Buffalo, New York, dramatically rewrote its development DNA in 2017. The city transformed its zoning code after more than 242 public meetings. Included in that change, the city repealed minimum parking requirements.
Bend is not Buffalo, but there are some things Bend may learn from Buffalo as Bend councilors consider eliminating or reducing parking minimums in Bend.
Bend has requirements now that dictate the number of off-street parking spaces for homes, apartments and businesses. The city has already reduced parking requirements in Bend’s Central District, which is the area near the Bend Parkway and downtown. For instance, it exempted any parking requirements for the first 10,000 square feet of a building’s footprint.
We looked at Buffalo not because it’s an ideal parallel for Bend. There has been, though, a more formalized analysis of the impact of eliminating parking minimums there. One confounding factor to remember is Buffalo did not just eliminate parking minimums. It made many other zoning changes. One example: It added some bicycle parking minimums.
The study we looked at — “Minus Minimums” — was by two professors of planning at the University of Buffalo. They do seem to look optimistically at the idea of reducing parking minimums. The study analyzed 36 more major developments in the first two years after the parking minimums were eliminated. You can read it yourself at tinyurl.com/Buffalominimum.
Before the new Buffalo policy became law, the response to the idea had some of the same flavors that people have expressed in Bend. Some worried about not being able to find parking. Some developers believed that the requirements were getting in the way of developments.
Well, the sky did not fall — to paraphrase a city of Buffalo official. Parking lots did not disappear from buildings. There were notable changes.
Almost half of the developments included fewer parking spaces than were previously allowed. Mixed-use developments — such as housing and businesses in the same building — had 53% fewer parking spaces than would have been required under the old rules. Some buildings continued to exceed the previous minimum parking requirements, such as those built only for housing. The study did not apparently interview developers to find out why they did what they did. It just looked at what they did.
Bend City Councilor Melanie Kebler has been the driving force to change parking minimums. And as she told The Bulletin’s community editorial board this week, she hopes reducing parking minimums might help free up more space for building and that might help keep Bend more affordable or less unaffordable. It would also likely make a community denser and that in turn, could make public transportation make more sense. And that may mean people have less need for a car.
The study of Buffalo didn’t confirm all those changes. It didn’t attempt to. It would also be wrong to assume the same sorts of thing the study found would happen in Bend.
It would be a good guess to assume some developers will build much less parking, some will build about the same, finding parking will be more challenging and Bend will become more densely populated. For some, perhaps, the sky will fall. For others, Bend will have taken a smart step for its future.