Cincinnati Liberalizes Parking Rules but Should Go Even Further

Soon, downtown Cincinnati will have only as much parking as people actually want.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Good news out of Cincinnati, where Mayor Mark Mallory has just approved changes to the zoning code that will substantially liberalize parking rules in the city’s central business district and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods. The rule says that residential developments in these areas will require 0.75 parking spaces per unit, with a 20-unit exemption. So you could have a 20-unit building with zero parking or a 100-unit building with only 60 parking spaces.

I’m not personally familiar with these neighborhoods, and it is of course entirely possible that the vast majority of developers will prefer to include more parking than that in their plans. But that’s the beauty of parking liberalization: If the demand for parking is there, then you build. If not, not.

Cincinnati is also a great example of why parking liberalization is something that can be workable and helpful even in cities that are largely auto-oriented. If you look at the Cincinnati business district right now, you’ll see that like most Midwestern downtowns, it’s fairly dense in terms of floor-area ratio but also has lots of open-air surface parking lots. That means that if you were to buy a parcel and build an apartment or condominium on it, you wouldn’t necessarily need to build any new parking facilities even if nearly 100 percent of the new building’s residents are car owners. The new residents will take some noncar trips in the dense downtown, and they’ll also own cars that are stored in one of the many nearby parking lots. The housing units will be more affordable than they would have been had a parking garage been included, and the owners of the parking lots will make some more money. As more parking lots are transformed into housing, the market price of a downtown parking space will rise. As it rises, the business logic of building more parking will become more compelling. But at the same time, the central business district will be adding new residents and more density, so walking, transit, and bicycling will grow in importance relative to parking and driving. Which is just to say that in a lot of ways reducing or removing parking minimums is especially important in areas that are currently very auto-oriented.

Of course the ideal policy would be to not just reduce parking minimums but eliminate them altogether. A bunch of city council members, including Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls who’s running for mayor (and has been mayor in the past), advocated for just that. This somewhat watered-down reform is good, but hopefully reform advocates will keep up the pressure.