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Determining Parking Demand in An Evolving Real Estate Market

Image for Determining Parking Demand in An Evolving Real Estate Market As more and more cities move away from parking minimums, the question of how much parking is needed to support a project becomes much more complex. (Photo by Heather Collins.)

One of the significant challenges that comes with navigating the “new normal” of parking in a post-pandemic world is identifying what that new normal is. Altered behaviors and user patterns make previous baseline data obsolete and evolving trends in real estate development along with code changes have presented unique challenges for developer pro formas.

In the past, determining how much parking was needed to support a project was largely determined by city municipal code parking ratios. The amount of parking needed for an office development versus residential was a matter of following an existing formula. But as more and more cities move away from parking minimums, the question becomes much more complex. With uncertainty still running high about the recovery of mass transit and the emergence of telecommuting as the routine rather than the exception, the question gets even murkier.

Tackling these issues requires a lot of teamwork, understanding of the project and its intended userbase along with knowledge of the surrounding area and its parking needs. Parking experts utilize shared parking and parking demand studies to project scenarios and estimate the total parking supply needed to serve a project. The process involves reviewing and analyzing land uses, local zoning standards and practices, existing conditions and much more to calculate parking demand in terms of peak usage on a monthly, day of the week and time of day scale. Proximity to transit such as train stations or bus stops along with highly bikeable or walkable locations may reduce parking demand, while lack of access to these resources make more parking desirable.

These studies are especially important for mixed-use projects with multiple land uses and therefore differing parking needs. For instance, mixed-use projects with office and residential typically have complementary parking needs: office employees are parked throughout the day, while residents are more often parked on evenings and weekends. Users are also able to utilize multiple land uses on a single visit in a mixed-use project, such as an office employee who patrons a restaurant for lunch, or a resident who also visits the café every morning. Shared parking studies take all of these behaviors into account and explore how parking can be integrated to avoid overbuilding.

While it may sound simple, this parking planning process is very complex and layered. In addition to local existing conditions, some developers may have historical data from similar projects they wish to be taken into account or have a parking supply count they believe is necessary for marketability of their project. However, post-pandemic, historical data has to be examined carefully to ensure it is still an accurate benchmark for user behavior. Analyzing how a project fits in the marketplace touches more than just parking design, and a number of specialties may be needed to come to the right solution.

Some cities now set parking maximums instead of parking minimums to reduce reliance on parking. More and more cities are even eliminating parking requirements for transit-oriented developments. However, changes in code requirements do not always reflect current demand. This has the unusual effect of putting some developers in the opposite position they are accustomed to: justifying why parking demand is higher than what cities require. Having an experienced advocate accustomed to collaborating with city officials can help everyone come to an equitable solution.

The widespread uncertainty in the market also highlights the importance of being flexible. Densifying parking through the use of valet parking operations or mechanical and automated parking solutions can not only provide more parking in the same or less square feet than a traditional self-parking program, but it can also allow developments to adjust their parking supply up or down as demand changes. Mechanical lifts can be added or disassembled and removed if demand changes, and valet programs can also be modified to accommodate more vehicles or done away with entirely if no longer needed.

However, the successful integration of solutions like these is dependent on the level of service desired for end users. Self-operated mechanical lifts, for example, are less user-friendly to retail shoppers who are unfamiliar with the system and do not use it often, while residents of a housing development who will use them daily can be trained to operate it.

As every project is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all answer and bringing in parking expertise in the early stages of a project can be a key to success. While developers know their project better than anyone else, parking experts understand the nuances of parking in invaluable ways and can help navigate the changing landscape of parking to set projects up for success.

About the Authors

Jess McInerney, SE has been creating parking solutions for nearly 30 years. He is a licensed engineer in 5 states. Jess is responsible for the design of over 200 parking projects and leads parking structure design for the firm. An active member in the Urban Land Institute, Jess has both written and spoken on the future of parking, the cost of designing for adaptive reuse, mixed-use parking, below grade parking and the integration of Photovoltaics into parking structures. 

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Matt Davis has been creating parking solutions for over 20 years. He has worked on over 125 parking projects and is a certified Parksmart Advisor. In addition to delivering projects to satisfied clients, Matt’s projects, such as the Tustin Metrolink Station Parking Structure and UC San Diego Osler Parking Structure and Visitor's Center, have received recognition from the International Parking Institute and other associations. An active participant in the International Parking & Mobility Institute and the Pacific Intermountain Parking & Transportation Association, Matt has penned and spoken on a number of industry topics, such as Healthcare Parking as the First Line of Customer Service, Green Parking, Transit Parking Best Practices, the Future of Parking, Protecting Your Parking Investment and Right Sizing Parking.

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Mike has over 20 years of experience in architecture and an outstanding track record of providing a high level of quality, service and responsiveness to his clients. He began his career with Watry Design, contributing on projects such as the Granada Garage and Office Building and the City of Fresno Convention Center Parking Structure. After 15 years spent further developing his comprehensive expertise in architectural design and project delivery, he returned to our firm in 2020. Since then he has focused on managing private projects with multiple stakeholders, including Sounder South Parking & Access Improvements Design-Build Criteria & Project Management, and the SAP Center Parking Studies.

An active member of the International Parking & Mobility Institute and the US Green Building Council, Mike has written and spoken on topics such as Functional Fixes and Designing with Mass Timber.

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Shruti has worked exclusively in parking design for 5 years and has over 15 years in Architecture. Having worked in both the public and private sectors, she is familiar with both the client and designer sides of complex projects, which allows her to easily put herself in her client's shoes, an invaluable skill in achieving their goals.

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