Fifty-five percent of Washington voters favor eliminating parking mandates within a half-mile of transit stops. That was one finding from a recent poll by Lake Research Partners measuring support for a larger package of reforms to open middle housing options for people across Washington. Though that bill (HB 1782) has since died, the polling results command optimism for future related efforts.
Lake Research’s poll may be the first ever specifically to test political support for repealing parking mandates, the obscure but city-shaping laws that forbid homes and businesses from existing unless they create a certain number of off-street parking spaces. Parking requirements drive up the cost of housing and can prevent it from being built in the first place. The movement to repeal this outdated land use requirement has been picking up steam across the continent, and if these poll results are any indication, most Washington voters would be receptive to reform.
When asked if a provision to “lift parking mandates for lots within half a mile of transit stops” made people feel more or less favorable towards the middle housing bill in question, 55 percent of likely voters responded as more favorable. About 23 percent of respondents were unsure, and another 22 percent indicated less favorable. The poll was administered to registered voters who indicated they planned to vote in the 2022 election and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The results are encouraging news to advocates like Tony Jordan, co-founder of the national Parking Reform Network. “That question is broad enough to signal that people are more and more aware that housing and parking are intertwined,” Jordan remarked on the results.
Renters, voters under 30, and people of color were most supportive of eliminating parking mandates near transit. (Margins of error are slightly higher when we look at subsets of respondents like these.) These groups generally have lower incomes, which is correlated with lower rates of car ownership, but support for lifting parking requirements extended well beyond those who are currently car-free.
For instance, 21 percent of all renters nationally are car-free, compared to just 2 percent of homeowners, according to the National Travel Household Survey. Yet in Washington, 76 percent of renters and 47 percent of homeowners polled supported eliminating parking mandates near transit. So there are plenty of car owners who still favor parking reform.
Broken down a different way, we see the same high levels of support: 77 percent of adults under 30 favored repealing parking mandates. Majority support held through the 30-39 and 40-49 age groups, and support still well outweighed opposition for voters 50+ years of age.
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People of color supported lifting the parking mandate by 14 percentage points more than white respondents.
Even among Washington Republicans, who ranked lowest in overall favorability for the middle housing legislation as compared to other groups, more people supported lifting parking mandates (40 percent) than opposed doing so (32 percent).
King County residents, who have a decade of experience with this policy change, still love the idea
King County residents already benefit from policies like these, since their most populous city, Seattle, has been carving away at parking mandates near transit since 2012. An analysis of building permits in areas with reduced parking minimums found that between 2012 and 2017 builders planned for 40 percent fewer parking spots than the previous zoning code required, saving more than $20,000 per home in direct construction costs. Those costs make a big difference, considering that 42,777 new homes were permitted over that 5-year period.
Thanks to lower parking minimums near transit and increased transit investments, the share of Seattle households within a 10-minute walk of frequent transit service increased from 25% in 2015 to 70% in 2019.
Combined with investments in expanded transit service, the share of Seattle households within a ten-minute walk of frequent transit service increased from 25 percent in 2015 to 70 percent in 2019. Those impressive figures landed Seattle as a national leader with the largest drop in car commuting among US cities before the pandemic, as Emerald City residents increasingly took transit or walked instead.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why 64 percent of King County residents in the poll supported the provision to lift parking requirements near transit, the highest of any region surveyed. Majority support held in more rural regions of the state, too; and across all locations, support healthily outweighed opposition.
Parking has often been treated as a third-rail issue by electeds and some planners, perhaps based on anecdotal evidence from a few disgruntled motorists who make noise at city council meetings. But this polling shows those opponents to be a minority across groups. It reveals a public far more open to adjusting parking rules than decision makers might expect—and perhaps even connecting the dots between parking mandates and housing costs. All this is good news for parking reform and pro-housing advocates, as well as for the elected officials and planners who may wish to start moving beyond the car-centric norm in their communities.
“I’ve always felt it’s less controversial than people think,” said Jordan. It seems that most Washingtonians actually agree: they’d rather make space for more neighbors than more cars.