Weaver – Winter 2024

The People Over Parking Act: A Double-Edged Sword

David Weaver

Minimum Parking Regulations (MPRs) are provisions within municipal zoning codes that require developers to build a minimum number of parking spaces to receive permission to build, expand, or change a building’s primary use.[1] While MPRs are designed to reduce traffic congestion, they actually create worse traffic conditions.[2] MPRs worsen traffic congestion through the phenomenon of induced traffic. Induced traffic occurs when infrastructure designed to reduce congestion worsens traffic — it has been shown to be caused by modal, spatial, and time convergence.[3] This occurs when commuters shift their method of transportation, which routes they use, and what time they commute because expanded automobile infrastructure now meets their needs at the peak time.[4] While new infrastructure like expanding a highway may result in a short-term reduction in congestion, within a few years the traffic is often worse than ever before.[5]

Beyond creating inefficiency and contributing to the congestion problem they are designed to fix, MPRs significantly contribute to urban sprawl,[6] flooding,[7] the affordable housing crisis,[8] climate change,[9] and negatively impact our local economies.[10] Further, they use faulty data and require a maximum capacity situation such as mall parking requirements that require enough capacity for Black Friday.[11]First implemented in Columbus, Ohio,[12] MPRs became ubiquitous in the 1950s[13] and have since spread across the nation. Fortunately, the movement to eliminate MPRs is growing[14] and is finally receiving Congress’s attention with the recently introduced People Over Parking Act.[15] This act could serve an essential role in building more resilient and sustainable communities if implemented by eliminating MPRs — however, in its current form, it would also eliminate desirable maximum parking regulations by preempting all local government regulation of parking.

Maximum parking regulations are the opposite of MPRs and set a maximum limit to the amount of parking a developer can build without an exemption. These maximum standards are seen by some municipal leaders as critical to limiting urban sprawl and providing their communities with a strong negotiation position when dealing with developers.[16] However, their effects may be less than those of simply removing MPRs. One study showed that the vast majority of London’s reduction in parking supply was caused by removing MPRs, with only 2.2 percent of the decline due to the adoption of maximum parking regulations.[17] This finding indicates that the best use of political capital is to eliminate MPRs rather than enact maximum standards. However, a federal policy that prevents maximum standards, as well as MPRs, nationwide would take a potentially powerful tool away from the municipalities that currently have the political capital to implement maximum parking restrictions. This blog post will provide recommended changes to the People Over Parking Act to better support the statute’s goal of putting People Over Parking, briefly address the constitutionality of the Act, and address concerns regarding federal overreach. 

Purpose of The People Over Parking Act

The stated purpose of the People Over Parking Act is “[t]o allow property owners the discretion to make decisions regarding how many parking spots to provide in connection with certain new residential and commercial developments, and for other purposes.”[18] This purpose makes a strong appeal to allowing individual choice, eliminating government regulations to allow the free market to control the demand for parking — this is commendable political messaging that can unite both liberals and conservatives. However, the act in its current form is flawed in that it limits municipalities from enacting maximum parking regulations. A better purpose, making the same strong appeals without limiting maximum standards, would be:

To prohibit municipalities from requiring property owners to provide a certain number of parking spots in connection with certain new residential and commercial developments, and for other purposes, thereby increasing property owner discretion over their property.

Section 2: Sole Discretion Provision

Specific provisions should also be modified to maintain municipality’s ability to enact maximum parking regulations. Section 2(a) of the People Over Parking Act states, “the owner of such structure or project shall have the sole discretion to determine how many automobile parking spots to provide in connection with such structure.”[19] This provision of the statute exhibits the same issues as the statement of purpose, prohibiting municipalities from enacting maximum parking regulations as well as MPRs. To allow the Act to prohibit MPRs without prohibiting maximum parking regulations, this provision should state:

The owner of such structure or project shall have the sole discretion to determine the minimum automobile parking spots to provide in connection with such structure.

Section 2: Act Coverage

Section 2(a) of the People Over Parking Act limits where this act would take effect.[20] As currently written, the act would preempt all local government regulations of minimum and maximum parking regulations for land “not more than 0.5 miles from the closest covered public transit point.”[21] This language is very similar to other MPR prohibitions such as California’s Assembly Bill 2097, which successfully prohibited MPRs in California for housing developments that are located within a half mile of public transit points.[22] However, not every municipality has public transit points, and growing municipalities that have MPRs are less likely to develop public transportation or pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, as MPRs lead to greater automobile dependency.[23] Eliminating MPRs from growing municipalities is critical to limiting urban sprawl and automobile dependency before the municipality is saddled with expensive and unnecessary automobile infrastructure. Of note, eliminating MPRs does not take away all parking, but simply allocates it more efficiently by allowing the market to determine supply.[24] While this public transit point provision works for some municipalities, it should be removed to cover all municipalities.

