Inner Ring Residential Parking Study (2013)

The Inner Ring Residential Parking Study examines the relationship among cost of providing parking, residents’ choices about vehicles, and zoning requirements for parking within a geography described as “the Inner Ring,” encompassing neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, western Queens, and northern and central Brooklyn. These neighborhoods were selected for study because, of the areas where zoning requires residential parking, they offer the greatest potential to reduce parking requirements and improve other transportation options that can contribute to reduced auto ownership. Based on extensive analysis, the study identifies several principles to guide parking policies and to inform future discussions about land use and parking in Inner Ring neighborhoods.

Executive Summary

The Department of City Planning approaches parking policy as a part of its efforts to plan for the sustainable growth and development of the City, while maintaining and improving mobility and accessibility. For over a decade, the Department has worked to steer growth toward denser, transit-served areas and away from low-density areas dependent on cars for travel. This approach has been successful: From 2003 to 2013, the percentage of new housing units located within one half-mile of transit has increased steadily. While the automobile remains an important element of the City’s transportation system, recent trends indicate a shift toward public transit. The Department’s 2011 PDF Document Manhattan Core Public Parking Study documents that New York City has successfully induced a greater proportion of travelers into the Manhattan Central Business District to use mass transit rather than automobiles, and the Department of Transportation’s 2010 Sustainable Streets Index documents a more than two percent decline in citywide traffic volumes since 2000.

This study examines key issues related to determining the appropriate amount of required off-street parking for various neighborhoods. To promote the City’s environmental and quality of life goals, zoning regulations for off-street parking must strike a balance: Providing parking can be costly, particularly at higher densities which require structured parking, and excessive parking requirements could hinder housing production, making housing less affordable. In addition, households that live in dense, transit-rich neighborhoods own fewer cars, and they drive them less, so it makes sense to have lower parking requirements in these neighborhoods. This also means that achieving transit-oriented growth in these neighborhoods contributes to an overall reduction in vehicle ownership and driving, which is beneficial to the environment. To sustain this kind of growth and continue to attract and retain residents, though, the quality of life in these communities must remain high. This requires not only fostering mixed-use neighborhoods with pedestrian-friendly streets and access to shopping, services, and employment, but also maintaining an adequate supply of residential parking for people who choose to own a vehicle, even if they use it infrequently.

As the noted parking scholar Donald Shoup observed in his book The High Cost of Free Parking, there is no intrinsically “correct” amount of parking to require for a new development. Demand for parking is a product of numerous factors, including the price charged for parking, which is in turn shaped by the supply of parking in the area. A thorough evaluation of parking requirements will therefore examine not only the requirements themselves, but also the interactions between off-street parking regulations and the marketplace – the developments that provide parking and the people who use it.

Today, except in the Manhattan Core (Community Districts 1 through 8) and a portion of Long Island City in Queens, New York City’s Zoning Resolution requires new residential buildings to provide accessory parking for a percentage of residential units. Each zoning district specifies a minimum requirement, with the highest requirements in lower-density districts, which are concentrated in areas that are less well served by transit, and the lowest requirements in higher-density districts, which are generally close to transit. The amount of parking required can be reduced for affordable housing, and in medium- or high-density districts, parking can be waived for smaller buildings and sites. 

This study focuses on a geography identified as “the Inner Ring,” encompassing neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, western Queens, and northern and central Brooklyn. The Inner Ring was selected for study because, of the areas where zoning requires residential parking, it offers the greatest potential to reduce parking requirements and improve other transportation options that can contribute to reduced auto ownership. Though physically, demographically and socioeconomically diverse, neighborhoods in the Inner Ring share several characteristics important to transit-oriented development: they are dense, mixed-use communities close to subway lines, where many residents can frequently reach destinations by transit, on foot, or otherwise without the need for a private car. They also have relatively low rates of automobile ownership and commutation by car.

By combining for the first time building-level data on motor vehicle registrations, new housing, and zoning requirements, along with a household travel survey and data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this study seeks to understand how parking requirements factor into developers’ decisions about providing parking spaces for new housing; how off-street parking affects the choices residents make about owning, using, and parking vehicles; and how the cost of providing parking may affect the development of housing, including affordable housing.


