by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
It was published a couple weeks ago, but this article from The Charlotte Observer is just perfect. Under the title, Charlotte’s light rail was supposed to change our attitude about cars. It hasn’t. Ely Portillo talks about the fact that, despite the millions spent on rail, developments around the line are still building about the same number parking spaces as they always have. The reason?
Developers say the market isn’t ready for apartments and commercial buildings with less parking, even next to mass transit, and that they can’t get funding for projects from lenders if they don’t include enough parking.
“The truth is they’re actually products. …The parking is seen as something that has to go with the building. You’ve got to have a bedroom, you’ve got to have stairs, you’ve got to have parking.”
There are some good changes that government can make. In particular, building codes sometimes mandate minimum numbers of parking spaces. These mandates should be lifted, as they have been in some areas around the transit line. But even where that’s happened, there’s still been a strong preference for cars.
That means in theory a developer could build an apartment building next to the Blue Line with no parking spaces and count on residents to either find their own on surrounding streets or get by with mass transit, walking, biking and Uber. The developers could also build fewer parking spaces than the traditional ratio of one car per bedroom – say, one space for every apartment rather than every bedroom, or one space for every two apartments, on the assumption that not every resident will own a car.
But so far, no developers have taken the city up on that. Charlotte planning staff are aware of only one apartment that has fewer than one space per bedroom – the Catherine 36 Apartments near the Carson Street light rail stop. The small building has 36 apartments and 32 parking spaces.
City officials and public transit advocates should take note. When mandates are lifted and developers are free to do what they want, they build plenty of parking. They do that because they know that’s what the people who will use their buildings want. Local governments would be wise to be guided by that demand, rather than trying to force people onto trains.