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To Make Richmond More Livable, Councilmember Wants to Eliminate Parking Minimums

parked cars
Residential parking in Church Hill. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

New businesses and other developments in Richmond are required to provide a certain number of parking spaces on-site. City Councilmember Andreas Addison wants to eliminate those requirements, known as ‘parking minimums.’

Many of the parking requirements in Richmond’s city code seem arcane or arbitrary. For example, a public or private kindergarten is required to have “one [parking space] per 10 seats in [the] main auditorium or one per classroom, whichever is greater.” Addison said parking minimums for new residential or apartment developments can also drive up costs, making housing less affordable. It can also be a burden on businesses locating in a densely populated part of town, he said.

“A lot of times, businesses are going into newly zoned places that might now have all of the accessible parking that is outlined in our code,” Addison said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t open a business.”

Addison has introduced a resolution meant to kickstart the discussion around eliminating parking minimums. If approved, the city administration would have to draw up an amendment to the zoning code removing the requirements. That would need to be approved by the Planning Commission and again by City Council.

Planning officials and local governments across the country have been experimenting with removing or significantly reducing parking requirements in recent years. In 2017, Buffalo became the first city to completely eliminate parking minimums for many developments. Evidence from Minneapolis, where parking requirements were cut in half, suggests doing so can lead to more affordable housing

Advocates also point to how parking requirements make cities less navigable for pedestrians or people who use public transit. 

Andy Boenau is a civil engineer and a consultant for local governments and transportation agencies in Virginia. Boenau, who lives in Richmond, says surface parking lots just end up spreading things out.

“Parking minimums spread out all of the land uses so that walking or bicycling is next to impossible,” he said. “You can’t even walk to a bus stop when every building requires this wasteland of asphalt.” 

That’s particularly a problem for a city like Richmond, which has invested more heavily in recent years in revamping its public transit system and adding new bike lanes and sidewalks. 

“If free parking were a politician, no one would want to vote for that platform of higher housing prices, more traffic jams, more crashes and an ugly downtown,” Boenau said.

While Addison and urbanists say the city is ready for a conversation about its parking lots, others aren’t so sure.

At a Land Use, Housing and Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday, Councilmember Ellen Robertson asked to be added as co-patron on Addison’s resolution. But she also expressed reservations about what the impact will be to residential neighborhoods. 

Robertson, who represents Richmond’s 6th District, said she wants the city administration to also study how it could impact existing street parking.

“I know we want to move away from the automobile and I know we are in the process of doing that, but I would hope...that we would take into consideration the adverse impact,” she said.

Ninth District Councilmember Michael Jones also requested to be added as a co-patron but expressed similar concerns. He highlighted the divide in access to public transportation and sidewalks between areas in north Richmond and Southside.

“I’m speaking specifically from a north-of-the-river lens,” Jones said. “If I put on my lens and my hat from the Southside on, then it’s a completely different conversation because we need cars on the Southside.”