spots. But, as Kyle Smith of the Center for Neighborhood Technology told the Chicago Tribune, "the answer doesn't come through asking private developers to build a bunch of empty parking spaces because the on-street problem isn't being solved."