What’s in Your Garage?

A case study of absurd and pernicious parking rules.
This post is 1 in the series: Parking? Lots!
Alan's single-family home with single-car garage.

Photo by Alan Durning.

I have not owned a car in seven years, but I do own a garage. It’s pictured above. In fact, I am legally required to own an off-street parking space; that’s written in the land-use code for my city, Seattle, as for virtually every city. The driveway that leads to my garage, meanwhile, eliminates almost exactly one parking space from my street. Parking in front of a driveway is illegal, and a regular curb cut is almost exactly the size of a parking space, as illustrated below.

Driveway curb cut blocking street parking space.

Photo by Alan Durning.

The net effect—one mandatory off-street parking space plus one car-less household—is a one-space reduction of parking supply on my block. Repeat: my obligatory driveway and garage deprive the universe of one on-street slot. This is ironic, but it’s only the tip of the irony iceberg where car-storage is concerned.

If I did own a car to keep in my garage, the net effect would no longer be a net reduction. It would be zero. My driveway subtracts one on-street space; my garage adds it back. Think about that for a while. The 4.6 million single-family houses in cities across the Northwest, and tens of millions more elsewhere, are each required to have at least one off-street parking space. Yet many of these city rules add no net parking spaces to their cities’ supplies. Worse, if you’ve ever narrowly escaped a car backing out of a garage, or almost backed into someone while you were driving, you can quickly grasp the fact that all these millions of mandated off-street parking spaces turn sidewalks into danger zones, especially for children and the disabled.

Clearly, parking rules can lead to absurd and unwelcome results. In fact, I will argue in this new series, they have surprisingly pernicious effects not just in single-family homes but across entire cities. Requirements that builders provide ample quotas of off-street parking spaces worsen traffic, multiply collisions, push up housing prices, dampen business profitability, amplify sprawl, and pollute both air and water. Parking rules are a surprisingly potent hidden force shaping—or misshaping—our communities. Fortunately, new approaches and new technologies allow better ways to manage parking, and these better ways turn out to be among the biggest opportunities open to cities for improving residents’ lives.

I’ll get to all of that soon. I promise. But let’s go back to my garage. Understanding how off-street parking rules for single-family houses pile up ironies, absurdities, and injuries is a case study of the larger dynamic of urban parking.

Consider this: You’re allowed to fill your garage with your stuff while you store your car in the city right of way. But you are not allowed to fill your garage with your car and store your stuff in the city right of way. Well, not for long. For a couple of days, you can probably get away with leaving a moving crate (like the ones pictured) at the curb. But if you tried to keep your stuff crated at the curb year-round, just as you can keep your car, you’d face stiff fines and citations.

Storage crate in street parking space.

Photo by Alan Durning.

On-street parking spaces are real estate that belongs to the public. They can be extremely valuable. The land under my house is worth more than $38 per square foot, according to the King County Assessor; Zillow implies a value above $45 per square foot. My lot, like many urban lots across Cascadia, is 50 feet wide. The curb parking area in front of it is therefore 50 feet long; it is about eight feet wide. Were it not for my driveway, three cars could park there. Because of my driveway, two can. It’s 400 square feet of land. If it’s as valuable as my land, at the Assessor’s valuation, it would be worth more than $15,000. Yet the city of Seattle gives away use of this public asset for free. And the city, like all cities, gives it away for only one purpose: storing private motor vehicles. I can keep cars, trucks, or motorcycles there. I cannot keep my bicycles there, though: it would be illegal for me to put a bike rack at my curb and lock my Trek and my Burley bike trailer to it. Walking stroller? No. Granny cart? No. Long board? Razor scooter? Shoe rack? Nope!

My garage is unusual in one way: I am the rare owner of a single-family house in the Northwest who has no private car. But the fact that my garage does not shelter an automobile is not at all unusual. Many garages never do. Garages store stuff, not motor vehicles, much of the time. One detailed, nine-year study of 32 middle-class families in southern California found they had so much stuff in their garages that only one fourth of them could fit their cars inside.

I asked around among my friends. One neighbor’s two-car garage (pictured below) is like something out of the Storables catalog, and thanks to its masterful engineering, it can still accommodate one small, electric car.

