Parking in Residential Areas

PAS Report 214

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Parking Standards

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Information Report No. 214 September 1966

Parking in Residential Areas

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Prepared by Gail Ornstein

The average automobile is in motion only a small percentage of the time. During the remaining time it is stationary, parked somewhere along a street or off the street on a lot or in a special parking facility. While stationary, the car requires a certain amount of space for storage and accessibility; the problem lies in finding this space.

The specific aspects of this problem vary from one city to another, between different areas within a city, and from one hour to the next. The hours of peak demand and the length of time that a car remains in a parking space vary; so do the facilities provided to meet this demand. What does not vary, however, is the gravity of the problem. As the number of cars multiplies, parking needs preempt increasing proportions of urban space, and more and larger parking areas have to be provided for every land use.

This report is primarily descriptive; it surveys current practices and standards. It offers neither a "pat" solution to the parking problem nor standards for off-street parking requirements. It is concerned with the parking problem in residential areas. It discusses the residential parking problem, as it exists in older residential areas and in newly developing residential districts, the extent to which this differs from non-residential areas, and the need for appropriate public action. Most importantly, the report summarizes the provisions for off-street parking in selected zoning ordinances.

Characteristics of Residential Parking

That parking in residential areas has certain unique characteristics is evident from a comparison between parking in residential and non-residential areas. In the first place, parking in residential areas consists of more than merely providing an adequate number of parking spaces; it involves finding the proper place to park cars. Most of the newer residential areas are developed at a sufficiently low density to provide needed space along the street. This contrasts with non-residential areas (and with some older residential areas, especially in the central city) where the intensity of development is so high that curb space is clearly inadequate and off-street parking is a necessity. Yet off-street parking requirements apply specifically to new residential development. And, they are often prompted by reasons other than the amount of curb space or the width of streets. One reason for off-street parking requirements is community appearance — or the desire to keep cars out of sight and to keep the environment attractive. Another reason is a concern for safety; streets cluttered with parked cars may be hazardous. Since off-street parking requirements in residential areas are based mostly on community sentiment, the requirements often seem arbitrary to the outside observer. The fact is that no standards are universally valid, and each community must decide for itself to what extent curb parking is acceptable and to what extent off-street parking should be required.

A second characteristic of residential areas is that the required parking space is related to car ownership. In non-residential areas, however, space is provided for all cars used to reach them — by customers, employees, visitors. In residential areas, the use of the cars is largely irrelevant. One significant result of this difference is that the availability of mass transit facilities in any residential area has little impact on parking needs; a person may use accessible mass transit to get to work, but he still may own a car for other reasons. Therefore, the average number of cars per family in an area served by mass transit may differ only slightly from the average in an area which has little or no such service. Another result is that residential parking is aimed at satisfying the "long-term" parking demands of car owners, not the "short-term" demands of visitors and commercial vehicles. The demand in residential areas for overnight parking is indeed greater than in commercial or non-residential areas, with the peak demand occurring between the hours of 2:30 and 5:30 a.m.l Often the short-term demand is completely ignored. Visitors are left to their own devices; it is expected that they will find space along the curb or will pay for space in a garage or parking lot. Where apartment buildings provide free off-street parking, the visiting driver is invariably greeted by a sign: For Residents Only. It is also assumed that commercial vehicles, which remain in one place for only a short period of time, will find space along the curb or, if necessary, will double-park.

A third characteristic of the parking problem in residential areas which is not evident in non-residential areas is the concern over devoting too much residential land to parking, the concern over the possibility that the area will be dominated by parking spaces, on and off the street. While the sight of cars parked hither and yon may be displeasing, so is the sight of great expanses of asphalt. And an off-street parking requirement which eliminates one eyesore may inadvertently create the other. An example is Berkeley, California, where, because of a ban on overnight on-street parking, homeowners began paving their front lawns. At first they were able to do this without a city permit, but soon an ordinance was adopted to control the location and size of these "off-street parking facilities."

A possible solution is suggested by the approach of the Cincinnati zoning ordinance. Cincinnati attacked the problem of too much asphalt by giving builders an incentive to locate required off-street parking within the structure:

Where part of all of the off-street parking spaces required for a multi-family dwelling are provided within the principal building, the minimum lot area per dwelling unit specified in Tables A and B may be reduced by a maximum of twenty per cent (20%), in accordance with the following formula:

x 20%, where a = the number of spaces provided within the principal building, and

                         b = the number of spaces required for the multi-family dwelling.

