.How Bay Area Apartment Buildings Waste Money, Space on Car Parking

This week’s cover story, “A Green Solution to Oakland’s Housing Crisis,” examines how Oakland developers, guided by outdated planning policies, continue to construct unnecessarily large parking garages in new apartment buildings. As a result, residential developments often waste a significant amount of money and space on parking spots that sit empty, which drives up the cost of housing and stymies the creation of affordable units. And the suburban-style zoning policies that lead developers to build giant parking lots and garages also continue to accommodate and encourage excessive car ownership, making the city less environmentally sustainable. 

TransForm, an Oakland-based transportation advocacy group, is spearheading an effort to push Bay Area cities and developers to build less parking and instead invest in more affordable housing and in projects that promote alternative modes of transit (for example by giving tenants public transit passes, car-share memberships, and bike parking). As part of its program called GreenTRIP — which recognizes developments that have forward-thinking parking strategies — TransForm has compiled and analyzed extensive data from across the region showing how wasteful existing apartment garages are how cities are on track to build a huge excess of parking if policies don’t shift. Below are some of the group’s most revealing findings that I wasn’t able to include in the print feature. 

[jump] The organization’s GreenTRIP Parking Database includes data from 68 apartment buildings — shedding light on a number of relevant trends that local developers and policymakers should consider when designing and reviewing new projects. The group, which began collecting statistics in 2013 and continues to add to the database, surveys property managers and developers — conducting on-site interviews and nighttime visits (12 a.m. to 5 a.m.) to analyze how much parking buildings provide and how many of the spaces are unused.

GreenTRIP’s online data platform — which allows users to drill down by location, type of project, and other factors, and also includes links to detailed reports for each individual building — currently has stats for fourteen Oakland buildings. As I noted in print, an average of 27 percent of parking spaces were unused in those buildings, correlating to roughly 133,200 square feet of wasted space and unnecessary expenditures of $22 million in construction costs. Here’s our graphic illustrating those findings (and you can review all the Oakland data here):

Across all 68 buildings, an average of 31 percent of parking spaces were unused, representing roughly 849,300 square feet of wasted space and construction costs of $136 million. For context, here’s a map showing where all the participating buildings are located:

Unsurprisingly, the developments that provide fewer parking spaces per unit tend to waste less money on constructing spaces that go unused. For buildings that provide 1.6 parking spaces or more per unit — meaning well above the standard one-space per-unit that is often the minimum — projects had an average of 37 percent unused parking spaces. For example, in one building in Hayward that built 84 parking spaces for only 37 units — a very high 2.27 spaces-per-unit ratio — 58 percent of the spaces were unused. That translates to $3.9 million in construction costs for parking spaces residents aren’t occupying. That project is also located right next to the Hayward BART station.

On the flip side, for projects that provided fewer than one space for every two units, an average of 29 percent of spaces were unused. Though that vacancy rate was lower, it suggests that even buildings with more progressive designs featuring limited parking still tend to build more spaces than residents need. One San Francisco project in that category — located in downtown near BART and many transit lines — provided only 35 spaces for 108 units (.28 per unit) and as a result only had 5 spaces (14 percent) that were unused. 

Across 23 Alameda County buildings (which include the 14 Oakland ones I previously mentioned), an average of 34 percent of spaces were unused, correlating to roughly 278,700 square feet of wasted space and unnecessary expenditures of $47 million. You can review the county data here. 

In addition to the GreenTRIP database on existing excess parking, TransForm provided me with its analysis of how developers could, given current patterns, waste money and land on parking moving forward in a number of Bay Area cities it studied. Ann Cheng, director of GreenTRIP, last year did rough calculations estimating the amount of unnecessary parking new buildings could include over the next two decades. Cheng completed her analysis using official forecasts of the total new housing units projected to be built in each city by 2040 and using the cities’ specific zoning policies on the number of parking spots developments should include.

Under current policies, Oakland, which is forecasted to create roughly 51,000 new housing units by 2040, developers could build as many as 64,000 new parking spaces, costing a total of $2.5 billion to construct. But if all those developments followed GreenTRIP standards — which call for much less parking — developers would build 28,000 fewer parking spots. That’s a 44 percent reduction, representing savings of over $1 billion.

From the estimates Cheng provided, here is a summary of five other cities:
San Jose is currently on track to build 129,280 new housing units and 232,704 new parking spots, which would cost $5.3 billion.

Under GreenTRIP guidelines, San Jose would only build 116,352 new parking spots, which would cost $2.6 billion. 

Walnut Creek is currently on track to build 7,370 new housing units and 11,055 new parking spots, which would cost $365 million.

Under GreenTRIP guidelines, Walnut Creek would only build 7,370 new parking spots, which would cost $243 million.

Sunnyvale is currently on track to build 19,030 new housing units and 34,254 new parking spots, which would cost $716 million.

Under GreenTRIP guidelines, Sunnyvale would only build 23,788 new parking spots, which would cost $497 million.

Mountain View is currently on track to build 9,400 new housing units and 14,100 new parking spots, which would cost $296 million.

Under GreenTRIP guidelines, Mountain View would only build 11,750 new parking spots, which would cost $247 million.

East Palo Alto is currently on track to build 860 new housing units and 1,462 new parking spots, which would cost $26 million.

Under GreenTRIP guidelines, East Palo Alto would only build 1,075 new parking spots, which would cost $19 million.

Across those five cities and Oakland, developers would save more than $4 billion if they followed GreenTRIP standards instead of current city zoning guidelines.

For more on parking policies and housing, read this week’s feature, “A Green Solution to Oakland’s Housing Crisis.” 


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