My Empty Parking Spot Has a Price


24/7/365 livestream of my forever unused parking spot.

My apartment comes with a parking spot. I don’t use it, but I pay for it. My apartment, my parking spot–it’s a package deal. It sits empty through spring, summer, and fall. Sometimes a parking scofflaw appropriates my spot as their own (this happens rarely). But I don’t care, because I don’t need it. In the winter my parking spot fills with snow, and management posts a sign that says move your car, we’re plowing the parking lot. Lucky me, I never worry about having my car towed, because I don’t own one. Still, I pay my share for the plowing.

Aside from the ample parking, my building is pretty no-frills. It doesn’t provide every unit with a bicycle or a bus pass. Those are the kinds of amenities that might entice me to choose living in a building that offered them. Even though I support the idea of a 1:1 bike to bedroom ratio, it’s probably a bad idea for Minneapolis to mandate bicycle minimums for new development. The same goes for parking.

This isn’t to say that I expect everyone in my building, or my neighborhood, to go car-free. Allow me to modify a metaphor previously made famous by Nick Magrino: If Minneapolis abolished a hypothetical law mandating a Keurig minimum, I wouldn’t interpret that as anti-Keurig, but rather giving people the freedom to choose whether they want to own a Keurig (and relieving them of the obligation to buy those expensive K-cups). You could still choose to own one. But my neighbors–one of whom drinks coffee by the potful and another who doesn’t drink coffee at all–wouldn’t be required to subsidize the bulk purchase of 40 Keurigs for the entire building.

Strict parking minimums make the assumption that everyone is living the same car-dependent lifestyle, thereby spreading the cost of car ownership to people who don’t own cars. This should trouble anyone who cares about housing affordability. Fortunately, Council Member Lisa Bender has a plan to ease parking minimums, and the costs that go with them (hint: it’s far more than the price of a Keurig):

Underground parking costs up to $25,000 per stall to build, [Developer Ross Fefercorn] said, and requires the accompanying development to have a larger footprint. It also raises taxes, maintenance and insurance costs.

“If you can build a building without underground parking and you have residents who will live in it, your cost of building the project is greatly reduced,” Fefercorn said. “You pass on the savings to your tenants.”

Based on some of the reaction in certain local comment sections, you’d think this was a proposal to prohibit car ownership. It’s not. Neither is this a proposal to prohibit the construction of more parking (though I once listened in admiration as Council Member Lisa Goodman sang the virtues of a parking maximum on Channel 79). This proposal is only about easing the parking minimum in transit-friendly areas of Minneapolis.

No matter what happens with this proposal, developers will continue to include lots of parking in many of their new projects. Just like they’ll continue to offer gyms and dog parks; these are amenities that certain people want, and somehow it is provided to them without regulating dog park minimums. Car storage is likewise an amenity that a lot of people will continue to expect, meaning there’s unlikely to be a parking shortage anytime soon.

Parking has a cost, just like a gym or a dog park. While shopping for housing it would be nice to have the freedom to choose how much parking you need and, more importantly, how much parking you can afford.

38 thoughts on “My Empty Parking Spot Has a Price

  1. Jason Goray

    I agree with what you’re saying, but one hack I’ve found to help dealing with the current situation – if you can find a two car neighbor, see if they’d like to sublet your parking space.

  2. aexx

    1. Can we make “dog park minimums” a thing?

    2. No disagreement that there is a cost to parking (because there definitely is), but I wonder what the actual cost of an outdoor space is within a person’s rent. I assume it has to be fairly small – most parking lots don’t have a lot of maintenance done to them and plowing happens only a few times a year (in my apartment’s case, by the maintenance crew who are already employees of the company). Any asphalt costs are probably spread over a long period of time (I’m pretty sure my lot still has the original asphalt). I can’t imagine it’s more than a couple of dollars a month, if that. Which, I must point out, still isn’t an excuse to require it.