(Sec. 503.3)

Other communities have tried to prevent single-family districts from being dominated by parking garages by limiting the number of spaces permitted in a garage attached to a single-family home. For example, Middletown, Connecticut, prohibits more than four cars per garage in a restricted residence zone and more than five cars in a general residence zone; and Warren, Michigan, limits the number of permitted vehicles to three.

Existing Versus Future Development

Public measures to deal with parking needs differ for existing and future residential development. A community may ensure adequate parking for future developments (or for new structures in existing areas) simply by including appropriate requirements in its zoning ordinance. The situation is not so clear-cut for existing residential areas, i.e., areas which were built up before parking requirements became common in zoning ordinances or before car ownership reached present-day proportions.

There are at least three factors which make alleviation of the parking shortage in developed residential areas difficult. First, zoning provisions apply only indirectly in these areas because ordinances usually specify that existing properties do not become non-conforming if they fail to meet current parking requirements. The situation is further complicated by the scarcity of vacant space available for off-street parking in these areas. This is especially true of apartment districts developed around the turn of the century at a density much higher than is now generally practiced in suburban areas. This scarcity exists despite the fact that automobile ownership tends to be lower in these apartment districts than in single-family districts. An article entitled "Population Densities and Automobile Ownership in a Metropolitan Area" by Robert C. Schmitt postulates that "the number of automobiles per household is closely (and inversely) associated with households per net acre and [also with the number of] households in multi-unit structures."2 The third difficulty is that land for off-street parking in medium- and high-density residential districts is expensive as well as scarce. Where owners of apartment buildings provide off-street parking for their tenants, they often charge a fee which may be as high as $35 per month or even higher if parking is enclosed. Contrast this with suburban communities where lots tend to be large, land values tend to be lower, and off-street parking is provided free of charge as a matter of course.

Nevertheless, with the increasing reliance on automobiles, there is little reason to believe that in the future people will be willing to forego the convenience of owning a car for the dubious privilege of living in the central city. Thus, if the older parts of our cities are to be made livable for middle-income families, the provision of sufficient parking is mandatory.

Although zoning provides only a partial solution to the parking problem in existing residential areas, it does have a role. For instance, the zoning ordinance may permit developers of new buildings to rent or lease off-street space to meet the needs of the residents of nearby property. An example is the Detroit ordinance which in Section 5.1 provides for "the rental or leasing of parking spaces in the rear yard where found by the Commission to be essential to the public interest as evidenced by a serious need for off-street parking facilities and as being not injurious to the surrounding neighborhood." Approval is subject to several limitations, including the following: the parking spaces shall be used for parking private passenger vehicles only; the rental of parking spaces shall be restricted to residents of the surrounding neighborhood; access to rental parking spaces shall be from an alley only; and open parking rental spaces shall be hard surfaced with an asphaltic or portland cement binder so as to provide a permanent, durable, and dustless surface. Section 7.12 of the Chicago ordinance provides that "not more than 25 per cent of the accessory parking spaces required for a dwelling, lodging house, or a hotel may be rented out on a monthly basis to occupants of other dwellings, lodging houses, or hotels."

However, if the ordinance permits parking space in new buildings to be leased to residents of nearby buildings, precautions should be taken to insure that the property is used primarily for residential purposes and not for parking. As already noted, this is accomplished in Chicago by limiting the number of spaces which may be provided beyond the amount required by the zoning ordinance. In Tacoma, Washington, off-street areas with a capacity in excess of four parking spaces are designated as public parking areas and subject to the procedures and minimum standards of such areas, including review and approval by the public works department.

Zoning may also help alleviate the parking shortage by making exceptions to the normal regulation that required off-street parking spaces be located on the same zoning lot as the dwellings served. Vacant lots may thus be converted to parking lots to accommodate the needs of nearby apartment buildings. The provision for the R4 through R8 general residence districts in the Chicago ordinance furnishes an example:

. . . all parking spaces required for one or two-family dwellings, shall be located on the same zoning lot as the dwelling served. Parking spaces required for all other uses shall be located on the same zoning lot as the use served, except as provided as a Special Use; in which case, uses, other than one or two-family dwellings may be served by parking facilities located on land other than the zoning lot on which the building or use served is located, provided such facilities are located within 500 feet walking distance of a main entrance to the use served, except that parking spaces required to serve multiple-family dwellings shall be located within 300 feet walking distance of a main entrance to the use served. Off-site parking spaces accessory to a use in [R4 through R8] may be located in an R4 or less restricted district but may not be located in an R1, R2, or R3 District.

