Let's build houses for people, not cars.


Los Angeles is a space-challenged City. There’s not enough housing for living, and there aren't enough roads for moving.
  • LA is the most unaffordable city for both renters and buyers in the US.
  • 58% of all renters in LA are cost burdened.
  • LA contains the 2nd largest homeless population in the country.
  • LA is regularly ranked with the worst traffic in the world.
  • There aren’t nearly enough public parks.
  • Smog in Los Angeles is the worst in the country.
  • LA is the most dangerous city in the country for cyclists.
While some of the challenges LA faces are unique, many are familiar to high performing cities across the country. Job growth means population growth, but new housing fails to be built anywhere close to fast enough to keep up, in Los Angeles this has been happening at a rate of more than 3:1. Some residents can afford more expensive homes as a limited supply increases demand, but those that can’t are pushed away into more precarious living situations and longer commutes.

This change isn’t hidden out of sight, it’s seen in every Tesla parked next to a tent. There are more people on top and more on the bottom and it’s only getting harder to stay in the middle.

These crises have many causes and many symptoms, so most solutions are equally complex and opaque. However, there is one relatively binary change that could be made tomorrow.

LA needs to abolish Parking Minimums.

Now parking legislation might seem tangential at best to LA’s problems, but in more ways than one it defines them. Parking is inseparable from housing and transportation, a detrimental cause and effect shaping land use, climate, and daily habits.

idyllic car apartments


While trying to find parking has a notorious reputation in Los Angeles, the reality is we have far more than we’ll ever need. How much is too much? In LA county there are 18.6 million parking spaces for only 10.2 million residents.

That's more than 110,000 acres of asphalt lots. Enough to pave over Manhattan 7.5 times.

Consolidating this much parking would effectively cover all of West LA, reaching from Pasadena to LAX. A single asphalt desert more than 10 miles across on each side.

For perspective, at Manhattan’s density this parking lot could support some 12 million residents and 23.25 million daytime workers.

12.7% of incorporated land in LA county is used for parking.

Los Angeles is in the middle of a well-documented housing crisis. In 2014 Garcetti announced an ambitious plan to permit 100,000 new units in the city of LA before 2021. However, that looks lackluster in the context of the 171,500 people expected to move to the city of LA by then, or even worse the 360,882 people expected to move to LA County in the same time. And it’s an absolute pittance compared to the 551,800 home shortfall for low-income renters that exists right now.

It's hard to communicate the importance of permanent stable housing. It's the most cost effective method to move people out of homelessness and violent relationships. Affordable housing is foundational for public health and family well-being. A home is a roof, a bed, a bathroom, an address.
  • Turning less than 1% of all LA County parking spaces into homes would house the annual LA County homeless population
  • Turning 10% of all LA County parking spaces into homes could more than satisfy the current 551,800 home deficit for low-income renters.
  • Turning 70% of all LA County parking spaces converted to housing would be enough to meet the entire State of California’s estimated 4 million home deficit.
Los Angeles has the space to build all the housing it needs without displacing a single home.

HOUSING OPPORTUNITY & CRUNCH. Turning 10% of all LA County parking spaces into homes could more than satisfy the current 551,800 home deficit for low-income renters.


Every incorporated and unincorporated area inside of LA County has some form of Parking Minimums. The City of LA parking codes specify 1 parking space for every studio apartment, 1.5 parking spaces for every 1 bedroom apartment, and 2 parking spaces for a 2 bedroom apartment. This means building a single 400 sq ft unit will actually require more than 715 sq ft of total space.

For commercial buildings, it’s common to see a parking space required for every 100-200 sq ft. Meaning that parking is built at an almost 2:1 ratio to actual retail space, marginalizing the place that actually creates value and prioritizing temporary car storage. This inefficiency is carried into rent, groceries, meals, and overall raises the floor for cost of living.


