Des Moines has 1.6 million parking spots
Des Moines has 1.6 million parking spots
By KEVIN HARDY
Jul. 21, 2018
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Des Moines has seven times as many parking spaces as people, according to a new study by the Mortgage Bankers Association.
The association's Research Institute for Housing America arm examined parking inventories in Des Moines, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Jackson, Wyoming. It found a "lavish amount of parking."
The Des Moines Register reports that Des Moines has 1.6 million parking spaces, the study found. That's about seven parking spots for each of the city's 217,521 residents in 2017.
The report argues that cities have made "monumental investments in parking." And it says the findings come at a time when people are driving less and parking demand is on the decline.
In Des Moines, city leaders acknowledge driving and parking behaviors are changing. To respond, the city has exempted many projects from its minimum parking requirements on new developments. And a new change in city zoning code will further relax parking rules.
"My conclusion is pretty basic: The investment in parking really outweighs what the demand for parking is right now, which is really interesting," said Eric Scharnhorst, who authored the report. "Because future demand will likely continue to decrease."
The study valued the parking infrastructure in Des Moines at $6.42 billion. It counted the total spaces in surface lots, residential driveways, on-street parking and private parking garages within Des Moines city limits.
Scharnhorst, principal at startup Parkingmill, says an oversupply of parking spaces means city leaders have the chance to rethink the uses for many dedicated parking areas, which are often in coveted parts of town.
"It's just a really big opportunity in Des Moines. The occupancy rates are pretty low. But the inventory is really high," he said. "A lot of times parking spaces are in really convenient locations, because you want to drive up to where you want to go."
Scharnhorst's study used a mix of high resolution satellite imagery as well as data from property tax assessors, city departments and large institutions.
The study found that 83 percent of Des Moines' parking spots are in off-street parking lots and driveways; 10 percent are found on the street; and 7 percent are housed in off-street structured parking.
Of the five cities examined, Des Moines had one of the higher ratios of households to parking spots, with 19.4 stalls for each household in the city. Jackson had the largest with 27.1 spots for each household and New York had the lowest ratio with .6 stalls for each household.
Philadelphia was home to 2.1 million parking spaces — 500,000 more than the 1.6 million stalls in Des Moines. With about 1.5 million residents, the city of Philadelphia is nearly seven times as large as Des Moines.
Larry James Jr., a real estate attorney in Des Moines who works with developers, said the numbers point to a need to rethink the city's approach to parking.
"We need to take a step back as a city," James said.
He knows people still gripe about parking, whether they have trouble finding a spot on Court Avenue or have to park three blocks away from their East Village destination.
But it's all relative: "The reality is when you go to Jordan Creek mall you think nothing of walking three or four blocks away when you go to a movie because you can see the front door," he said.
James argues for letting the local market determine how much parking is required, rather than setting "arbitrary" city regulations that mandate a minimum amount of spots on new developments.
He wants Des Moines to join the ranks of cities that forgo parking requirements altogether.
That's what the city has done in the downtown core where no minimum parking requirements apply. Yet new projects are still being proposed with parking structures because of the market demand, he said.
"That doesn't mean we don't need parking. We do," he said. "But let companies determine what they need."
Des Moines is working to build a more bikeable, walkable city infrastructure. But cars are still king in Iowa's capital city.
"Hopefully, there will be less demand and need to drive or park," said Michael Ludwig, Des Moines planning administrator. "But those are big ticket items. There's a lot of sidewalk gaps. There's a lot of streets that don't have bike lanes. And in the interim, people are still going to need to drive."
But the city has already taken a new approach to parking.
Ludwig said developments are routinely exempted from minimum parking standards. That includes the new Soll apartment complex on Ingersoll Avenue.
And a new suite of zoning code changes proposes to permanently decrease parking regulations.
Current code requires most new multifamily developments to include 1.5 parking spaces for each residential unit. The new zoning code as proposed would decrease the requirements to one space per unit, Ludwig said.
Too much parking has real implications: it can drive up development costs (and thus rent prices). And it can affect the flow of storm water drainage, Ludwig said.
"We believe our current standards are too high so we are proposing adjustments to it," he said. "Whether or not there is political support from the community for no minimums everywhere, that I don't know."
That's because many small businesses along commercial corridors are surrounded by dense, residential neighborhoods, creating real challenges with parking and traffic, Ludwig said.
Whatever the city does, Ludwig doesn't expect developers to abandon parking lots and garages any time soon. Many grocery stores and big box retailers already exceed the city's minimum, he said.
"Just having no minimum parking ratio doesn't mean there will be no parking," he said. "The market is still going to dictate there (will) be parking. And they're still going to build parking."
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com