(Sections 7.12-2 and 7.12-3)

Zoning, however, proves an inadequate tool to deal with parking needs in developed residential areas; it can permit but not demand. This, then, raises the question of using public powers to acquire land and make it available for parking in these intensively developed areas. Urban renewal seems to be a particularly suitable tool, and in several communities, such as Chicago, sites have been cleared, designated specifically for parking, and offered to nearby property owners at a write-down price. While this method does much to alleviate the parking shortage, it may have unfortunate aesthetic effects. Parking on individual lots breaks up street frontages and, especially at intersections, has a tendency to turn lots into paved wastelands. The visually blighting effect of vast parking lots on commercial areas may thus be repeated in residential districts, and the gain in parking may become an aesthetic loss. Only with sensitive design and consideration of the over-all appearance of a neighborhood can the potentially adverse effects of parking lots be avoided. The aesthetics of parking lots was the subject of an earlier Planning Advisory Service Report.3

A good case can be argued that since providing parking for residential districts in the central city benefits specific groups, it — like the provision of parking for newly constructed or substantially altered buildings — is essentially a private responsibility. However, an equally good case can be made for the opposite view that the precarious position of central city residential districts requires that the public provide needed parking as a municipal service. The difficulty is not in obtaining the land (the use of eminent domain), but in financing the acquisition of land and the construction of parking lots. It appears that except for urban renewal subsidies of land write-down, general municipal revenues have not been used to finance residential parking facilities. Parking facilities have been financed through public revenue bonds, to be retired by income from parking fees, or through special assessments against properties which will benefit from the facility. Milwaukee provides an example of an unusual method of raising funds to finance off-street parking. A $4 per month special parking fee is required for all-night on-street parking and an amount of money equal to the income from this fee has been budgeted for off-street facilities.

Although the older, built-up residential areas often face serious parking shortages not amenable to easy solutions, providing for parking in future residential development can be regulated through zoning. Off-street parking requirements in zoning ordinances are now almost universal (although for some districts in some communities no requirements are made). The objective of these requirements is twofold: to prevent a recurrence of the functional obsolescence which has beset areas in central cities and to enhance the appearance of the community by keeping cars off the street. The problem in these areas has a different dimension; it is not whether off-street parking should be required, but how much should be required. To provide a guideline for communities faced with this question, the following section of the report summarizes the parking requirements in a number of zoning ordinances. The section also deals with those instances in which requirements are reduced; it touches on design standards and mentions special provisions for commercial vehicles.

Parking Provisions in Zoning Ordinances

Tables 1 and 2 summarize residential parking requirements in the zoning ordinances of selected cities. Table 1 includes ordinances which make distinctions on the basis of housing type — single-family detached, duplex, multi-family — regardless of the zoning district in which the dwellings are located. Table 2 contains ordinance provisions which distinguish between requirements on the basis of zoning district regardless of the type of dwelling located in the districts.

Table 1

Parking Requirements by Type Of Housing Spaces/Dwelling Unit

Ordinance Single-Family Multi-Family
2-Family 3-Family and Above
Anchorage, Alas. (1964) 1 1 1
Mesa, Ariz. 1 1 1; except 3/5 when the dwelling unit consists of not more than 1 room and bath and kitchen
Berkeley, Cal. (amended to1964) At least 1 At least 1 At least 1
Chula Vista, Cal. (1964) 1 ½ ; except in R-1: 2 (1 in a garage) 1 ½ 1 ½
Fremont, Cal. (1964) 1 1 1 ½
Fresno, Cal. (1960) 1 in a garage or carport 1 in a garage or carport 1 in a garage or carport
Livermore, Cal. (amended to 1965) 1 covered space 1 covered space 1-1/3 (1 covered, the other 1/3 may be uncovered)
Los Angeles, Cal. 1 on same lot 1 on same lot 6 or less dwelling units: 1 on same lot; more than 6 dwelling units of more than 3 rooms each: 1 ¼ for each unit of 3 or more rooms
Merced, Cal. (1964) 1 1 3 or less units: 1; 4 or more units: l ½; efficiency apartments: 1
Modesto, Cal. (1966) 1 1 l ½
Mountain View, Cal. (1962) Not less than 1 in a garage or carport and 1 parking space Not less than 1 in a garage or carport and 1 parking space dwelling units having 2 or more rooms in addition to kitchen and bath: 1 in a garage or carport and 1 parking space