Per City of LA code, a set of storefronts like above are illegal to build, instead they are required to be surrounded with empty pavement at the cost of walkability and comfort.


This forces people into driving. Parking requirements increase the density of cars but reduce the density of people. It also puts pressure on businesses by taking up useful real estate and replacing it with car storage.

This isn’t abstract, it pocketmarks what should be the most pedestrian friendly parts of LA. Here are some examples of dense, walkable destinations with frequent transit centered in 1 mile walkshed circles:

Union Station: The best connected and most used transit hub west of Chicago. 111 Acres of parking could be 16,654 potential units.

Hollywood: Frequently served by the Red Line. 76 Acres of parking could be 11,408 potential units.

Downtown Long Beach: Frequently served by the Blue Line. 83 Acres of parking could be 12,524 potential units.

Dodger Stadium: Originally land to be low income housing for 3,300 families and a large park before being given to the Dodgers. 142 Acres of parking could be 21,435 potential units.

Spreading out destinations doesn’t just cause damage to walkability, it also drains local revenue. Property taxes make up the largest revenue source for both the City of LA and the County. Property taxes are assessed by the value of improvements to the land. Parking has low value, so while it consumes a large amount of space, its captured value is low, and its geographical burden on the city is high. Property tax in general is a rats nest, California specifically handles it notoriously poorly.

Parking eats away at our cities from the inside. Taking away precious space and replacing it with what Marc Augé calls “Non Places”. What makes a city or a neighborhood is where people spend time: parks, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, restaurants, museums, offices. These are destinations, these are places. Los Angeles spends too much money separating where people want to go with structures valued by how much emptiness they contain.

Parking minimums forced Disney Hall to spend $110 million constructing six-levels of underground parking -- costing nearly as much as the $130 million building itself.


We’ve established the geometric price of parking. It’s the cost of space, and thus considering the housing crisis, it’s the cost of residential units not built.

At 300 sq ft, a one bedroom apartment can effectively fit in a single parking space, and a 500 sq ft two bedroom apartment fits in two parking spaces comfortably. Removing parking minimums results in an estimated 20% to 33% increase in the number of potential units in a residential building.

These are your new tinted glasses: every parking spot is a micro-unit sitting un-built. These missing homes are all around us.


While the spatial cost is obvious and frustrating, the fiscal cost is possibly more important. Opportunity for housing doesn’t equal built housing. Someone needs to pay for new construction, and requiring parking spaces come at a substantial price.

Building a single underground space in Los Angeles comes out to an estimated $35,000, while a single aboveground space cost $27,000. These costs come from expensive vertical dead-load support and even pricier excavation. Note, these costs were estimated in 2014 and are even higher now.

Sloped floors mean it's near impossible for parking podiums to find a second life as commercial or residential space.

This means there is an immediate cost of at least $40,000-$50,000 for building a one bedroom apartment without even including the spaces where people will live.

Studio 1 Space $27,000-$35,000
1 Bedroom 1.5 Spaces $40,500-$52,500
2 bedroom 2 spaces $54,000-$70,000

These costs add up quick, a 100 unit building would be looking at some $5 million up-front for parking spaces only. This disproportionally hurts projects aimed at affordability, as developer trying to build low-income units will need to put a much larger percent of unit cost towards parking than a more expensive high-end unit.

Solved for 100 units each with 1.5 parking spaces and each space costing $40,000

In this way parking minimums push new construction away from low and medium income homes and towards luxury buildings with expensive perks and amenities. Without subsidies or public funding it’s already incredibly difficult for affordable units to pencil out for developers, we shouldn't be making it harder.

In short, requiring parking mean fewer units getting built, and those that are built are more expensive. A single parking space adds an estimated 12.5% to monthly rent, while a second parking space doubles that to 25%.

Recently the City of Los Angeles has been permitting between 15,000 and 16,000 new units a year, Just each of those units requiring a parking space conservatively adds up to more than $600 million spent on constructing new parking each year. That’s equivalent to about 6% of the city's total annual budget, and more than twice the $281 million currently budgeted annually for building affordable housing.

