Paved Paradise

How parking minimums have shaped our distorted reality.

In the Sunshine State, paradise is giving way to pavement. While our cities should be teeming with affordable housing and thriving small businesses, we find ourselves overwhelmed by a sea of parking lots.

That's Florida today, thanks to outdated regulations forcing local builders and contracts to build parking spaces we don't need. Despite nearly 45% of Florida households owning one or zero cars, our laws demand up to two parking spots for every new housing unit. Below, you will learn how costly parking mandates originated from flawed national standards, how they waste valuable land and resources, how they hurt small businesses and residents, and how they can be reformed or eliminated to create more livable and sustainable communities in Florida.

The United States has approximately 4 parking spots per car, yet much of it is unused, harming housing affordability, small business operations, and the environment.

Minimum parking requirements are not rooted in rational studies. Nearly 45% of Florida households have one car or no car, yet city codes require an average of 1.5 to 2 parking spots per new unit.

For residential purposes alone, those codes suggest needing over 3 million excess parking spaces. In Miami-Dade County alone, existing codes would require 500,000 excess residential parking spots – that would require 8x the area of all of Downtown Miami’s office space.

There are Four Parking Spots Per Person in Florida.

Business owners and home builders should be allowed to determine their own parking needs based on market conditions, not outdated national guidelines. Our 4-part series looks into where these regulations came from and how they’re negatively affecting our communities.

An 11,000 SQFT restaurant needs a parking lot that is even bigger, 11,529 square feet. That’s like building a second restaurant just for cars.
A 2-story mixed-use building with that restaurant, and a story of housing above it with 14 units requires a parking lot that is about 4/10ths an acre.
A 3-story mixed-use building with a restaurant, and 2 stories of housing above it with 28 units requires a parking lot that is over ½ an acre
A  4-story mixed-use building with a restaurant, and 3 stories of housing above it with 42 units requires a parking lot that is over 2/3rds of an acre.
A  5-story mixed-use building with a restaurant, and 4 stories of housing above it with 56 units requires a parking lot that is over 3/4th of an acre.
A  6-story mixed-use building with a restaurant, and 5 stories of housing above it with 70 units requires a parking lot that is over 9/10th of an acre.
A  7-story mixed-use building with a restaurant, and 6 stories of housing above it with 84 units requires a parking lot that is over 1 acre.

Florida is paradise – Why are we covering it with pavement?

Florida used to build places like this:

St. Augustine, Florida.

But today, most of Florida looks like this: 

An Empty Parking Lot on Black Friday in Miami-Dade County

Cities leveraged national standards – But these national guidelines are proven to be unreliable 

Cities rapidly adopted parking minimums starting in the 1950s based on a set of national parking guidelines, but these standards lack scientific rigor.

Due to ease of data collection, the majority of guidelines are based on suburban locations with large parking lots and limited transit ridership, resulting in significant overestimates.

Most guidelines are based on floor area, yet floor area and parking usage are not highly correlated.

Parking minimums have imposed one-size-fits-all standards and infringed on business owners’ rights and judgments.

Most commercial minimums are based on floor area, resulting in standards such as:

1 parking spot (~275 sq ft) per 100 sq ft of fast food restaurants (as applied from Naples to Plant City and across Florida) – resulting in 32 spaces for an average-sized fast food restaurant.

1 parking spot (~275 sq ft) per 250 sq ft of retail (as applied from Miami to Tallahassee) – regardless of store type, transit access, and neighborhood walkability.

Overestimates of parking needs by ~15% even in the most car-dependent districts, and in more walkable and transit-accessible neighborhoods, the ITE manual recommends 2x the parking actually required.

Parking lots often required to be larger than the buildings they surround.

Should these two Cheesecake Factories be told they need the same-sized parking lot?

Cheesecake Factory in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Cheesecake Factory in Sunrise, Florida

Florida needs more affordable housing – but parking requirements unnecessarily increase housing costs

Florida needs to construct 4x the current number of affordable units to meet the growing housing demand.

Statewide, housing and transportation costs 49% of the typical income, with housing costing 28% and transportation costing 21%

Homebuilders use the saved space and resources to build more housing units, which increases housing supply

Developers are mandated to construct expansive surface lots, which not only deter transit and pedestrian accessibility but also result in hidden charges for tenants, even if they don't use the parking.

Housing without parking: more affordable and more units

Many Floridians need less parking, yet parking requirements raise home costs.