dwelling units having less than2 rooms in addition to kitchen and bath: not less than 1 in a garage or carport and ½ space
Oceanside, Cal. (1964) 1 1 1
San Francisco, Cal. (amended to 1964) 1 1 1
San Jose, Cal. (1964) 1 1 1; Central City: ¾; R-3-A: l ½; R-3-C: 2
Santa Barbara, Cal. (amended to 1960) 2 l ½ l ½
Torrance, Cal. Not less than 2 nor more than 3 in a private garage on same lot Not less than 2 in a private garage on same lot for each duplex 1 in a private garage on same lot and ½ space in a garage or open area
New Canaan, Conn. (1964) 1 1 l ½
New Haven, Conn. (1963) 1 1 1
Sioux City, Iowa (amended to 1963) 1 1 1
Evanston, Ill. (1960) 1 and 1 per 2 roomers or lodgers but no more than 4 unless located within 30' of an alley with access Not less than 1 nor more than 2 and 1 per 2 roomers Dwelling, attached: not less than 1 nor more than 2; Others: 1
Lombard, Ill. Not less than 1 nor more than 4 on the same lot Not less than 1 nor more than 2 on the same lot At least 1
Detroit, Mich. (amended to1963) 1 1 2 stories or less: ¾; Over 2 stories: ½
Royal Oak, Mich. (amended to 1960) 1 and 1 per 2 roomers 1 and 1 per 2 roomers 1 and 1 per 2 roomers
Warren, Mich. (July 21, 1960) 1 on same lot 1 on same lot 1 ½
Duluth, Minn. (1958) all dwellings three stories or less: 1   multiple dwellings over three stories: 2/3
Rye, N.Y. (1964) 1 1 1 ½
Durham, N.C. (amended to 1964) 1 1 1
Cincinnati, Ohio (1963) 1 1 1
Shaker Heights, Ohio (amended to 1960) 1 in a private garage 1 in a private garage 1 in a private garage and ½ space per dwelling unit which may be outside
Scranton, Pa. 1 1 1
Wilkes Barre, Pa. (amended to 1960) 1 1 1
Cranston, R.I. (1966) 1 plus 1 per rental room 1 plus 1 per rental room 1 plus 1 per rental room
Memphis, Tenn. (amended to 1966) 1 1 1
Nashville, Tenn.  (1962) dwelling structures with 1 to 4 units: 1   Over 4 units: 1 for each dwelling unit up to 20 units and  space for each dwelling unit over 20
Austin, Tex. (amended to 1959) 1 1 1
Corpus Christie, Tex. (1964) 1 1 1
El Paso, Tex. (1962) 1 1 1
Lubbock, Tex. (amended to 1965) 1 1 1 ½
Ogden City, Utah (1964) 1 1 1 ¼ and 1 per 2 paying guests
Alexandria, Va. (1963) 1 1 1 bedroom: 1; 2 bedrooms: 1 ¼
3 or more bedrooms: 1 ½
Lynchburg, Va. (1964) 1 1 1
Portsmouth, Va. (1962) 1 1 5 stories or less: l; over 5 stories: 1 ¼
Seattle, Wash. 1 1 1
Milwaukee, Wis. 1 1 3 stories or less: 1; 4 or more stories (except multi- family dwellings having less than 2 bedrooms in B and B-1 districts): 2/3

Table 2

Parking Requirements Based on Zoning District

Ordinance Single-Family Districts Multi-Family Districts
District Requirement (Spaces/DU) District Requirement (Spaces/DU)
Claremont, Cal. (1964) A-1, R-A,  R-E, R-S, T-1 2 in a garage or carport R-2, R-2A, T-2, T-3, R-3, R-3A, C-P 1 1/3; one must be in a garage or carport
Palm Springs, Cal. R-1, R-3 2 R-2, R-3, R-4

1 1/10

1 1/10 and1 for the second bathroom and each additional bathroom
Palo Alto, Cal. (1963) RE

2 spaces; 1 of which must be covered

1 covered
R-Dup (Two-family)

R-2, R-3-G, R-3, R-3-P, R-4, R-5
1 ½ in an enclosed garage

1 covered
Richmond,  Cal. (1961) R-1

CR (predominantly open land)
1 on same lot


R-2, R-3
1 ½

1 on same lot
Sacramento,  Cal. (1964) R-l, R-2, R-3 1 R-4, R-5 ¾
Washington, D.C. (amended to 1960) All districts 1 R-5-A
R-4, R-5-C
R-5-D, SP
West Palm Beach, Fla.  (1964) R-1 1 R-2(Two-family)

R-3, R-4, R-5, R-6

New Orleans, La. (January 1966) A 1 B

C, D

1 on same lot
Minneapolis, Minn. (proposed 1960) R-1 1 R-2, R-2-A
R-2-B (Two-family)

R-A, R-4, R-5, R-6

B1-1, B1-2, B1-3


8/10 or 6/10 efficiency units
Clarkstown, N.Y.  (1955) R-A, R-A1, R-1 2, and spaces for accessory home occupations or agricultural use R-2, SC 1 ½
Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. (1960) SR-20, SR-10 SR-7.5 2, and 1 per roomer or boarder RB (Two-family)