    I think the biggest expense is lost opportunity for more density when there is new construction, but for older buildings, the land is more or less a sunk cost. Parking, therefore, would seem to be a pretty cheap amenity to throw at people, especially in those high-density areas where parking is quite tight.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      averaged out, maintenance per space is a few hundred per year depending on the exact situation. Accdg to the VTPI (, these costs include “cleaning, lighting, maintenance, repairs, security, landscaping, snow removal, access control (e.g., entrance gates), fee collection (for priced parking), enforcement, insurance, labor and administration”…

      the $25K average cost for a ramp space is pretty significant if you think about what apartments “sell” for, well over 10% for most I’d wager.

      1. aexx

        I’m not talking about ramp/underground space. I’m talking about your typical 1960s era apartment with some parking in back. Based on all the places like this I’ve seen (and many people live in these types of places in the city), the asphalt is old, cleaning and lighting are generally pretty minimal, there’s no security (at least in my lot), there’s no landscaping (there is lawn landscaping out front and a small back yard, but that’s not what we’re looking at), snow is plowed only after major storms by staff, there’s no gate (and it’s not monitored, despite our tags, unless they’re plowing and do a cursory check), etc.

        My point was never to say there isn’t a cost (and I support removing parking minimums for apartments). But with an apartment that’s very likely paid for itself many times over and a slab of asphalt that has been there likely for 20+ years based on the shape it’s in, I have to wonder what the marginal cost of providing parking is, given that unless you tore the whole building down, it’s just extra space out back. It’s a very marginal cost for a pretty big selling point to tenants.

        1. Kenny

          Of course, the issue of the parking mandate law doesn’t apply to old buildings, some of which already have parking, and some of which may be grandfathered in without parking. The question is about new apartments. And for a new apartment, the cost of the parking space isn’t just about the construction costs of the space itself, but also about the opportunity cost of an extra apartment not built. Three parking spaces gets you another 1000 sq. ft. apartment. If a third of the apartments get no parking space, then that gets you an extra 10% of the number of apartments, which gives you 10% more residents to spread out all the fixed costs of the building.

    2. Janne

      I wouldn’t dismiss the cost of an asphalt parking lot. A developer once quoted me an approximate $7,000 cost to construct one surface parking space. That $100,000 condo with a surface space could have been a $93,000 condo (or had an extra $7,000 of in-unit laundry, patio amenities, and a gym).

      Thinking about your rent, reduces the number of units you can have on a given lot because of the sheer land that has to be covered in asphalt (meaning that the cost of land that your rent has to pay for is spread between fewer people). It also increases stormwater fees to the city because you could alternatively use that space to capture the stormwater and get a feed reduction. And don’t poo poo the cost of plowing a parking lot — it’s thousands of dollars a year for those services and they get paid right out of your rent.

      It also leads to hotter apartments and higher AC bills, and more polluted water in our lakes, FWIW, if those things matter to you.

      1. aexx

        I agree with you that there is a cost. I never said there wasn’t. $7000 is a lot of money (though over a 30-year mortgage, it’s a relatively small amount of about $30-some/month).

        My only argument was the relative cost of a surface parking lot where the building already exists is probably fairly low. I don’t even need to see my apartment company’s ledger to know plowing my lot doesn’t cost thousands of dollars a year unless they’re getting a really crappy deal from their own employees (the ones who do the plowing).

        There’s also probably some cost savings bundled into including parking – it might be easier to lease units, requiring fewer marketing dollars. And it probably is–again–a low cost way make a site more appealing, which is especially needed when we’re talking mid-range apartments built in the 50s-70s.

        Should parking be charged separately? You bet. I’d happily pay the fee if I had to. Can lots have a deleterious effect on the environment? For sure. I just don’t think that getting rid of parking is the panacea to affordable housing that some think it is.

