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Updated: January 22, 2024 Editorial

Editorial: Reduce parking requirements for new developments

Few things are more annoying than having to look for parking. If you need to arrive at a meeting on time or are attending a large-scale event, the inconvenience of spending extra time searching for a place to leave your car can become a high-stress scenario.

So, any proposal to decrease the amount of available parking in urban centers can seem like a crazy concept. Unlike Boston, Central Mass. does not have a lot of high-density development, though Worcester, Framingham, Leominster, Marlborough, and Fitchburg each have sections of their communities where parking is tight. When WBJ conducted a Flash Poll of its readers in early January asking about the elimination of off-street parking requirements for new developments, 60% of respondents were firmly against such a plan. The truth remains most major American cities are still designed around the automobile, while robust public transportation infrastructure continues to lag. The car remains the best way to get around, so why should we make them more inconvenient to use?

Yet, as WBJ's cover story for the Jan. 22 edition “Parking paralysis” says, most of the guidelines around parking minimums for new developments are nearly 70 years old and don’t reflect today’s transportation options, much less the best-possible future use of urban cores. Cities like Austin, Texas, and Anchorage, Alaska, have relaxed their parking minimums for new developments. The City of Worcester is looking at its parking requirements as part of the The Worcester Now | Next Citywide Plan, which will become the coordinated master plan for new developments. City leaders should update these decades-old laws. Larger Central Mass. communities should follow suit.

Beyond the long-term lofty goals of easing American dependence on cars and creating more walkable cities, there are shorter-term economic benefits. Reducing parking requirements makes the development of new housing less expensive to build, which means developers have a lower threshold to build more housing, which is badly needed. Stringent parking requirements can be a significant barrier to development, plain and simple, and right now, we need to make sure parking regulations are not excessive.

And, clearly, off-street parking is not the best use of precious urban real estate. The new parking garages popping up alongside larger housing developments throughout Worcester are too often eyesores, depleting Worcester’s urban vibrancy. While Worcester has visions of turning its downtown into a lively neighborhood, 35% of the property in the downtown area is dedicated to parking, according to Oregon nonprofit Parking Reform Network. In Boston, that figure is 6%; in New York City, it’s 0.4%.

Worcester’s Canal District proves that people will find a place to park their cars – or find alternative ways to get there – if you provide enough amenities to entice them. Working to replicate this success while lowering the barrier to development should be a key goal in Central Mass. urban planning.

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