The Inner Ring Residential Parking Study produced the following key findings:

  • Overall, car ownership rates for the Inner Ring are lower than those for the City as a whole and far lower than those for the nation. Within the Inner Ring study area, only 35 percent of households own a vehicle compared to 46 percent in New York City as a whole and 91 percent throughout the United States.  Multiple car households are far less common in the Inner Ring (7 percent) than nationwide (58 percent).
  • Within the Inner Ring, car ownership varies according to factors including geography, household characteristics and building size. Vehicle ownership rates vary by borough, size of building, and income level, and even among similarly sized buildings in the same borough, reflecting that the decision to own a vehicle results from a range of factors. Research revealed that within the Inner Ring, vehicle ownership rates do not have a direct correlation with the amount of parking required by zoning: the smallest buildings (of one to four units), which had the lowest effective parking requirements because of waivers available under zoning, had the highest rates of ownership.
  • Vehicle ownership varies from building to building, making shared parking resources important. For buildings of five or more units, on average, the number of parking spaces required, the number of parking spaces provided, and the number of vehicles owned were similar. However, there was substantial variation in vehicle ownership from building to building.  As a result, for any given building, any amount of required parking is unlikely to match exactly the number of vehicles owned by residents of the building. This highlights the importance of providing more flexibility for residents to park their cars throughout the neighborhood.
  • Households in the Inner Ring that own cars use them for a variety of purposes. Surveyed car owners were twice as likely to use their cars for shopping or household errands as for commuting to work. Only 42 percent of respondents stated that they had used their cars within the previous week to commute to work. Other trip purposes more commonly cited than work were visits to family and friends, leisure, and entertainment. This indicates that, while transit and other non-car options meet the commuting needs of most Inner Ring residents, many Inner Ring residents own cars for other purposes.
  • Non-car-owning households also make regular use of hired or shared vehicles. Ninety-seven percent of non-car-owning residents reported using a car, such as a family member or friend’s car, taxi or car service, rental or car-share vehicle, in the past month.
  • In the zoning districts commonly mapped within the Inner Ring, required parking can be waived for smaller buildings and sites, substantially lowering the effective parking requirement. Zoning districts in the Inner Ring require parking for between 40 and 85 percent of dwelling units, with lower percentages required in higher-density districts; however, in most Inner Ring zoning districts, smaller buildings may waive or reduce parking requirements (e.g., in an R6A district, required parking is waived for buildings with 10 or fewer units). Affordable housing developments also have lower parking requirements. After accounting for these permitted reductions in the amount of required parking, the effective parking requirement for all residential developments (publicly subsidized and non-subsidized) built in the Inner Ring between 1998 and 2008 was a space for 22 percent of units. This reflects the large proportion of small buildings and subsidized housing constructed during this period. When waivers for accessory residential parking were available, they were often, but not always, used. About half of non-subsidized waiver-eligible buildings with 10 or fewer units chose to provide parking, as did about a third of waiver-eligible buildings with more than 10 units.
  • Car-owning households in the Inner Ring make decisions about where to park based on the options available in their neighborhood, not just in their building. Surveyed households that owned cars were most likely to park them on-street, and next most likely to park off-street at a location other than their residence. Over half of surveyed vehicle owners parked their cars on the street, and less than one-fifth parked off-street at their own residence, while just over one-fifth parked off-street at a different location. This can likely be explained by the fact that on-street parking, where available, is generally free, while off-street parking is not, and that many vehicle owners do not live in buildings with parking. In addition, many new large residential developments in the Inner Ring operate their garages as public parking (with a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs), so this parking effectively serves as a shared neighborhood resource, rather than a building-specific amenity.
  • In larger buildings, the presence of parking on site has only a small effect on the likelihood that residents will own cars. Inner Ring residents are accustomed to parking off site, and generally do not consider on-site parking as a precondition for owning a car. Forty-two percent of surveyed vehicle owners lived in a building without off-street parking, and 43 percent of non-vehicle owners lived in a building with parking. In new buildings of one to four units, the presence of off-street parking correlates with substantially higher vehicle ownership rates. However, for new buildings with five or more units, the presence or absence of on-site parking does not have a large effect on the number of vehicles owned by the building’s residents. This likely reflects that parking for small buildings is generally reserved for building residents, while as noted above, parking in larger buildings is often used by residents from throughout the neighborhood, and not just by building residents.
  • Inner Ring residents generally pay a fee for off-street parking, though the amount they pay varies. Economic theory dictates that including parking for free with the price of housing, also known as “bundling” of parking, encourages auto ownership and increases the cost of housing. This study found that residential parking in the Inner Ring is generally “unbundled” – paid for by residents separately from housing. This means that scarce parking spaces are allocated to people who choose to pay for them, though they do not necessarily pay the full cost of building parking spaces. Ninety percent of surveyed households that parked off-street reported paying for parking, and more than half paid at least $100 per month. However, 80 percent paid $200 or less per month, which is unlikely to cover the cost of building new structured parking. Parking prices vary in different Inner Ring neighborhoods, as does the supply of off-street parking. Free on-street parking, which is heavily utilized, serves as an alternative to paid off-street parking.
  • The costs of providing parking and the revenues generated by parking are important factors in developers’ decisions about whether to build parking. Whether a building is eligible to waive required parking or must provide a specified number of spaces, a developer may elect to provide parking beyond what is required. The size of the building has an effect on the likelihood that the developer will provide additional parking. Smaller buildings can often provide surface parking at a low cost, and as described above, many smaller buildings provided some parking despite the ability to waive the zoning requirement. Larger buildings were less likely than smaller buildings to provide more parking than required. This can be explained in part by the fact that these buildings typically require structured parking, which is expensive to provide, and the prices most Inner Ring residents pay for off-street parking appear to be insufficient to recover fully the costs of building new structured parking. This produces a financial disincentive to provide parking voluntarily. In addition, current parking requirements were established based on the amount of parking that fits on a single level; exceeding this amount by more than a few spaces would require a second level of parking and substantial additional cost – another disincentive to the voluntary provision of parking. Developers also consider factors other than direct revenues from parking, such as the importance of parking to prospective residents. This can lead to different amounts of parking provided even for buildings of the same size within the same neighborhood.