  3. John EdwardsJohn Edwards Post author

    My title may put too much emphasis on my personal situation, but I was trying to make a more general point about the costs of requiring more parking than necessary. Underground parking is a huge expense. Most of my neighborhood’s (non-preservationist) opposition against a new apartment building at 2320 Colfax was based around demanding more (underground) parking. The second most popular complaint? Gentrification.

  4. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I think it’s a little hard to talk about parking minimums without mention what I think is people real concern: they think a building with less parking will make it harder to park on the street.

    That this is a concern that it will be harder to free-ride on the public coffers tend to go ignored too, but I don’t think anyone is really concerned about being “forced” to give up their cars.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Seems to come up that new development with no parking that pushes inevitable cars onto the streets will mean local businesses won’t survive because it will be harder for people to drive there and shop (so they won’t).

      This isn’t untrue, but businesses in the parking-congested Uptown area (where someone has to walk 1.5 blocks to patronize a shop) seem to be surviving just fine today. Modest pricing of the spaces in front of those stores, and potentially just around the corner, won’t deter people coming to shop, but they do deter people from leaving their car for >4 hours at a time, on a regular basis. Plus, more proximate customers means higher chance that a given patron will arrive without a car.

        1. Rosa

          how far is it from the Uptown Rainbow-now-Cub to the Lagoon theater?

          Whenever the weather’s bad, we do that walk to see a movie.

      1. Michael RodenMichael Roden

        It seems that this conversation is always centered around making the city convenient for someone from outside of the city. “They won’t come visit if they can’t park!” I say who needs ’em. This is a dumb inferiority complex that cities developed when they were trying so hard to convince suburbanites to come visit. Yes, it’s possible that parking will get tighter, but there are new residents that are likely to shop near their homes. These new and existing resident will benefit from living in an urban environment functioning as it is supposed to. As an added bonus, this attracts businesses that provide every-day goods and services – which are much more likely to be small and/or local shops.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Or chain drug stores.

          When I lived in downtown DC, I could not believe how there was CVS on seemingly every block. Then I got to thinking about the competitive dynamics and realized that people go to whichever pharmacy is closest (whether to their office or home or whatever). Putting one on every corner means capturing a proximate customer that wouldn’t go to one five blocks away.

          Then I moved back here and wondered why there are so few downtown drugstores. Maybe it’s the skways? 😉

          Which is in no way to disagree with you. Make the city for the people who live there. To heck with trying to attract suburbanites.

        2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          sort of agree, sort of don’t. when you spend most of your time (as i do) within the cozy confines of mpls and st paul, it’s easy to forget that the burbs are out there. but if you look at where the Twin Cities’ wealth is, there is soooo much capital and spending power out in the suburbs.

          i just think we should make it worth the while of folks driving into the city to walk a bit, maybe to prioritizing excellent sidealks and street frontages so that wakling is a plesant thing to do.

          1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            Much/most of that spending power is already coming into downtown 5+ days a week. They’re part of the people who are already here to whom it’s important to cater.

            But we shouldn’t fantasize about people replacing trips to their local mall (or just local stores) with trips into downtown. They aren’t going to do it and building, say, a Hooters and an Applebee’s, just ends up poorly serving the customers who can be reached.

            Finally, I know they aren’t popular around here, but we have really pleasant places to walk that connect most of what you’d like to do from downtown.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      this is such a relative conception, much like people’s perception of what is or is not “congestion.” try parking on the street in Boston or Brooklyn sometime. it’s easy to park on the street in Minneapolis.

  5. Keith Morris

    Are there apartment buildings even offering transit passes? Cuz I haven’t heard of that, although if it were widely offered I’d think that would make people more seriously consider going car-free or car-lite. And unless an employer is progressive you can forget about discounted/free monthly passes. Which makes me wonder if MetroTransit is even soliciting employers, especially suburban ones, with this even just as an option. Bike parking seems to be more widely offered, but could be improved upon.

