OH: Nearly 1/3rd of downtown Dayton is off-street parking. Is that too much?

Feb. 2, 2024
Having too much unneeded parking has an opportunity cost, some architects, planners and researchers say.

Feb. 1—A new study has found that nearly one-third of Dayton's central business district is off-street parking, adding fuel to debate over downtown's parking supply.

Some people think downtown has far too much off-street parking, given that some lots and garages are mostly empty much of the time.

Downtown Dayton has a larger share of off-street parking (29%) than the downtowns of other Ohio cities studied, which included Cincinnati (21%), Cleveland (25%) and Columbus and Toledo (both 27%).

Having too much unneeded parking has an opportunity cost, some architects, planners and researchers say.

"Parking displaces other uses of land downtown that would potentially generate more activity on our streets and create more tax revenue for the city, like apartments," said Matt Sauer, a local architect and a member of the Dayton Plan Board who has advocated for removing minimum parking requirements from the zoning code.

About 29% of Dayton's "central city" is off-street parking, according to the Parking Reform Network, a national nonprofit focused on educating the public about the impact of parking policies.

The network's analysis evaluated the amount of surface parking and above-ground parking in structured garages in the downtowns of more than 100 cities.

On-street parking was not counted and neither was underground parking and parking located in above-ground structures that also contain other uses, like offices and retail.

The share of parking was calculated by dividing the total parking area by the amount of "developable land." The network says its estimate excluded a quarter of the downtown area to account for roads and sidewalks.

The abundant availability of cheap downtown parking encourages people to drive to their destinations instead of using more environmentally-friendly modes of transportation, like walking, biking and public transit, said Sauer.

Many desirable downtown parcels are being used as surface parking when this real estate could be put to more productive uses, like housing or mixed-use developments, he said.

Downtown seems to have more parking than needed considering that large surface lots and garages sit empty and on-street parking is readily available a short walk from many downtown destinations, Sauer said.

"It's an implicit subsidy to people who live outside of the city," he said. "And the cost to build required parking gets bundled into apartment and commercial rents, affecting affordability."

The Dayton Daily News found on Tuesday afternoon about 63 cars were parked in the city-owned Oregon District Garage, which has about 1,735 spaces. Three of the five levels of the garage had zero vehicles, and one only had three cars.

In addition to the Oregon District Garage, the city owns another garage next to City Hall and a surface lot at East Second and North Jefferson Street.

The surface lot has 210 spaces, but there wasn't even one vehicle parked there on Tuesday afternoon.

Some private lots downtown were mostly empty on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Others, however, were nearly full.

Minimum parking mandates in communities across the nation are arbitrary and outdated and some are downright "ridiculous," said Tony Jordan, president of the Parking Reform Network.

The amount of parking in places like Dayton affects the urban environment and experience and the way a city functions, looks and feels, he said.

"What do people want? What do people like? What are the goals of your city and is that too much parking to support those goals?" Jordan said. "If 30% of your downtown is parking, your city is telling you, 'You should drive to me.'"

The more space there is for vehicles, the less space there is for people, shops, offices and other amenities that make downtowns vibrant, some researchers say.

Minimum parking requirements make cities friendly to cars, but not to people, says the Parking Reform Network.

Surface parking lots are never the best land use in a downtown environment and virtually any amount is not ideal, said Tony Kroeger, Dayton's planning and land use manager.

Dayton's current zoning rules, adopted in 2006, do not mandate a minimum number of parking spaces for any proposed land use in the Central Business District, which includes most of downtown, Kroeger said.

Zoning does not permit principal-use parking lots that do not serve adjacent buildings, Kroeger said, adding that parking structures should be designed to accommodate ground floor active uses, such as restaurants and retail.

"We agree with the Parking Reform Network that active land uses should be prioritized downtown and that parking, especially surface parking, detracts from the vitality of an urban environment," he said.

Dayton recently lowered its parking requirement for multi-family uses outside of downtown from 1.5 parking spaces per unit to 1 parking space per unit. Some people would like to see parking requirements eliminated citywide.

Cincinnati is on track to ban new surface lots in its downtown, and last year, Austin became the largest U.S. city to get rid of parking requirements for new developments.

Dedicating more downtown land to parking is not a priority, said Katie Meyer, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

However, she said there are opportunities to improve the downtown parking experience.

Some areas of the central business district are more saturated with parking than others and visitors may need to walk a couple of blocks to shows and events, she said.

She said it would help to increase awareness of the available parking downtown and make sure walking routes to destinations are clean and well lit.

She said multiple downtown parking garages and surface lots could benefit from investments in lighting, signage and other upgrades.

Developers are trying to revitalize a few unused or underutilized downtown parking garages, including the Air City parking garage at South Jefferson and East Fourth streets, which when renovated could offer about 380 spaces.

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