2 and 1 per roomer


1 ½
Irvington, N.Y. (amended to 1961) IF-40, IF-20, IF-10


2F (Two-family)


1 ½ not more than 2/3 in the open
White Plains, N.Y. (amended to 1963) R-O, R-1, R-2 1 R3 (Two-family)

R-4, R-4A, R-6

Columbus,  Ohio (1960) R-l, R-2, R-3, R-2F, R-4 1 on same lot AR-l, AR-2, AR-3 1 not more than 500' away
Fairfax County, Va. (1964) All  districts 1 RM-l (Town House)

RT, RM-2, RM-2G, RM-2H, RM-3

1 ½; 1/3 located          for frequent in-out vehicular movement
Tacoma,  Wash. (1964) R-1, R-2 1 on same lot R-3, R-4-6, R-4, R-5 1

The most common requirement is one space per dwelling unit for every type of unit in every district. In some cities the requirement is raised to one and a half or even two spaces per unit for single-family homes, whereas more than one and a half space per unit is seldom required for multi-family housing. While the requirements for multi-family units normally are lower than those for detached homes, in some instances a requirement of one space per single-family home is raised to one and one-half space for apartments, especially in the suburbs. Some ordinances specify that the required number of parking spaces must be enclosed in a garage; this requirement seems to be dictated by the desire to improve the quality of housing rather than to satisfy parking needs. In some cases, the requirements are geared to the size of the dwelling. This is especially true for apartments and is apparently based on the assumption that the occupants of large apartments are likely to own more cars than the occupants of efficiency and one-bedroom apartments.

The Federal Housing Administration has included recommendations for off-street parking in its land-use intensity ratings.4 As shown in Table 3, the suggested requirements vary with the intensity of development rather than with the type of housing or zoning district. The FHA standards are unique in that they recommend a different ratio of parking spaces to dwelling units for residents (occupant car ratio) and for visitors (total car ratio).

Table 3

FHA Recommended Parking Standards*

Land-Use Intensity Number of Dwelling Units per Gross Acre** Total Car Ratio Occupant Car Ratio
3.0 4.0 2.2 2.0
4.0 8.0 1.6 1.5
5.0 16.0 1.2 1.1
6.0 32.0 0.9 0.8
7.0 64.0 0.7 0.6
8.0 128.0 0.5 0.4

*Table compiled from FHA Land-Use Intensity referred to above.

**The size of the dwelling unit is set at a uniform 1089 square feet for the purpose of computing land-use intensity.

The zoning ordinances of New York and Boston treat parking requirements in an unusual way. In New York City the number of required spaces varies with the type of facility provided. Where individual parking facilities are provided, one off-street space per dwelling unit is required in the R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, and R7-1 districts. When a group parking facility is provided, the requirement is equivalent to the individual requirement in the R1 through R4 districts (one space per dwelling unit), but it is reduced to 8.5, 7, 6 and 5 spaces per 10 dwelling units in the RS, R6, R7, and R7-2 districts, respectively, and to 4 spaces per 10 dwelling units in the R8, R9, and RIO districts. A group parking facility is defined in the New York ordinance as "a building or other structure or a tract of land, used for the storage of motor vehicles, which contains more than one parking space, which has access to the street common to all spaces, and which, if accessory to a residential use, is designed to serve more than one dwelling unit."

In Boston the number of off-street spaces required for residential uses is based on the floor area ratio and is thus similar to the FHA approach. Section 23-1 of the Boston ordinance provides the following:

Maximum Floor Area Ratio Spaces per Dwelling Unit
0.3 or 0.5 1.0
0.8 or 1.0 0.9
2.0 0.7
3.0 0.6
4.0 0.5
5.0 0.4

In establishing standards for off-street parking, two factors should be kept in mind. One is the increase of multi-car households. According to the Automobile Manufacturers Association, the number of multi-car households increased from 4.2 million to 11.8 million between 1956 and 1965, or from 8.8 per cent of all households to 20.6 per cent. The largest number of multi-car households is found in the suburbs.5 Last year alone the increase was 1,650,000 households; in the future multi-car ownership may become the standard rather than the exception.

The other factor in establishing standards concerns the effect of requiring too much off-street parking space. This affects the density of apartment building development. The higher the parking requirement, the more land consumed by parking and the less land available for the building and open space. It also affects the density at which single-family houses can be developed. The higher the parking requirement, the larger the lot needed to accommodate both house and parking area. Requiring too much space may also create a residential district which is dominated by parking facilities.

Thus, in establishing an off-street parking requirement, the fact that car ownership is increasing and more parking space is required must be balanced against the disadvantages of devoting too much residential land to parking.