    1. John EdwardsJohn Edwards Post author

      The 2320 Colfax project is supposed to have an interesting array of transportation perks related to bikes, transit, and car-share. Paid for with savings achieved by reducing the parking.

    2. aexx

      There are plenty of employers that offered discounted passes through the Metro Pass program (and plenty of them aren’t necessarily progressive employers).


      My employer is one of them (though they don’t offer anything beyond the standard-already-discounted $76/month pre-tax price). I’m sure most of that list is downtown, because that’s where transit use is more cost effective than driving in many cases.

  6. Mike Hicks

    Bicycles were brought up in passing. I think you were talking about mandating actual bikes, but it’s probably worth having a conversation about mandated bicycle parking — most people already have bikes, so it’s pretty amazing that most places don’t do a good job of providing parking for them. Mandating bicycle parking at a ratio of 1:1 with the number of units would probably dramatically increase the amount of bike parking available at many residences — it also almost certainly wouldn’t have any impact on the overall amount of car parking if existing car stalls were used for new bike racks — eight or more bikes can fit into the space for a single car.

    Ideally, any bike parking standards would only be needed temporarily until developers realize how valuable they are (since they can allow space typically used for cars to be freed up for other uses). I’d suggest creating rules for Minneapolis and other metro-area cities that requires better bicycle parking, but set an expiration date on them on the assumption that developers will eventually learn the right balance on their own.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I believe the city already requires a 1/2 bicycle space per unit for residential.

      I’m working on a post comparing current Minneapolis parking regulations to Portland’s, which had zero car minimums in many districts until very recently, but has a few more reductions than we currently do as well.

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  8. Caddy K

    Yes we need parking reform, the problem with the current proposal is

    “Council Member Lisa Bender is proposing to relax the city’s parking space requirements for new residential projects located near the busiest transit stops.”

    Thats not reform, that is selective.

    Also the argument “I don’t use it I should not pay for it” is not valid. Are we going to reform everything based on this concept? Transit, playgrounds, parks, garbage collection, new organics?

    The issue is insisting on parking everywhere is ruining cities.

    That being said this proposal seems geared toward big developers of the most desirable land. Mega projects also ruin cities. We need big ideas and small projects! Not small ideas and big projects! I fully support parking reform. How about starting with
    -Eliminating a parking requirement for places that serve booze
    -Pass an ordinance that forbids demolishing buildings to create surface parking?

    1. Anton SchiefferAnton Schieffer

      Eliminating parking requirements for new projects that are near transit makes sense if you want people to use transit. My block has many apartments on it and is constantly jammed with parked cars, but it’s not an issue for many people I know on my block who don’t own a car. One important reason I chose to move here because it’s close to several bus lines. If parking were more of a priority, I could move somewhere less accessible to transit and with more parking.

      Your proposed restrictions seem just as selective, but with less clear benefit. In fact, I can hear the anti-Bender folks now: “Lisa Bender is easing restrictions on bars, hellbent on bringing noisy drunkards to our quiet neighborhood!”

      1. Caddy K

        I used bars as an example because I thought it was obvious there has been a decades long effort to reduce drinking and driving. It seems crazy within that context to require bars to have parking, and as I understand more parking if there is live music and more still if there is dancing.
        There are lot of other places parking should be reformed, there are lots of projects recently and still planned where useful buildings and housing is turned into surface parking or planned to be.
        This creates a cost for everyone with heat island, added sewer cost, and loss of density and pedestrian scale buildings. It is happening on busy transit corridors.
        Only looking at the busiest transit stops only solves a very small part of the problem.

        1. Anton SchiefferAnton Schieffer

          I agree that additional parking-related reforms could be made. But is that really a good reason to oppose this one? There are some who already think that there’s a city-wide War On Cars going on, so I don’t see a problem with proposing this minor incremental change.

