On October 1, 2021, the City of Saint Paul eliminated minimum parking requirements city wide and reformed the city’s travel demand management program. These zoning changes were adopted to help further the Climate Action and Resilience Plan vision of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, and to implement policies in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, such as policy T-21, which calls for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 40%.
Today, single-occupant car trips are the most prevalent mode of transportation in Saint Paul and 31% of the City’s emissions can be attributed to vehicle travel. Minimum parking requirements are one of numerous policies that were put in place to subsidize and support car trips, which contributed to single-occupancy car trips becoming the most prevalent mode of transportation in Saint Paul. Minimum off-street parking requirements are often based on the square footage of a commercial use or the number of residential units in a development. Determining the amount of parking that is needed for a development based only on one factor of a development, like commercial square footage or residential units, is a simplistic approach for estimating parking demand. Contextual aspects of a development like the proximity to public transit, average density, and charging for parking, will likely lower the parking demand of a development, but these factors are often not considered when prescribing a minimum parking requirement. In this way, minimum parking requirements are blunt instruments that will seldom reflect the actual parking demand for a specific development, often resulting in an oversupply of off-street parking.
By creating more off-street parking then is needed to meet parking demand, minimum parking requirements induce single-occupancy car trips by making ostensibly free parking readily available at most destinations. When off-street parking is free to users and there is more parking available then is needed to accommodate actual parking demand, driving a car alone becomes the most convenient and viable mode of transportation for most trips, and people will often choose to drive, even if more sustainable transportation options are available.
Minimum parking requirements also induce drive alone car trips by lowering overall density in cities and increasing sprawl. A minimum parking requirement will often determine the maximum density of a new development regardless of what is prescribed by a zoning district, due to the amount of space required to accommodate the off-street parking requirement.
Before minimum parking requirements were eliminated, a bar, for example, had minimum parking requirement of one space per 150 sq ft. Providing enough surface parking to meet the minimum parking requirement would have resulted in a site build out where a minimum of 63% of the new development area would be used for parking, and only 37% would be used for the building that the parking serves.
When minimum parking requirements are applied broadly, the distance between trip origins and destinations is gradually increased, making walking, biking, and public transportation less viable modes of transportation. Over 70 years of broadly applying minimum parking requirements, in conjunction with other auto-centric land-use policies, have led to the development of a land-use pattern in Saint Paul where approximately 35.6% of the City’s land area is devoted primarily to the purpose of moving and storing cars.
Achieving Saint Paul’s vision of carbon neutrality by 2050 is, in large part, dependent on transforming the city’s auto-centric land use pattern and de-emphasizing cars as the primary mode of transportation in planning and public policy decisions. One of the most impactful things that cities and regions can do to address climate change is accommodating population growth by increasing density, in particular near transit lines, because that will facilitate a shift in travel behavior over time. As cities become more dense, more sustainable forms of transportation like walking, biking, and taking public transit, become more viable as the average distance between trip origins and destinations decreases. Minimum parking requirements were one of the biggest limiting factors to adding density and infill development in Saint Paul. By eliminating Minimum parking requirements, Saint Paul will help shift travel behavior over time as the distance between trip origins and destinations is reduced by new infill development on land that is currently being used for parking.
Eliminating minimum parking requirements will also give developers the opportunity to “right-size” parking and develop new buildings with parking ratios that are more responsive to a development’s context. Without a minimum parking requirement, new buildings will not need to provide more parking then is needed to meet the parking demand.
Travel demand management:
The elimination of minimum parking requirements will help promote a transportation mode shift away from drive alone car trips as density is increased and parking ratios are reduced with new development. To increase the rate at which the transportation mode shift away from drive alone car trips will occur, Saint Paul also reformed the City’s travel demand management (TDM) program.
TDM is focused on moving people and includes policies and programs that facilitate the reduction and redistribution of travel demand. TDM can increase efficiencies in the transportation network, ultimately facilitating shifts in modes of transportation and reducing the number of drive-alone trips. By reducing drive-alone trips and encouraging the use of high occupancy or non-motorized modes of travel, TDM is a critical ingredient in efforts to reduce VMT and greenhouse gas emissions.
To increase the effectiveness of the City's TDM program, Saint Paul adopted a new TDM guide and a standardized approach to TDM. The new standardized approach to TDM simplifies the process of developing a TDM plan for new developments and creates a clear standard for determining if a TDM plan sufficiently meets the city's requirements. The simpler standardized approach will enable the city to more effectively administer the TDM program, will lead to less variation in quality and content of approve TDM plans, and will lower the cost to produce TDM plans for developers.