Across the state, ~45 of households have one or no car, yet requirements are often 2 parking spots per home or condo.
In Miami-Dade County alone, ~15% of residents are carless, and ~40% have only one car.

Parking alone can increase the rent of a single unit by ~17%, and parking requirements limit new homes from smaller lot sizes.

Households by car ownership

Parking minimums impede residential conversions.

About 40% of potential affordable housing renovations and replacements would not be feasible with current parking requirements, including refurbishments to older buildings and conversions of former office and industrial space.

Residential conversions in neighborhoods like Little Havana would require razing entire buildings just for parking – in addition to raising the cost of residential conversions.

Parking alone for new residential buildings could reduce businesses in Little Havana – in addition to preventing affordable conversions

Currently, this historic Little Havana building has no parking. If rebuilt today, this would be required to have 44 parking spots, making this project unfeasible.

Removing parking minimums is shown to enable small business creation and job growth

Parking costs for a mixed-use building with a restaurant on the bottom floor

Parking minimums unnecessarily increase the cost of doing business in Florida. For a 2,000 sq ft restaurant, parking requirements would increase building costs by approximately:

$600,000 with a surface lot in Flagler County.
$400,000 in Miami-Dade County.

Walkable districts encourage local spending

“Park once” districts encourage residents and visitors to visit multiple local businesses per trip.

Studies show that consumers visit more local businesses and spend more per month when they can walk.

Miracle Mile represents a “park once” district that allows businesses to not have to provide parking, and patrons can park once and access multiple locations.

Removing costly parking mandates would open up high-demand land for further business and job growth

Tampa and Orlando: ~30% of downtown occupied by parking.

Flagler County: Parking requirements per restaurant require 6x the seating area of a restaurant.

Downtown Miami: About 20% parking lot.

Downtown Tampa: 30% parking lot.

Case studies of Cities That Removed Parking Minimums

Fayetteville, AR, repealed commercial parking minimums in 2015, resulting in multiple new businesses opening in previously abandoned or unused spaces.

Repealing parking minimums in Sandpoint, ID, saved small businesses from demolition previously required for parking lots for new businesses, in addition to allowing other small businesses to utilize unused parking space better.

Fayetteville, AR Vacant since 1972, this building was reopened as a restaurant thanks in part to eliminated parking minimums.

Sandpoint, ID Monarch Mountain Coffee was saved from demolition required to make room for required parking for a new bank branch.

Parking lots create urban heat islands.

Parking lots cause urban heat islands, making the air temperature in these heat islands 7-9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter. 35% of Jacksonville lives in a heat island at least 8 degrees hotter than normal, along with over 75% of Miami.

How Heat Islands Work
Trees and urban greenery provide shade and combat the heat island effect by reflecting sunlight.
Alphalt tends to absorb heat and raise the ambient temperature of the area.

 Parking lots exacerbate stormwater runoff.

Almost 100 percent of the rain that falls on parking lots produces runoff. One inch of rain falling on an acre of hardened surface produces 27,000 gallons of runoff. One acre of parking is enough to fill an entire backyard swimming pool with water runoff

1 Acre Parking Lot Runoff
1 Standard swimming pool

A 50 Unit Apartment Building Parking Lot creates emissions equal to burning over 100 barrels of oil.

GHG emissions from concrete and asphalt to construct a parking lot and resurface.

Each parking spot emits 0.17 tonnes of CO2 annually.

GHG emissions from concrete and asphalt to construct a parking lot and resurface.

Success stories Removing and reducing parking minimum is proven to spur growth.

In cities where parking minimums were eliminated, affordable housing development proposals jumped fivefold.

And in Florida, reducing parking minimums in Cutler Bay directly contributed to the financial feasibility of new senior living communities.

Florida's regulatory regime of excess parking through parking minimums wasn't born from a vacuum but crafted by misguided urban planners and traffic engineers in our cities. Over the years, what started as well-intentioned policy has been mistaken as a communal necessity that every city must mandate.

Cities are fueling this challenge, but short-sighted localities make it challenging to lift parking minimums on a city-by-city basis. Local officials often focus intently on their immediate parking situations, on a short-term and small scale. This approach fails to consider broader impacts regionally and long-term consequences.

To move forward, we must respect property rights and give back power to owners and residents to utilize their land as they see fit, championing enterprise and removing barriers to constructing affordable housing.