One car and lots of stuff in a two-car garage.

Photo by Ron W.

Other friends report that their garages are full of exercise equipment, bicycles, lawn mowers and other tools, camping gear, patio furniture, Costco loads, and the occasional ping pong table. Few keep cars in their garages. Here are excerpts from about 30 friends’ lists of what they keep in their garages:

  • a set of half-refinished dining chairs
  • one old kitchen sink
  • a boat
  • boxes and bubble wrap that I might need some day and chickens (until they are big enough to go outside)
  • a playroom for my kids
  • files that need to be culled through and probably thrown out
  • storm windows
  • band’s practice space
  • old tax records
  • books that don’t fit in the house
  • toys that will never be used by my family
  • a piece of a bowling alley and a wall-size bay window
  • last summer’s jams and preserves, family memorabilia, my dad’s chaps from when he broke horses for room and board, his Arctic parka used to survey the North coast of Alaska, my old Royal typewriter and 100 other things
  • an old rat cage, leftover wine from the wedding, dried leaves, dust, spider webs

One well-off friend who owns two two-car garages reported that her family still lacks room to keep more than one of its cars inside because the garages hold “boxes of papers, stuffed animals, etc., belonging to daughters, a saddle (it’s for sale!), an antique French food safe that I want to refinish for my grand-daughter’s bedroom, 30 years of crap from our previous house.”

Many garages hold everything but automobiles. Kathleen Ridihalgh of Seattle uses hers for kid stuff and a wood shop (below).

Woodshop and kids bikes in garage.

Photo by Kathleen Ridihalgh.

Paulo Nunes-Ueno, who runs employee transportation programs at Seattle Children’s Hospital, uses his as a bike corral and to store a spare mattress for guests.

Bikes and a matress in a garage.

Photo by Paulo Nunes-Ueno.

Seattle is not alone in requiring one off-street parking space per single-family house. Portland, Vancouver, BC, and some other large Cascadian cities have the same rule. In fact, virtually every city in greater Portland has this standard, because the regional governing body, Metro, has put a ceiling on parking requirements at one space per house. Most suburban Cascadian cities require two off-street parking spaces per house. Meridian, Idaho, a suburb of Boise, goes further. It requires two spaces for a one-bedroom house, four spaces for a two- to four-bedroom house, and six spaces for a house with five or more bedrooms. (I have listed many Cascadian cities’ parking standards below this post.)

A parking minimum of two (or more) is even worse public policy. Like a one-space minimum, a two-car minimum sometimes yields no net spaces: many builders planning two-car garages install double-wide driveways, which block two on-street spaces. Worse, as I’ll argue in subsequent articles, off-street mandates tend to glut the market for parking spaces and trigger a chain of cause and effect that ensures massive subsidies to driving. Whatever the number, furthermore, required off-street spaces dramatically push up the minimum cost of building a house. Curb cuts, driveways, and parking spaces cost thousands of dollars. The requirements also result in more pavement getting poured, armoring our watersheds and increasing the quantity of polluted runoff reaching our streams.

Although some cities, such as the Seattle suburb of Beaux Arts, require actual enclosed garages at each single-family house, most cities simply require parking spaces. So I am forbidden to remove the garage in my house unless I provide another off-street parking space on my property in its place. With certain exceptions, this space may not be in front of my house. I cannot just declare the driveway my new parking space. My off-street place must either be inside a garage or beside or behind my house. Many people do, in fact, park their cars in their driveways rather than in their garages. Seattle, at least, allows this manner of parking. But unless the driveways extend beside the house and the car can be positioned beside or behind the house, those parking spaces cannot satisfy land-use code requirements for off-street spaces in Seattle, or in most other cities.

Because my house was built in 1925, long before Seattle imposed a parking minimum, if my house had never included a parking space, I would be grandfathered out of the requirement entirely. But because my house does have a garage, I am not allowed to remove it. Converting my garage to some other purpose would require me to install a new curb cut beside my house, which would be surprisingly expensive, according to a contractor I consulted.