Fortunately, the People Over Parking Act, as written, also prohibits MPRs when the “project for such new construction or substantial reconstruction or rehabilitation that has been permitted or otherwise authorized by the appropriate agency of local government to be undertaken.”[25] This broadens the coverage of the Act significantly, as many municipalities require permitting, or (at a minimum) have site plan reviews authorizing new construction, substantial reconstruction, and rehabilitation.[26] While not every municipality has permitting requirements, those that do not are also unlikely to have MPRs. This is a strong provision within the Act, but this section could be more inclusive by removing the public transit point language:

In the case of a newly constructed or substantially reconstructed or rehabilitated residential, retail, commercial, or industrial structure in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, the owner of such structure or project shall have the sole discretion to determine the minimum automobile parking spots to provide in connection with such structure.

Although this revision may lead to the best-case scenario for wider coverage of this Act, it may make the provision less politically feasible. The public transit point limitation and the permitting expansion provide expansive coverage while still appearing to limit the scope of the act. 

Constitutionality of the Act

This act is designed to preempt local government power of land use regulation — land use regulation is strongly associated with local governmental authority. Typically, the federal government would not have the constitutional authority to preempt local governments in this way. However, the act includes an interstate and foreign commerce jurisdictional hook in §2(a) by including, “in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce.”[27] As Congress has an expansive enumerated power to regulate interstate commerce, this justifies their authority to regulate.[28] Additionally, the clear statement of purpose in this act expresses Congress’s clear intent to significantly shift the federal-state power balance in this area.[29] The U.S. Supreme Court has held that when Congress intrudes on a sensitive area, it requires a clear statement of intent to do so in the legislation.[30] While this uncommon attempt of the federal government to step into local zoning ordinances will face legal opposition, this act is well positioned to survive legal challenges.

Federal Overreach

While the jurisdictional hook and clear statement of intent will likely allow this act to survive legal challenges, this Act will almost certainly be labeled federal overreach into local government jurisdiction by opponents. However, because the Act targets local ordinances that contribute to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, flooding, and other negative externalities that cross state lines, there is no more federal overreach than in the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act.[31] Further, the federal government has a legitimate interest in reducing congestion on the channels of interstate and foreign commerce. MPRs in the aggregate have national, and even global impacts.[32] Therefore, it makes sense that the national government regulate MPRs.


The People Over Parking Act is an exciting and potentially society-changing bill that would lead to a more resilient and sustainable future for our communities by ensuring that land which could be kept in greenspace, used for public spaces, built for housing or other development, etc. is not designated for unnecessary parking. The Act’s one significant flaw is that it would eliminate useful maximum parking regulations along with the obsolete MPRs. While it would be better to eliminate MPRs nationwide than to keep the status quo (even if it meant also eliminating maximum parking regulations), we should not be so eager to rescind this effective tool. However, by changing a few words in the Purpose and Section 2 of the Act, this flaw can be fixed.

[1]  Nathaniel Meyersohn, This little-known rule shapes parking in America. Cities are reversing it, CNN (May 21, 2023), https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/20/business/parking-minimums-cars-transportation-urban-planning/index.html.

[2] Garrick C. McCahill et al., State Smart Transportation Initiative, Effects of Parking Provision on Automobile Use in Cities: Inferring Causality 164 (2015), https://ssti.us/2016/01/25/effects-of-parking-provision-on-automobile-use-in-cities-inferring-causality-mccahill-garrick-atkinson-palombo-and-polinski-2015/ (stating that “an increase in parking provision from 0.1 to 0.5 parking spaces per person is associated with an increase in automobile mode share of roughly 30 percentage points”).

[3] Anthony Downs, Still Stuck in Traffic 83 (2004).

[4] Id.

[5] Eden Weingart, Widening Highways Doesn’t Fix Traffic. So Why Do We Keep Doing It?, New York Times (Jan. 6, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/06/us/widen-highways-traffic.html; Joseph Stromberg, The “fundamental rule” of traffic: building new roads just makes people drive more, Vox (May 18, 2015), https://www.vox.com/2014/10/23/6994159/traffic-roads-induced-demand. 