  • Affordable housing is more susceptible than market-rate housing to the cost implications of requiring accessory parking, and its residents own fewer vehicles. Affordable housing subsidy programs often cannot cover the costs of structured parking, and the costs of parking cannot be recouped by charging residents, who are less able to pay for parking than residents of market-rate housing. For recent developments with five or more units, affordable housing averages many more units per building than market-rate housing, making it more difficult to use parking waivers. Vehicle ownership rates decline as household income decreases, and there is extremely low vehicle ownership in special needs housing such as low-income housing for the elderly.


Based on the findings of this study, several principles are identified to guide parking policies and to inform future discussion with communities, elected officials, and other stakeholders about opportunities to reduce parking requirements in Inner Ring neighborhoods:

  • Recognize that accessory residential parking facilities in the Inner Ring often provide parking for residents throughout the neighborhood, and are often operated as public parking. Most Inner Ring car owners already use “shared” parking, keeping their cars either on-street or at other garages or lots in their neighborhood. Many new large residential developments in the Inner Ring operate their garages as public parking rather than as a building-specific amenity, despite zoning regulations which anticipate that parking will be used primarily by building residents. Allowing public parking more broadly could have multiple benefits. Shared parking facilities reduce the total number of parking spaces needed to serve a neighborhood. In addition, enabling garages to rent spaces more flexibly would increase revenue, making it more likely that parking revenues cover the costs of constructing a garage, and reducing the need for housing prices to cover these costs.

  • Evaluate off-street parking requirements on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. While this study identified overall patterns in vehicle ownership across the Inner Ring, vehicle ownership rates varied significantly from borough to borough and among neighborhoods in the Inner Ring. The parking supply that is most important to residents is the local supply, since they generally seek to park close to their homes. It is therefore important to look at parking policy at a neighborhood level. Taking into consideration the balance between the costs of providing off-street parking and the need for new parking to support development, modifications can be considered to better match parking regulations to neighborhood characteristics. In areas where parking requirements are higher than necessary, requirements can be reduced. Engagement with community stakeholders and elected officials would be a key component of any process to amend parking regulations.

  • Update the parking requirements for affordable housing to reflect current programs and vehicle ownership rates. While the parking requirements for affordable housing developments have not been substantially changed in 25 years, the nature of affordable housing development has shifted in recent years toward larger buildings which are more likely to require costly structured parking. Affordable buildings are less able to support the costs of providing off-street parking than market-rate buildings, and their residents are less likely to use it.

  • Continue to expand the availability of transportation options in the Inner Ring.The low auto usage and ownership in the Inner Ring is a reflection of its dense, mixed-use neighborhoods with good access to transit. Surveyed Inner Ring residents who did not own cars reported frequently using shared or hired vehicles, indicating that the availability of such choices made it easier for them to choose not to own a car. Improving the range of transportation options available in these neighborhoods, including street-hail taxi service, car sharing, bike sharing, bus service, and ferry service, along with cultivating walkable destinations for shopping and services, can enable the continued growth of these neighborhoods and support a high quality of life for their residents while minimizing the number of automobiles that need to be parked.