Reductions in Parking Requirements

Some zoning ordinances permit a reduction in the number of spaces required for dwellings which are located in the central city or on a small lot or which are designed for housing the elderly or low-income groups. In none of these cases does such a reduction seem a recommendable practice.

It is sometimes assumed that downtown residents are less likely to own cars because of their proximity to jobs, shopping, and recreation and because of the availability of public transportation; off-street parking requirements are therefore lowered. In Philadelphia the basic requirement of one space per dwelling unit, regardless of district, is reduced to one space per two dwelling units for buildings containing 25 or more units in the "center city." The Chicago requirement of spaces for 60 per cent of the number of dwelling units and 40 per cent of the efficiency units in general residence districts is reduced to 40 per cent of the number of dwelling units in the CBD. Another example is the ordinance of San Jose, California, which requires that parking spaces be provided equal in number to 75 per cent of the total number of units in buildings containing three or more units, if located in the "central area"; outside this area a uniform requirement of one space per unit prevails.

Other off-street parking provisions permit a reduction for small lots which are developed for residential use. The requirements are waived entirely in Chicago and Minneapolis for lots 33 feet or less in width which are developed for residential purposes, and for which there is no access from an alley. In Sacramento, California, the requirement is waived for 40 by 80 feet "old city" lots. The New York City provision permits a reduction in the number of required off-street spaces for lots of 15,000 square feet or less.

Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and New York City are among the cities that permit a reduction in required off-street parking for dwelling units intended for use by the elderly. In Chicago the specific number of spaces required is left to the discretion of the Department of Development and Planning. In Cincinnati off-street parking may be reduced to one space per four dwellings and in Milwaukee to one space per two dwellings. New York City permits reductions according to the following table:

Percentage of total dwelling units

(Section 25-25)

The New York provision applies specifically to nonprofit residences for the elderly. The provisions from Milwaukee and New York also apply to low-income housing.

Design Standards

Most zoning ordinances set standards for the size, location, and design of the parking space as well as for the number of spaces to be provided. These standards vary, but only to a limited extent.

Size. — Usually the minimum size for the required off-street spaces, exclusive of aisles and driveways, is from 160 to 200 square feet with the majority of the provisions requiring a minimum area of 180 square feet. This size space accommodates a full-size car. Although compacts and small foreign cars are popular today, reducing the required size of the parking space might result in complications if there should be a turnover in residents or a change in the taste of the car-buying public.

Location. — Most zoning ordinances specify that the parking space be on the same lot as the dwelling unit. Exceptions are sometimes made for multi-family housing if the required space is on an abutting lot or if it is provided within a specified distance of the building. This distance varies: in Cincinnati it is 100 feet; in Ithaca, New York, and Austin, Texas, it is 200 feet; in Seattle, 450 feet; in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, "500 feet walking distance"; and in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, "700 feet airline measurement." If the parking area is within reasonable walking distance of the building, the parking problem is apparently combated as effectively as if the space were provided on the same site.

A small but growing number of zoning ordinances regulate the location of parking spaces on the lot. Some of these prohibit placing a parking space in the front yard (Rye, New York; Chicago, Illinois; New Orleans, Louisiana; Mesa, Arizona). Others prohibit placing it within a given distance of a lot line (Rye, New York, five feet from the lot line; Denver, Colorado, 10 feet from the lot line; and in New Orleans, Louisiana, a carport must be at least two feet from the lot line). Still others regulate the placing of a space in a side yard adjacent to a street; Chula Vista, California, prohibits it completely. Springfield, Massachusetts, prohibits locating an unenclosed parking space within 25 feet of a street line or within 10 feet of any other lot line.

Access. — It is quite common (and rather logical) to require that a parking space be accessible from either a street or an alley. Many ordinances set certain standards for the access drives, giving minimum widths and surfacing requirements. One such standard, set strictly for safety reasons, is that the arrangement of access drives for parking areas designed for more than one or two vehicles permit them to enter and leave the area in forward motion.

Design. — Requiring that all off-street parking spaces be placed within a completely enclosed garage or within a carport may be prompted by aesthetic considerations. But it may also be an attempt to preserve the exclusive quality of an area, and whether this is a proper function of the zoning ordinance is debatable. In any case, it goes beyond solving the parking problem. An adequate solution to the problem is to permit required spaces to be either enclosed or unenclosed if they have "all weather" or permanent surfacing. This prevents the area from becoming either a dust bowl or a mud puddle depending on the weather. Some provisions require that a space or a lot that is to accommodate a number of vehicles be screened. The provision of Berkeley, California, deals with this design element quite completely:

In any R District, any off-street parking area for 3 or more cars shall be effectively screened from surrounding structures and uses, including those uses which face such areas across a street or alley. Such screening shall consist of a continuous, view-obscuring fence, wall or compact evergreen hedge, which shall be broken only for egress and access drives and walks. Such fence, wall or hedge shall be not less than 4 feet nor more than 6 feet in height. No fence, wall or hedge designed to screen a parking area shall project into any required front, side, or rear yard which abuts a street, or closer than 5 feet from the property line, whichever is less. . . .

