Untitled, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from kayaker1204’s photostream

Some of Pittsburgh’s greatest assets are our walkable business districts and neighborhoods. These business districts support our economy, provide meeting places for residents, and create the “small-town” feel that makes Pittsburgh so special and unique compared to similarly sized cities. We have to preserve these human-scale neighborhoods and business districts and enhance them through smart planning and development that encourages walking, biking, and public transportation.

1. Re-Examine Mandatory Parking Minimums

Many cities around the country are examining their zoning rules that often require developers to build costly parking garages or unsightly surface parking lots that may not even be used by residents. When we force developers to build a minimum number of parking spaces we ensure that more cars will be added to the streets, traffic congestion will worsen, and public health will suffer.

Pittsburgh already relaxes the minimum parking requirements for commercial development in some neighborhoods including East Liberty and Oakland and for all types of development Downtown. But we could do much more. We should tie parking requirements to transit access. For developments within reasonable walking distance to transit lines we should relax or eliminate parking requirements. If developers want to build parking and if the market supports it, they will, but we shouldn’t force them to.

2. A Regressive Subsidy

Parking minimums are one of the most regressive taxpayer subsidized zoning requirements in use. When developers are forced to spend money to build unnecessary parking we all suffer. Especially when those developers receive public money in the form of tax increment financing, grants, or loans. Many residents of Pittsburgh don’t have the means to own a vehicle or simply don’t want to own one. They shouldn’t pay for ugly surface parking lots at new commercial or residential developments in transit-rich neighborhoods.

3. Promote Public Transportation

When developers can save money by building less parking, they are much more likely to build in areas well served by public transportation. And when development occurs in areas near transit lines, people are much more likely to use public transit, which helps fund our important public transportation system, reduce traffic congestion, and improve air quality.