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San Francisco's Reduced Residential Parking Requirements

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Image via Aaron Klein

Image via Aaron Klein

(Note: This is another in our series of expert blogs on TOD highlighting work and research that experts and advocates are doing in the field. Alyssa Sherman researched residential parking policy as a student in San Jose State University’s Master of Urban Planning Program, and completed her Master’s Thesis on this topic in May of 2010.)

Today, cities are increasingly looking to planning policies that will help minimize the negative impacts of single occupant vehicle trips on the environment. Parking, a once-overlooked area of transportation planning policy, is now widely viewed as an arena where modifications may have great potential for influencing mode choice.

Many cities are now exploring how revisions to residential parking requirements may alter travel behavior and improve economic and environmental conditions. For years, cities wrote minimum parking requirements into their zoning codes, which required that developers build at least a designated minimum number of off-street parking spaces along with new residential developments. Today, a minimum of one to two parking spaces per unit is generally the norm for residential developments.

Although these policies were intended to prevent spillover parking on the street and to respond to market demand for residential parking, in recent years it has become apparent that minimum parking policies subsidize the cost of using single occupant vehicles and encourage people to use vehicles.

To encourage people to ride transit, walk, or ride a bicycle to their destinations more often, cities are now beginning to reduce the amount of residential parking that developers are required to provide. Portland, Oregon and Seattle have eliminated minimum residential parking requirements in dense urban areas from their zoning codes.

San Francisco eliminated minimum residential parking requirements in certain areas that are well-served by transit and went even further by instituting residential parking maximums in these areas, which set a cap on the amount of parking that developers can provide.

In downtown San Francisco, a dense area that is predominantly composed of commercial and office space with some high-rise residential developments, developers can build up to .75 parking spaces for each new housing unit. Up to one parking space can be built for each unit with two or more bedrooms. The same maximums apply to parts of Hayes Valley, a residential neighborhood adjacent to downtown San Francisco that falls under the Market and Octavia Area Plan.

In the neighborhoods that are included in the city’s Eastern Neighborhoods Area Plans (The Mission, East SOMA, Central Waterfront, Showcase Square, and Potrero Hill), the residential parking maximums are .5 to .75 spaces per unit, with up to .75 or 1 parking spaces allowed per unit with Planning Commission approval if the spaces are operated with mechanical stackers or by valet.


San Francisco backs its progressive residential parking policies with a strong philosophy that describes the ability of parking policy revisions to improve urban aesthetics, reduce traffic, increase density, and reduce housing prices. As more cities reduce parking requirements, these benefits are sure to become more widely experienced.