Parking Requirements for Office Buildings

office

This is part three of the five part series documenting parking requirements for various uses across the United States. Much of what was said about the restaurant graph applies here as well. Office building requirements are somewhat less dramatic in both size and variation but not by much. In comparing the three graphs that I have done so far, it is starting to become obvious that there is great inconsistency not only between cities but within each individual city’s code. Compare for instance the restaurant requirement versus the office requirement for both Kansas City and Memphis. In examining the restaurant graph, one might assume that Memphis has by far the less onerous minimums. However, in the office graphic above, the roles are strikingly reversed. Other cities are more consistent. Seattle and Milwaukee are good examples.

One thing that has surprised me in this graph is the revelation that the majority of large cities exempt their downtowns from these regulations (although many still require parking for other uses such as housing). Unsurprisingly, the most conspicuous exception, (Edit: 27 July 2013: Thanks to Michael Bates below who pointed out that Tulsa does in fact exempt its CBD from parking minimums) Tulsa, recently won streetsblog’s ignominious “Golden Crater” award. Obviously there can be very different definitions of what constitutes each city’s downtown and so the areas not subject to parking minimums in each city will vary. Clearly, in many of these cities, the relatively small footprint of these exempt areas has failed to achieve the critical mass necessary to create robust transit ridership and fully-functioning pedestrian oriented communities. People need to travel to places outside the central business district in the course of their daily lives. Simply exempting a small area where a large portion of the population works is not sufficient to allow reliable alternatives to the personal vehicle. If transportation choice is not permitted everywhere (or at least in a sufficiently large zone) it will not exist anywhere.

It would be interesting to know if higher parking requirements have an effect on the design of office buildings. Since open office designs fit more people than a similarly sized building with personal offices, one might expect to see more open offices in cities with high requirements in order to avoid having more parking spaces than people. I personally like open office environments, but I don’t think that parking should be driving the decision to build them.

I welcome any thoughts you might have to add, and as always, I have provided an editable vector version: office

Edit: 29 May 2013

Tom Radulovich at Livable City was kind enough to help me make this graph more accurate with respect to San Francisco. He writes:

At this point, a majority of the city by area is subject to Section 151. These districts include most of the city’s residential districts (RH and RM)  and the majority of the City’s neighborhood commercial districts. However, these districts don’t permit office development. The only remaining district in Section 151 that permits office is C-2, and most of the remaining C-2 parcels are included in Special Use Districts where the minimum parking requirements are waived, and in the remaining C-2 districts, a waiver from minimums can be granted ministerially.
So it’s accurate to say that most housing in San Francisco is still subject to minimum parking requirements (1:1 in most cases), but also that nearly all office development has no minimum requirements.
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The intent of the map is to show the minimum parking requirement for what would be considered the typical office building in each city. It seems that in San Francisco that minimum is zero. I have updated the graphic accordingly. Additionally I have added a note clarifying that the absence of a light grey bar in the bar graph indicates that no parking is required for office buildings in that city’s downtown.
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8 comments

  1. This is brilliant work – bravo! In working with city parking requirements (as an architect and urban designer) one of the things I’ve found is that cities have no idea how much parking they actually have, how much is already in existence. There is no count of spaces, no data base, and so almost no way to tell whether these parking ratios are appropriate, to measure their impact, or make a case for changing them. For such a valuable and space-consuming commodity, parking is largely un-quantified.

    • Thanks Jack! The dearth of information and research behind parking policy decisions is a topic I hope to eventually spotlight. Also, I happened to notice that you commented with an FXFowle email address and I hope you don’t mind me saying that I admire your firm’s work. You all have been involved in some really exciting and interesting projects. Keep up the good work!

  2. I’ve written a book on how to reform minimum parking requirements that might be of interest. Parking Reform Made Easy is now available from Island Press. But I must admit that your graphics put mine to shame! Well done.

    • Thank you Prof. Willson! It’s an honor to have you comment here. I’m adding your book to my reading list. Also, if you ever wanted to collaborate on a graphic of some sort, I’d be thrilled to oblige.

  3. These are excellent graphics. Thank you for compiling this information.

    A correction regarding Tulsa: There is a hard-to-find provision in section 1200 of the zoning code that exempts the CBD zone from parking minimums. CBD zoning covers most of downtown.

    “Off-Street Parking and Loading Requirements. The off-street parking and loading requirements shall not apply to uses located within the CBD Central Business District.”

    Unfortunately, the exemption doesn’t extend to the CH zoning that covers our walkable early 20th century neighborhood commercial districts.

    http://www.incog.org/City%20of%20Tulsa%20Zoning%20Code/Internet%20Zoning%20Code-all%20one%20document.pdf

    Tulsa’s downtown parking crater is not the result of regulatory parking minimums, but perverse tax incentives (cut your property taxes and assessments by removing improvements) and the desire of downtown churches and Tulsa Community College to provide convenient parking for their parishoners / students.

  4. One problem with your diagram is that a 12 foot driving aisle behind 90 degree parking spaces does not provide enough space for the vehicles to back out of the parking spaces. Try getting a standard size vehicle that is parked between 2 standard sized vehicles out of the parking space. It doesn’t worl

    • The graphic shows the aisle out to the centerline only. The full aisle would be 24′ wide, but since both sides share the same aisle, only half should be counted as belonging to each side to avoid counting the space twice.


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