(Section 15.6 (P))

Special Restrictions

While most cities are anxious to provide for sufficient off-street parking in their zoning ordinances, they do not appear equally anxious to regulate the type of vehicles which may be parked in residential areas. However, some communities seem to feel that certain types of vehicles, particularly commercial vehicles (trucks) and trailers, are incompatible with residential development.

Commercial Vehicles. — Most zoning ordinances do not specifically mention the overnight parking of commercial vehicles in residential districts. Of the ordinances which do regulate such parking, the more stringent ones prohibit it completely while the more lenient ones place a limit on the number and size of the vehicles permitted. The usual provision designed to control the parking of commercial vehicles in residential areas allows the parking of at least one light-weight truck per dwelling unit. This is apparent from Table 4.

Trailers. — As with commercial vehicles, only a few ordinances regulate the overnight parking and storage of travel trailers and mobile homes on residential lots. And among those which do have provisions there is little consistency: some prohibit such parking; others permit it. Zoning ordinances which permit the storage of trailers on a residential lot usually place certain limitations on it. Some limit the number which can be stored. Some require that the trailer be "parked or stored within an enclosed garage or accessory building" (Montgomery County, Ohio, 1958) or "behind planting of a sufficient height to shield it from view from adjoining properties" (Pima County, Arizona, 1964). In either case, the view created might be more unattractive than that of the trailer itself. Some ordinances regulate the location of a trailer on the lot; in Merced County, it must conform to the setback requirements; in Pima County, it must be placed on the back half of the lot; in Warren, Michigan, it must be located 10 feet from any dwelling or property line.

Table 4

Regulations of Commercial Vehicles from Selected Zoning Ordinances

Ordinance Prohibited in Residential Districts (Per Dwelling Unit):
Mesa, Ariz. (1962) the parking of more than one vehicle of more than a 1-1/2 ton capacity
Fontana, Cal. (1957) more than one vehicle of over a 2 ton capacity (3/4 ton or larger truck must conform to set-back requirements)
Mountain View, Cal. (1957) commercial vehicles exceeding a 3/4 ton capacity stored
in a required open space or yard
Denver, Colo. (1957) vehicles over 3/4 ton capacity having wheels over 17 inches in R-O, R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-4 Districts
Middletown, Conn. (amended except by special permit to 1964) 1. in the general residence zone, commercial vehicles

2. in restricted residential zones, commercial trucks in garages
New Canaan, Conn. (1964) the maintenance and storage of more than one commercial vehicle over 1 ton capacity
Rockville, Md. (Proposed) more than one commercial vehicle of over a 3/4 ton capacity unless parked in a garage
Warren, Mich. (1960) more than one commercial vehicle of over a 3/4 ton capacity unless parked in a garage
Northvale, N.J. more than one commercial vehicle of over a 1 ton capacity
New Rochelle, N.Y. commercial vehicles
Washington Twp., Ohio trucks unless parked in a completely enclosed garage
Warwick, R.I. (1958) commercial vehicles having a capacity of more than 2 tons or more than 3 axles shall be stored, parked or garaged in a Residence District

Commercial Parking Lots

Some zoning ordinances provide for parking lots which are accessory to uses in non-residential districts. Such lots are designed to fulfill the function of a buffer between residential and non-residential districts (although it may not be more agreeable to live next to a parking lot than to a store or office building). The space is usually provided for the customers and employees of the use to which these lots are accessories, not for the nearby residents. The hours during which these facilities can remain open indicates this.

The Minneapolis ordinance is illustrative. It allows automobile parking lots as a "transitional use" in R1 districts which are "accessory to a business or commercial use, and solely for the use of employees and customers of the use to which it is accessory"; provided further:

  1. that such parking lot shall be used solely for the parking of passenger automobiles;
  2. that the parking lot shall be closed between the hours of 10 P.M. and 7 A.M. except as specifically authorized in the conditional use permit.
  3. that each entrance and exit to and from such parking lot shall be at least twenty (20) feet distant from any adjacent property located in any Residence District, except when ingress and egress to and from the parking lot is provided from a public alley or public way separating such residence areas from the parking lot.

