Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2097, a bill eliminating parking requirements statewide for new housing and commercial developments located within a half-mile of major transit stations. It’s likely the most significant parking reform legislation ever passed, removing the parking mandates that often represent a significant burden to the cost and feasibility of housing construction.
CA is making housing cheaper & easier to build by eliminating parking requirements for new housing near transit and daily destinations like jobs, grocery stores, & schools.
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) September 22, 2022
It’s one thing for a single city to update its parking requirements to bring transit-oriented planning in line with what’s increasingly understood to be best practices for encouraging affordability and denser urban growth, but an entire state committing to this transformative policy shift is something else — a sign that the narrative is truly shifting on the high cost of free parking. You may not like to hear it, but just this once, it’s time to California our Austin by adopting a similar policy change here.
We’re not holding our breath for Texas to copy this legislation statewide, but with Project Connect’s massive transit investment set to take shape over the next decade, Austin is uniquely positioned to adopt parking reform now as the first critical step toward unlocking transit-oriented development adjacent to the numerous rail stations planned along our major corridors. While we’d prefer to abolish parking minimums citywide, the California approach of tying their removal to transit proximity seems like an equitable compromise, and one that could potentially pass here without much fuss — and not to sound too dramatic, but we’re running out of time.
What’s the rush? At the rate of Austin’s ongoing development, we’re already seeing numerous parcels located near future Project Connect stations pursuing residential and office projects under the parking requirements of the current code, and every building raised within walking distance of a planned train station without this consideration will someday represent a policy failure. Parking reform in Austin wouldn’t require the seemingly insurmountable headache of updating our ancient Land Development Code, and with Project Connect’s expansive layout in mind, the removal of these mandates within a half-mile of transit like California’s new policy would free up a huge portion of the central city.
We’ve hollered about this issue for years, trying to make Austinites understand that parking is never truly free, and that the removal of these minimums wouldn’t force developers to remove all parking in new buildings but rather allow projects to build how much they need on an individual basis — which makes a lot more sense than requiring, say, a bar to have 100 parking spots. But even though we’re never going to stop hoping for the abolition of parking minimums citywide, the transit-based approach illustrated in California’s new policy already feels transformative enough. It’s time for Austin to copy their homework before it’s too late.