I have lived in my house for 13 years. During those years, my garage has never contained an automobile. In 2002, I installed insulated wall-thick doors on the garage, carpeted it, and began using it as an art room for my kids. Later, it served other purposes, such as an overflow guest room. It is now a computer room, laundry-drying center, and outdoor gear locker (pictured below).

Office and laundry drying in a garage.

Photo by Alan Durning.

I am still in compliance with the law. If a city inspector ever asked for evidence of my parking space, I could open the garage doors wide, move the furniture aside, and reveal a fully functional, if carpeted, off-street parking space. The law says I have to have one, not that I need to use it.

Some home owners take their chances with inspectors. Pictured below is a Seattle house where the garage could no longer hold a car. The owners converted car storage to a sun room, so the property no longer satisfies the parking regs.

garage converted into living space.

Photo by Ashley S.

Eliminating one-space-per-dwelling parking requirements for single-family houses would free many other families to do the same, putting their garages and driveways to better uses, improving sidewalk safety, and lowering the construction cost of new houses. Striking out parking standards would let people like me use our property as we wish. My garage doors, thick as they are, still leak heat around the hinges in the winter: in a post-parking rules world, I could replace them with a real wall. I could jackhammer and re-contour the driveway to allow a rain garden. And I could relinquish my curb cut, giving my neighbors an extra place to park.

My garage is a case study in miniature. The fate of the world does not hinge on it. But the ironic, absurd, and pernicious effects of parking rules evident from examining my garage begin to reveal the larger implications of parking standards. I will turn to the larger economy and politics of parking rules next time.

Pam MacRae and Mieko Van Kirk assisted with research for this article. Thanks also to the photographers and friends who shared their garage stories.

Appendix: Selected Cascadian Cities’ Off-street Parking Mandates

Cascadian cities that require one off-street parking space per single-family house: Burnaby, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Vancouver, and Victoria, BC; Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver, Washington; Eugene and Pendleton, Oregon. Portland Metro, a regional government covering most of greater Portland, has established a “maximum minimum” of one off-street space per single-family house for all municipalities in its region: cities may set parking requirements lower but not higher than one space per house. Almost all of them have chosen to require one space per house.

Cascadian cities that require two off-street parking spaces per single-family house: Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Delta, Langley, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Richmond, and Surrey, British Columbia; Boise, Idaho Falls, Meridian (two spaces for one-bedroom house; four spaces for two- to four-bedroom houses; six spaces for houses with five or more bedrooms), and Nampa, Idaho; Bend, Medford, and Salem, Oregon; and Bellevue, Everett, Kent, Moses Lake, Tacoma, and Yakima, Washington.

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Comments

  1. Jesse K says:

    I’m curious whether you’re allowed to block your own curb-cut (as in the second picture in this post). We used to do so at a house I once lived in, but don’t know if it’s legal or just unenforced.

    If it is legal, how might we invent a form of signage that allows homeowners to invite others to park there? For folks who don’t have a car or don’t use their driveway for other reasons, is there some way to let others know that your driveway can be ignored and that space used for ordinary curbside parking?

    • Alan Durning says:

      I assume it’s a law that’s unevenly enforced. Signage wouldn’t change city law, but it might be neighborly. In a later article, I’ll write about how some people are renting out their off-street parking spaces, and what that might grow into.

    • Just-In-Seattle says:

      I think it’s still illegal but generally unenforced. Related story, one 4th of July when I lived in an apt not far from Gasworks, a neighbor from the rental house next door called the parking cops b/c another neighbor (who he hadn’t bothered to meet) parked in front of the old driveway curb cut associated with the rental house since the street was completely parked out, even though the former driveway was grassed over and completely overgrown (and people parked in front of the curb cut all the time otherwise). The cops came, issued a citation, and tow truck arrived shortly. (All so that neighbor #1 could park in his accustomed spot in front of his non-driveway). Sheesh.

    • e e jones says:

      currently, it is legal – at least on cap hill – at least as evidenced by us doing this often with zero tickets. (this is not because parking enforcement is being lax)

    • e e jones says:

      currently, it is legal – at least on cap hill – at least as evidenced by us doing this often with zero tickets. (this is not because parking enforcement is being lax)

      we DO get a ticket if we are parked in the apron, even without blocking the sidewalk or street

  2. Jon Stahl says:

    Great article, Alan, and I enthusiastically agree with your larger point that we’re massively over-requiring off-street parking.

