The answer, says Hart, is generally yes.
She is the main author of a study published on Wednesday by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which investigated nearly 200 apartment buildings inside Route 128 and found that about 30 percent of their parking spaces are unused, even in the wee hours of the day. morning, when most residents are probably at home.
It is a discovery with major implications for the housing crisis in the region.
Building parking garages is expensive and the unused space devoted to cars cannot be easily reused for parks, squares or larger housing units. Yet officials in many towns and villages, under pressure from residents worried about losing street parking to newcomers, are demanding that new buildings include one parking space for each unit, and sometimes more.
Such policies should be reconsidered, said Hart, who argues that more on-site parking encourages car ownership and is often not necessary, especially in places well served by the MBTA. .
“These cities have a lot of opportunities to really shape the development models in the future,” she said. “If you’re looking to build a community that has a lot of traffic and shows and all that, build a lot of parking. If you want a more workable and sustainable community, build less.
Hart led a team of MAPC researchers on the study, which simply counted the number of cars parked in 189 apartment and condo buildings in 14 towns and villages, between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. In total, nearly 20,000 parking spaces were counted.
The researchers found empty spaces all over the place, with an average building’s parking lot being about 30% vacant. Buildings with easy MBTA access to employment centers, or with more affordable housing, tended to have more empty spaces. Buildings located in higher income neighborhoods and, perhaps ironically, those that offered more parking per unit, tended to have less.
This is an indication that parking requirements are often too high, said Tim Reardon, director of data services at MAPC. The report estimates that an average parking space costs $ 15,000 to build – much more in underground garages – a cost that then goes into rents whether the space is used or not.
Reardon said there is at least some evidence that the presence of on-site parking attracts high-income renters. This, in turn, increases everyone’s rent.
“It creates a convenience that developers then charge for,” Reardon said. “Essentially, by creating lots of parking lots in areas oriented towards public transport, we are increasing the cost of housing. “
There are places that try to go the other way.
The city of Boston, for example, typically requires less parking in buildings in its denser neighborhoods and near MBTA stations. In recent years, it has allowed a few buildings with no parking at all – sometimes coupled with rules that even prohibit their future residents from receiving on-street parking permits.
But restrictions may face a fierce pullback in places like Brighton and South Boston, where new developments have sprung up and competing for street parking can feel like blood sport.
Just this week, amid criticism from neighbors and locally elected officials, developers who want to turn the shuttered Edison power plant in south Boston into a 1.8 million square foot campus with housing and offices. pledged to incorporate more than 1,200 parking spaces into the project, including 120 reserved for neighborhood residents at night and on weekends – a deal specifically requested by U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat.
Some inner-city towns are trying new approaches themselves. Arlington allows developers to build less parking than normally required if they subsidize T passes or pay an allowance to residents who do not have a car. New buildings in Watertown may choose to rent parking spaces, at market rates, separately from apartments. It’s an option that has proven popular with developers, said Laura Wiener, senior transportation planner in Watertown, and compelling to neighbors worried about increased traffic on their street.
“The best argument for this is that it reduces traffic,” she said. “If there are 10 cars for 10 units, instead of 20 cars for 10 units, there will be fewer cars on the roads.”
The more flexible approaches to parking are an improvement over rigid space-per-unit rules, Hart said. And the region will need more communities to adopt such rules as the region becomes increasingly congested, making every acre of asphalt all the more valuable.
“We counted 6,000 empty spaces in the middle of the night,” she said. “Imagine how many are vacant in the middle of the day.”