    2. John EdwardsJohn Edwards Post author

      How is my apartment’s private parking spot any more of a public good than an in-unit washer/dryer, for example? Although you could make the argument that washer/dryers should be mandatory to prevent the laundromat across the street from becoming overcrowded with unwashed transients.

      My parking spot is not a bus, or a park, or a garbage truck. If I don’t use it, nobody else will.

      1. Caddy K

        I’m not saying it is a public good. Some people would – that is not me.

        I am saying there are better arguments for parking reform.

        Supply and demand says you could just move to an apartment without a parking spot! There are plenty of those already!

        And if you are not using it, as has been pointed out I’m sure you could rent it out for more than it costs you as a portion of your rent!

        Excessive parking space is a blight on the urban environment.
        The current proposal does not really address that.

        Do we know that your spot is a result of parking policy?

        Starting by easing restrictions on developers who want to make big buildings is not the best place to start.

        1. John EdwardsJohn Edwards Post author

          Well jeez, if you wanted better arguments, why didn’t you say so?

          I appreciate the advice for how to resolve my personal oversupply of parking. Judging by the number of empty spots in my building’s parking lot, and the ease with which people seem to find street parking in my immediate vicinity, I doubt my spot has much value on the open market. It’s a shame they had to build so much of it.

          I won’t bore you with all the particular circumstances (not having to do with parking) which led me to move into my current apartment. But aside from the plentiful parking, I’ve been pleased with my situation. I promise to seek a place without parking should I ever decide to move; it would be nice if Minneapolis allowed more apartments like that to be built.

          It’s a 1970s era building so I’d guess it was subject to parking regulation. Perhaps someone with more knowledge could weigh in.

        2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          Most people opposed to this seem to be saying that loosening regulations will just mean people will park their cars on the street instead, and that this is a problem because it will make things tougher on everyone else who lives there (or for area businesses). This thought process implies parking is a 1) public good, and 2) the right of current residents over new ones.

          As my article pointed out, the behavior is somewhat true (not everyone living in no-parking apartments brought a car, just some).

          But I have to believe parking on a public street shouldn’t be lumped in to the list of things the city provides everyone without a user fee. Even with our auto-oriented metro, there are many neighborhoods with a sizeable chunk of people not owning cars, walking/biking/busing to stores, jobs, parks, etc. Why should a portion of their property tax bill go toward subsidizing people who choose to drive instead? Charging $0 clearly results in over-consumption (“parking congestion”). Let’s change that.

        3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          “Excessive parking space is a blight on the urban environment.
          The current proposal does not really address that.”

          I don’t follow you. If we don’t build more excessive parking, aren’t we at least not making the problem worse?

    3. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I think there needs to be some nuance and, um, data in the accusation that reducing parking minimums only serves big developers and big projects. Do we know that no parking minimums means big projects are more likely to supply less? Perhaps. I’m sure they reduce their parking some, but experience shows the big, expensive, lu$ury places seem to still provide some parking (if not lots) to their tenants. See: downtown projects where 0 are required but plenty is supplied. Are there exceptions in those places? Sure! I love highlighting where some developers provide less because they can.

      Another question: does supplying less parking really just line big developers’ pockets? Probably. But a non-zero sum of saving $25,000 per structured spaces (much of the amortized capital+operations are just rolled into everyone’s rent anyway) is passed on to renters, I would assume. Is that such a bad thing – developers make more money AND renters see lower prices for new construction (which further reduces the price landlords of older, more-dated apartments can charge)?

      Finally, we need to acknowledge there are other actors here. Small developers building relatively low unit structures come to mind. Big companies like Opus, Magellan, etc aren’t messing around with that stuff. Look at Portland’s map of projects permitted in an 18 month span leading up to 2012 ( A good chunk of the buildings with 0 parking provided are 10-40 units. These are exactly the type of places that won’t have gyms, community rooms, climbing walls, dog washing stations, mooning hot tubs, etc. Isn’t that what we want? Low-frills, low-cost, housing that encourages people to not bring their cars?

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