    One thing you skip over in this article, though, is the common (in Seattle) case of off-street parking with alley access. Over here in Sunset Hill, my block has a partial alley, through which most (but not all) of us access our required off-street parking. One curb cut (it’s a dead-end alley) serves about 8-10 off-street parking spaces.

    Obviously, many of our smaller cities don’t have street grids with alleys. But at least here in Seattle, it seems like they are a significant factor, and may reduce the effective number of curb cuts per off-street parking space. One could probably quantify this with some GIS analysis.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Good point, Jon. Alley access reduces the number of curb cuts. But the reason I started this series with this article is to provide a relatively simple case study of a subject that can become completely overwhelming in its complexity. I also ignored a number of other factors: houses grandfathered out of the requirement and houses that are far enough back from the street that a legal parking place can be in front of the house, in certain circumstance, for just two examples. But I also gave only glancing attention to the large preponderance of cases in which off-street parking requirements are two spaces per house. The point of this piece is to give a taste, not the full story.

    • e e jones says:

      good article
      I would agree with most of it’s propositions.
      One caveat – it IS, at least to a certain extent, a neighborhood to neighborhood issue.
      In the L3 area of Cap Hill where I live, there is an assumption that reducing parking requirements (in the case of micro housing – to zero -this in a building with 50, 60, or more units) – will naturally, as a matter of course, lower traffic, increase safety, and not adversely increase an already crazy drive around and around looking for parking situation.
      I see little evidence for this. In fact, as density increases up here, and with more and more little kids and elderly, I would say it’s definately less safe from a pedestrian standpoint.
      One size will not fit all. Should we be gradually incentivizing less autos? You bet.
      However, in a period when bus service is dwindling, and we have a very partial light rail (nice airport shuttle though) the city needs to be a bit smarter.
      Down the road, parking in buildings could also be converted to other kinds of space as the automobile decreases in numbers.
      Density does not automatically yield sustainability.
      Smart density,along with other strategies, just might.

      • Alan Durning says:

        Thanks for your comment. A new approach to managing on-street parking scarcity will be a central theme of this new series of articles. Thousands of words of analysis are in the works!

  3. Matt the Engineer says:

    Excellent article, and I’m looking forward to the series.

  4. Aaron G says:

    As great as Shoup’s book was on exposing the idiocy of our parking environment, this well-written, concise post summed up the argument against parking minimums about as well as I have seen.
    Thanks for the continued work on this.

  5. Stephen Rees says:

    At one house I used to own, the previous owner had converted the garage to an extension of the living room. The house still met the local requirements, as the driveway was big enough to store two cars. In front of the house was not just the street but a huge circular paved area, big enough to turn around a firetruck – which, of course, was mostly used as parking too. It had no value whatever as shared public space – which was what it was. Might have made a nice community garden. Being Canada it did get used for street hockey sometimes. And we got a basketball hoop once the kids were old enough.

    When I was walking the dog I did an informal survey of the garages along the street. Most were used as storage areas.

    Most of our cars spend most of their lives parked. In any residential street it is easy to do a survey showing that a significant minority of the cars parked on the street do not move. From surveys of this kind the idea of car sharing was born. One day we will spend more attention on housing people properly, using public resources, then housing cars using the same resources.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for your comment, Stephen.

      As you know, off-street parking standards push up the cost of housing rather dramatically, so the relationship you close by commenting on is not just a matter of priorities in allocation of public resources: big parking quotas push housing costs out of reach for some.

  6. Rick Mohler says:

    Great article Alan!

    Another irony of the Seattle land use code as it applies to parking in single family zones is the regulation of parking in one’s front yard (driveway). The required off-street parking space cannot be in the front yard. However, one can legally park a second car in the front yard assuming one is in the garage.

    An accessory dwelling unit requires an additional legal off-street parking space (although the DPD director has some discretion here). One can tandem (in a row) the required space for
    principal dwelling and the required space for the ADU. However, because both spaces are required, neither one can be in the front yard.