[6] See Kyle Smith, The Center For Neighborhood Technology, Stalled Out: How Empty Parking Spaces Diminish Neighborhood Affordability 1 (2016), https://cnt.org/sites/default/files/publications/CNT_Stalled%20Out_0.pdf (stating that requiring more parking spaces increases the space between developments).

[7] See Impervious Surfaces and Flooding, U.S. Geological Survey (Jun. 5, 2018),https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/impervious-surfaces-and-flooding?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects (stating that impervious surfaces increase flooding risks).

[8] See Donald Shoop, The High Cost of Minimum Parking Regulations, 5 Parking Issues and Policies, 87, 96-102 (2014) (analyzing the costs of construction and space of parking spaces for housing).

[9] See Vehicles, Air Pollution, and Human Health, Union of Concerned Scientists (Jul. 18, 2014), https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/vehicles-air-pollution-human-health (“Passenger vehicles are a major pollution contributor” releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions).

[10] Rachel Quednau, Why Walkable Streets are More Economically Productive, Strong Towns (Jan. 18, 2018), https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/1/16/why-walkable-streets-are-more-economically-productive.

[11] Donald Shoop, Truth in Transportation Planning, 6 Journal of Transportation and Statistics, no.1, at 1, 4 (2003).

[12] Chrissy Mancini Nichols, Are Parking Minimums a Thing of the Past?, Walker Consultants (Feb. 13, 2019), https://walkerconsultants.com/blog/2019/02/13/are-parking-minimums-a-thing-of-the-past/.

[13] Andrew M. Fraser et al., Do Cities Have Too Much Parking?, Access Magazine (Jul. 11, 2016), https://www.accessmagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2016/11/access49-web-do-cities-have-too-much-parking.pdf.

[14] Robert Steuteville, Parking Reform Is Snowballing, Strong Towns (May 1, 2023), https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2023/5/1/parking-reform-is-snowballing.

[15] H.R. 3145, 118th Cong. (2023).

[16] Telephone Interview with Kurtis Pozsgay, Dir. of Cmty. & Econ. Dev. (May 5, 2021).

[17] Zhan Guo, From Minimum to Maximum: The Impact of Parking Standard Reform on Residential Parking Supply in London from 2004-2010, 50 Urban Studies 1191, 1197 (2013).

[18] H.R. 3145.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] California’s 2023 new law explained: AB-2097, minimum parking requirement for new housing, CBS8 (Dec. 30, 2022, 4:41 PM), https://www.cbs8.com/article/news/politics/2023-new-law-californias-new-minimum-parking-requirement-law-explained/509-2504c2da-2f2f-40f3-aee1-44ebaa38b285.

[23] Nathaniel Meyersohn, This little-known rule shapes parking in America. Cities are reversing it, CNN (May 21, 2023, 9:00 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/20/business/parking-minimums-cars-transportation-urban-planning/index.html.

[24] See Donald Shoop, The Trouble With Minimum Parking Requirements, 33A Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 549, 560-562 (showing how a policy of market prices for parking can avoid chronic over- or under-occupancy of parking).

[25]H.R. 3145.

[26] See, e.g., University City, Missouri, What Is A Site Plan Review, Ucitymo.org (Nov. 2015), https://www.ucitymo.org/DocumentCenter/View/8737/Site_Plan_website_Nov2015?bidId=#:~:text=Site%20Plan%20Review%20is%20a%20process%20where%20the,the%20City%20Planning%20staff%20and%20the%20City%20Council (description of University City, Missouri’s process for site reviews).

[27] H.R. 3145.

[28] U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3.; Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Auth., 469 U.S. 528, 547-50 (1985).

[29] H.R. 3145.

[30] Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 461 (1991).

[31] See generally 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401 et seq. (1963); 33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq. (1972).

[32] See Meyersohn, supra note 1 (explaining that the United States has approximately 2 billion parking spaces and that so much of this parking was built because of minimum parking regulations); Siri Chilukuri, One Solution To Fight Climate Change? Fewer Parking Spaces., Grist (Nov. 17, 2023), https://grist.org/climate/one-solution-to-fight-climate-change-fewer-parking-spaces/ (explaining that minimum parking regulations make communities automobile dependent and that cars represent a significant portion of the transportation emissions which makes up almost one-third of all carbon emissions in the U.S.).

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