The Chicago ordinance permits as special uses commercial parking lots in residence districts on lots not over 75 feet wide as long as they abut at a side lot line a business, commercial, or manufacturing district or railroad right-of-way; are accessory to a business, commercial, or manufacturing use located within 500 feet; and are solely for the use of the employees and customers of the use to which they are accessory. The residence "A" district of the Dearborn, Michigan, ordinance permits "a parking space for the parking of non-commercial vehicles, or commercial motor vehicles weighing not more than 4,000 pounds, if operated by customers of business in adjoining business districts, as an accessory use to such adjoining business district, but not further than 125 feet measured at right angles from the residential property line adjacent to such business district." (Section 501.121)


Parking is not an isolated problem: it is intimately connected with traffic problems and with highway construction. Yet, in residential areas, it is a problem which can be attacked individually.

In the older, more densely developed residential areas, parking can be an especially vexing problem, the alleviation of which calls for the development of off-street facilities. These should be located either on vacant lots or, if necessary, on land specifically cleared for this purpose. It should be remembered that the power to accomplish this resides in municipal authorities not in private individuals or groups.

In newly developing areas where the parking problem is mainly potential, it can be combated through the zoning ordinance. In these areas, off-street parking space should be required in amounts which will accommodate residents' cars and meet visitor and other short-term parking demands. This parking should be provided in a way that will not mar the character of the neighborhood, which may mean regulating certain design elements of the off-street space, limiting the size and number of certain types of vehicles, and controlling parking along the curb.

A parking problem, whether potential or actual, exists in all residential areas. Its specific manifestation varies from one area to another, as do the means for solving it.


1. Preliminary Report on Residential Parking, prepared by the Pennsylvania Economy League, 1962. p. 1. And, Multiple Residential Parking Needs Study, San Diego Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, p. 3.

2. Robert C. Schmitt, "Population Densities and Automobile Ownership in a Metropolitan Area." Journal of the American Institute of Planners, November 1961, p. 332.

3. American Society of Planning Officials. Parking Lot Aesthetics, Planning Advisory Service Report No. 190, September 1964.

4. Federal Housing Administration, Land-Use Intensity, pp. 8 and 15.

5. Automobile Facts and Figures, Automobile Manufacturers Association, Inc., 1966, p. 41.


American Society of Planning Officials. Planning Advisory Service Reports.

No. 57. Zoning for Parking Areas in and Near Residential Districts. September 1953. 24 pp.
No.182. Off-Street Parking Requirements. January 1964. 20 pp.
No.190. Parking Lot Aesthetics. September 1964. 16 pp.

Arcadia, California, Planning Department. Off-Street Parking Requirements in Zone R-3. Planning Department, 240 W. Huntington Drive, Arcadia, California, May 16, 1962.

Automobile Facts and Figures. Automobile Manufacturers Association, Inc., 320 New Center Building, Detroit, Michigan, 1966.

Baker, Geoffrey,and Funaro, Bruno. Parking. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1958.

Federal Housing Administration. Land-Use Intensity. Land Planning Bulletin No.7, Federal Housing Administration, Washington, D.C. 20411.

Griselle, Sherman W. "Parking Related to Residential Development," Urban Land, April 1965, pp. 7-8.

Lewis, Harold M. A New Zoning Plan for the District of Columbia (Final Report of the Rezoning Study). November 9, 1956.

Needs and Opportunities for Coordinating Renewal and Transportation Improvement. Prepared for the City of Chicago Community Renewal Program by Barton- Aschman Associates. Inc., August 1963. Pp. 73–77.

Off-Street Parking Plan, City of Barstow. California, 1961. Prepared by D. Jackson Faustman, 2415 L Street, Sacramento 16. California.

Preliminary Report on Philadelphia Residential Parking. Prepared for the Council of the City of Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Economy League in association with the Bureau of Municipal Research. Liberty Trust Building, Philadelphia 7, Pa. August 1962.

San Diego, California, Department of Transportation and Traffic Engineering. Multiple Residential Parking Needs Study. San Diego Metropolitan Area Transportations Study. October 1965.

Schmitt, Robert C. "Population Densities and Automobile Ownership in a Metropolitan Area," Journal of the American Institute of Planners, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, November 1961, pp. 332–333.

Schulman, S. J. "How to Zone for Multi-Family Dwellings." The American City. December 1965, pp. 92-94.

Strauss, Max William. Zoning for Parking. John W. Donner Fund Publication No.7, School of Public Administration. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Cal., 1959. Obtainable from the University of Southern California Bookstore, Los Angeles 7, California. $2.00.

Copyright, American Society of Planning Officials, 1966.