    In others words, the city accommodates a single dwelling with two cars but not two dwellings with one car each. As you’ve noted, the more considers all of these regulations the less sense they make.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for that info, Rick. I hadn’t been aware of those subtleties. I wonder if it’s different in other Cascadian cities.

  7. Jim Adcock says:

    It points out that if I lived in Seattle I could put in one of those nice “commercial” roll-up insulated glass garage doors [like at Solsticio], and have a nice sun room which would open up in the summer — and still be in compliance. I would probably choose not to heat the room during the coldest months of the year, which would be fine if the interior walls are also insulated. But I don’t live in Seattle, I live in Bellevue, where the neighbors start to get out their pitchforks when people start street-parking. So, I keep my Nissan Leaf in one side of the garage, and keep the good stuff, like the bikes and kayaks and BBQ on the other side.

  8. Scott says:

    This is a great article.

    Many people do, in fact, park their cars in their driveways rather than in their garages, but unless the driveways extend beside the house and the car is positioned beside or behind the house, those cars are not in legal parking spaces in Seattle, or in most other cities.

    It’s OK and legal to park in your front-yard driveway: see Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 23.44.016 D7.

    Otherwise, right on — write on.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for this clarification, Scott. Parking in your driveway isn’t illegal, as you said. But a front-yard driveway does not qualify as a legal off-street parking space for purposes of the land-use code. Rick also points this out in his comment. I will make a small edit to the post to avoid people misunderstanding me.

  9. Patrick Barber says:

    Alan, thanks for clarifying this issue so well. I neglected to send in a photo of our garage simply because we don’t have one; but we do have a paved driveway (apparently to meet the off-street parking requirement) that we use to park our bikes. In the years since we’ve lived in the house we have blocked the driveway from the street with a planting container, and added a dining area and a sandbox. It’s our minimalist front yard/patio/play area now, with covered bike parking (we bought city-grade bike racks from a manufacturer and installed them into the concrete). And now that we do own a car, we regularly park it in front of the driveway, yet oddly, I always get my back up when someone else does. Mostly because it blocks my access to getting our bikes in and out, but there is definitely an old “You can’t park there!” response, which is, in fact, ridiculous… whether it’s legal or not.

    I really look forward to this series, and I hope Sightline puts some effort into getting this information to the general public (as well as all of us transportation nerds and other Sightline readers and fans) because I don’t think most people are aware of these policies and how bizarre and nonsensical they are.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Interesting, Patrick.

      We’re always trying to reach a great big audience, and Sightline readers and fans are actually a pretty big audience. We’ll need everyone’s help, though, to reach the masses. Spread the word. Tell your friends.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      “it blocks my access to getting our bikes in and out” Heh. Maybe you should build a 1′ wide bicycle curb cut.

      • Alan Durning says:

        1′ bicycle curb cut. Good idea.

      • Patrick Barber says:

        Actually we need about three feet for our cargo trike! I’d miss the access point without our “driveway” slope, especially for the trike, but we sure don’t need a 12-foot-long entry point.

  10. Cindy Jennings says:

    What nonsense is enshrined in parking regulations. Thanks for the analysis illuminating some of the perplexing codes and behaviors.

    One factor I’ve become curious about is the effect upon the competition for parking as car-sharing options proliferate. I’ve watched the Car2Gos infiltrate my neighborhood and suspect they will relieve the car-storage conflicts since these on-demand services really enable more citizens to relinquish their own personal car.

    Additionally, these Car2Go vehicles theoretically spend a greater percentage of the time transporting people rather than taking up valuable space sitting stored in a garage or on the street. Which must be a good thing for when the bike and the bus aren’t suitable for when and where one needs to go.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Good point, Cindy.

      Some cities now allow a dedicated carsharing parking space (a la Zipcar) to substitute for four private parking spaces. Some estimates suggest that car-sharing can replace even more cars than that, especially in dense, urban neighborhoods. Because private cars sit parked 23 hours a day, car-sharing has the potential to completely eviscerate demand for parking spaces. The proponents of self-driving vehicles at Google (where the vehicles would be mostly car-share vehicles/self-driving taxis) say that 90 percent of parking places will be unneeded. That seems like a stretch to me, but the potential impacts of car-sharing on parking demand are undoubtedly enormous.

  11. Paul Clapham says:

    Vancouver BC has a requirement for one off-street parking space per house? I didn’t know that. I live in Vancouver and when we bought the house in 1986 it didn’t have one (there was a swimming pool taking up the entire back yard). And it hasn’t ever had one since then, even though the swimming pool has been gone for over a decade now. City inspectors have been into the property on several occasions and haven’t mentioned this defect.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Yes, Paul. Vancouver has long required that new houses provide one off-street parking space per dwelling.

      But new code requirements do not apply to already standing buildings (with rare exceptions), so if your house was built before the parking requirement was instituted, you’re grandfathered out of it. Most Cascadian cities began imposing off-street parking requirements in the ’40s and ’50s, though I do not know when Vancouver imposed them.

      How old is your house? Did it ever have an off-street space?

  12. DB says:

    In some municipalities, the bylaw does actually require that a garage be used to store vehicles only, and not for personal storage. Enforcement of this is likely quite spotty.

    Great writing, and what a tragic bit of social engineering and impingement of freedoms. In the 1960s Trudeau said that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”. Maybe we need to extend this to garages and driveways?

    • Alan Durning says:

      DB,

      Great Trudeau quote. Thanks.

      I’m intrigued by your comment that some cities require garages be for vehicles. Can you give any examples?

      And you’re right about enforcement. Enforcement mostly happens when a new building permit — including for a major remodel — is sought. That’s why many homeowners (including a lot of the super-informed readers of this blog) never know about these rules. Still, the effect is the same, because the built environment reflects the rules and then shapes behavior for decades.

      • Tannis says:

        I recently built a house in New Westminster, BC. I wanted to put the access hatch to the crawl space in the floor of the garage. Even though the hatch would have been closed 99.9% of the time and would have allowed for a car to park on top of it, I wasn’t allowed to do this. The garage (two spaces minimum, because I have a secondary suite) had to be for the “exclusive use” of parking cars.

      • DB says:

        From Squamish’s zoning bylaw: “Required off-street parking spaces shall not be used for off-street loading, driveways, commercial repair work, display, sale or storage of goods of any kind, but shall be used for parking only.”

        https://squamish.civicweb.net/Documents/DocumentList.aspx?ID=87433

        Section 40.4, clause (a).

        Sad, but likely unenforced. It would be great to see comprehensive enforcement of provisions like this, to see what type of reaction such overregulation could bring…

  13. portrait Steve G. says:

    Great intro to the nuttiness of parking rules! I’ve got my own story…

    About ten years ago my wife and I pulled up most of an 80′ x 10′ concrete driveway, leaving just a pad out front that’s big enough for one car. Had no idea that that might have been illegal! We then landscaped our 600 square feet of newly-exposed yard, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it…

    Then we converted our oversized garage (out back; no longer connected to the remaining driveway pad) into nice little bike shed that may one day become an ADU. Never occurred to me that it might be illegal to convert a garage into something I’d actually use…

    Now we’re renting out — for $50/month, to a guy who is probably going to sell his car, and is testing “car free” living — the remaining piece of our once-massive driveway via http://www.parkatmyhouse.com. Because renting out a driveway is considered a “commercial use” of residential property, I think that may be illegal, too!

    I never knew I was a serial parking outlaw…

    • Alan Durning says:

      Steve,

      You’re not alone. A prominent Cascadian political leader, for example, has confessed to having removed — without knowing the law — the required off-street parking space at his/her house. But I’m not telling on people.

  14. Ruben says:

    Fantastic article Alan–I am posting this into a few Facebook conversations. A few years ago, I wrote about some of the things we could do with the street if car owners used their own spots.

    http://www.smallanddeliciouslife.com/lets-pave-streets-green/

  15. Alicia Cohen says:

    Thank you so much for shedding light on this incredibly important and overlooked issue. I hope that all the Portland, Oregon city council members and mayor (except Dan Saltzman) read this article series. They just voted (in April of 2013–not in 1950) to insert parking minimums in the code for new developments along transit corridors here in Portland. For the reasons brilliants and cogently laid out in your article these parking minimums are profoundly regressive, costly, environmentally foolish, and dangerous. http://www.oregonlive.com/front-porch/index.ssf/2013/04/porland_city_council_approves.html

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks, Alicia!

      Yep. I’ll touch on that controversy, in which I played a bit part, in an article later in this series.

  16. Alex says:

    Alan,
    Good article, but I am somewhat confused. Why not just allow a neighbor to park in your driveway, thus using the space?

    • Alan Durning says:

      My driveway is too narrow to park in. Well, it’s too narrow to get out of the car in. Look at the photo!

  17. Steve Winter says:

    Interesting article, Alan. It sheds some light on a permitting adventure I am having with the City.

    I had wanted to tear down a rotting and poorly made shed in the backyard and replace with a smaller structure for use as a workshop/bike storage/etc. The original garage was in the basement of the house, and had been blocked off long before we bought the house – no way to get a car in there now. Long story short, I was actually required to build a larger structure than I intended, and include a garage door to meet the parking requirement you reference.

    A bit puzzling to me, and a bit frustrating that the structure won’t fit into the space as I had hoped. On the other hand, I’ll probably come to like the ‘extra’ space as many of the photos suggest.

  18. Kevin says:

    When I lived in Providence RI there was an old rule still enforced that no car could be parked on the street overnight between something like 2:00am and 6:00am. If you had friends come to visit you had to call the police department every night and notify them of the guest parking. It turned every front yard into an off street parking lot but the streets were wide open every night. There also weren’t any abandoned cars or project on the public street. People shouldn’t expect the city to store their cars on the public street just because you live there. You don’t buy a street space when you buy a house. We are not likely to go carless at our house as we use it to haul stuff, ski trips, etc. We are a heavily biking household though and the car often never leaves the driveway for most of the week. I would love to see an overall reduction in cars around the city and would ditch mine if I could, but I still think we should have people that do own cars be responsible for storing their own machines.

  19. Alan Durning says:

    I just came across this article, which points out that when Steve Jobs started Apple in his parents’ garage, he was breaking the local land-use law on off-street parking spaces.

  20. Juliet Lamont says:

    Yup – this has been a source of total frustration in the green planning community for many years. And while this article is good, it doesn’t even get into the loss of potential GREEN space that ridiculous parking codes lead to. Our home for example: we have an undersized garage (illegally built many years ago – before us), which we are not allowed to remove entirely because of parking codes, despite the fact that the garage simply can’t accommodate most of the larger cars now out there (and I don’t think our small car would even fit in it & allow you to open your car door. Bummer.). If we were to remove this garage, we would be required to replace it with a 20-plus-foot driveway made of concrete and underlying stabilization materials, able to handle the weight and size of some small truck (because lord knows the next owners may, in fact, own a small truck. Or a big one.). So no – we couldn’t just put a native plant garden, or small urban farm plot, or swale, or rain garden, or trees, or…anything – in lieu of the garage, should we want to remove it. In fact, the garage as it stands is probably LESS of an environmental impact than if we did what I describe above. Which is why it is now a formal storage space (per author’s model). At least it holds our bikes and running/walking shoes. So we are promoting environmentally-responsible behavior in SOME way, through that structure. I will add: there is some logic to the CONCEPT of requiring on-site parking (to avoid taking up street spaces with multiple cars in households – which many homes now have). But there’s a simple remedy for this (I can hear the shrieking now): everyone gets ONE free parking space on-street (per house); any additional cars are charged a ridiculously high fee for a residential parking permit (or you charge based on an exponentially/rapidly increasing curve of fee/car). This rewards the carless (or one-car) owners, and penalizes/discourages the on-street parking for multiple car owners (e.g. our neighborhood in Berkeley, where some households have 4 or 5 cars rotating around at any given time – all on-street, taking up everyone else’s spaces – and pay $25 or so for the annual permits…no incremental or greater change in fees for more cars). This is a prime example of how green planning and livable neighborhoods are part of a larger contextual problem that cities need to address. Livability and “green” across multiple fronts, for multiple benefits. Win-win-win. (and great article, too!)

  21. Rees Cramer says:

    It is just as bizarre in metro north Georgia. The city of Atlanta has been working on some of their strange parking per residence laws but that is less the 10% of the metro population. Add to that the car obsessed culture we have here and it can be really strange. I have one “friend” who bought an extra spot in a building just so nobody got close to his car. In my inner suburb developers are required to have a space per bedroom, that is good since my roommate has turned the garage into a storage unit, while my truck sits down the street with all my tools needed as a contractor, waiting to be stolen. just venting, Thanks

  22. Tom Schwerdtfeger says:

    While I applaud your willingness and wish to be more urbane given your current living arrangement, I would ask you to consider the other end of the urban living spectrum. I live and work as an urban planner in the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

    Due to an ongoing economic boom coupled with a land shortage, and exacerbated by a large temporary workforce, we find ourselves with single family homes that house a family and two or three renters. As a result there are often four or five vehicles associated with a home, and by that I am referring to at least one in every four homes.

    If we were to allow the conversion of a garage to liveable space, it would become in many cases another rental room for a single male with a pickup truck to park somewhere. In fact, I am dealing right now with a homeowner who has converted his garage to two bedrooms and squeezed a further three bedroom spaces into his three bedroom house (a total of 8 bedrooms) – with no parking – on a cul de sac. His neighbours are, shall we say, non-plussed.

    All I’m saying is that discussions of parking standards and offering flexibility must consider the urban context.

  23. Tom Lane says:

    Alan – You might like the rules and regulations in Reno, Davis, CA, and Thousand Oaks, CA. They have large setbacks for garages, so that cars are not too close to the street. They also have wide streets; some streets include a bike lane AND ALSO a strip for parked cars + a sidewalk and grass strip.

    See Reno bike lane / parking strip / sidewalk – This street says no parking due to the bike lane, however, that is not the case on all streets –

    http://smartgrowthusa.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/nw-reno-robb-drive-no-smart-growth.jpg

    Many streets in these cities also ban Overnight Parking, making it safe for cyclists and pedestrians at night. Thousand Oaks also prohibits all cars from being parked for more than 72 hours (you have to move your car every 72 hours).

    In this Reno office park, parking is prohibited along red curves and is relegated to the back of the complex (not shown) – they also preserved much of the native vegetation (sagebrush, etc.) -

    http://smartgrowthusa.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/monte-vista-great-offices1.jpg

    More photos at,

    http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/reno-nevada-rio-rancho-new-mexico-cut-impact-fee/

  24. Curious says:

    Alan, can you post a link to the Seattle Municipal Code requiring that single family residences have off street parking? I am quite skeptical that this is a true requirement! In my neighborhood (Roosevelt) new apartment buildings need not provide any parking at all so this requirement of single families would be grossly unfair. If this really is a part of our city code, this part of the law certainly contradicts the spirit of newer code!

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for your question, Natasha. In Seattle’s designated urban centers and urban villages close to frequent transit service, the most recent revision to the multi-family code in the city of Seattle waives parking requirements. I’ll write more about this smart policy soon. Perhaps the projects you’re speaking of qualify for that exemption.

      New single-family houses are still required to provide one off-street parking space citywide in Seattle. Scroll down to Table B at this link.

  25. Maggie says:

    The article states: One detailed, nine-year study of 32 middle-class families in southern California found they had so much stuff in their garages that only one fourth of them could fit their cars inside.

    However, it fails to mention the fact that the majority of CA residents do not have basements with their homes. What most of us would put in the basement here goes into the garages there.

  26. Angie - Custom Garages says:

    It amazes me what people store in their garages. I have to have mine organized or else I would not be able to find what I’m looking for. The most common thing I see with people who have garages but no cars are Man caves. Some turn out to be real nice but others you wonder why anyone would do that.

  27. Bob says:

    Great article. I have one addition – it is possible to turn the public street space into storage space – by storing your junk in a van. Streetsblog wrote an article about this a while back. Pretty amazing.

    http://streetsblog.net/2013/03/06/how-to-turn-a-public-parking-space-into-a-private-storage-locker-legally/

  28. Heath Borders says:

    Don’t required off-street parking spaces allow for slimmer roads (with parking only allowed on one side of the street)? I live in a suburb of St. Louis. We have no off-street parking requirements, but most streets in my neighborhood only allow parking on one side.

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