However, that’s only accounting for new residential buildings. Considering higher parking requirements for office and commercial construction in tandem with job growth outpacing new housing, it’s reasonable to estimate that more than $1 Billion is easily spent every year just building new parking in Los Angeles.


In Los Angeles traffic is estimated to cost some $9 billion in lost economic output each year. One of the most cited opposition to new housing, especially dense, and especially in LA, is traffic getting worse. We’ve simultaneously convinced ourselves it is both a permanent installation in city life and simultaneously out-buildable via new road infrastructure. Many proposed “traffic solutions” actively hamper efforts to improve the quality of living and solve traffic itself. Infamously Los Angeles recently spent $1.6 billion adding lanes to the 405 freeway bottleneck through Sepulveda Pass to only make traffic worse.

This is a concept called induced demand.

What you get is what you build. New roads just create more incentive for driving. It's been well documented over and over again that vehicle miles driven increases proportionally to roadway created. Lewis Mumford famously said “Building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity.”

Maybe not the most efficient space use

If we only build for traffic then traffic will be a constant. We need to use current road space in a more efficient manner. Cars don't just take up an enormous amount of space parked, but moving as well. The City of Los Angeles has the highest total highest Vehicle Miles Driven per square mile out of any major US city.There’s a reason LA is so closely associated with the automobile.

With a growing population and already terrible traffic, we need to figure out how to move a larger number or people on the same streets. This means prioritizing bikes, buses, and trains, and other alternative transportation modes. It’s geometry. It takes an incredible amount of space and energy to move each of us around in our own 4000 lb metal box.

Capacity of a single 10-foot lane (or equivalent width) by mode at peak conditions with normal operations. A single bus only lane can move five times as many people as a general traffic lane.

While all drivers need a place to house their car, not everyone who needs housing needs a car. By structuring a city in a way that largely prioritizes driving and penalizing alternate modes we are locking people into car dependency.

A new 7 story parking podium with 2000 parking spaces dwarfs Pico Station, which is capable of moving more than 3000 people per hour

Car payments are expensive. A 2018 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that more than 7 million Americans are 90 days or more late on car debt payments and auto debt has risen to an all time high. Besides high purchasing costs, between maintenance, fuel, and lost time, cars cost an average of $3000 a year for users in Los Angeles raising the floor on cost of living floor.

Cars aren't just expensive for owner users, but for the city itself. The City of Los Angeles now spends $348 million on annual street repair. A cyclist would need to ride over the same piece of pavement 256,289 times to equal the damage done once by an SUV.

Transportation alternatives are more affordable, and in most cases just as, if not more, convenient. Two-thirds of all travel in the City of Los Angeles is less than five miles. That's a comfortable 20 minute bike ride. We have 284 days of sun a year in a relatively flat city.

Largely the limiters are prioritization. Busses sit in the same traffic as everyone else, even Metro trains full of people will sit at intersections waiting for cars to pass. The bicycle lane network is a fractured and dangerous joke. Even walking isn’t safe, a pedestrian is killed by a car in the City of LA every 3 days.

If these options aren’t made safer, faster, and easier, then people won’t use them. Instead billions of hours will be sacrificed to traffic every year because that’s what's convenient now.

All told there is some 12,200 miles of street parking in LA County. These miles are potential Bus Lanes. These are potential Bike Lanes. That’s how you start to get Los Angeles out of traffic. Take the street storage that sits idle some 95% of the day and use it to move thousands an hour.

A people first street design in Santa Monica


Excess parking casts a wide net of negative effects. Asphalt is great at capturing heat in what’s known as the Urban Heat Island effect. Exacerbated by a lack of vegetation, this makes cities far hotter than surrounding rural areas, especially at night. Los Angeles has the most extreme heat island effect in the state, increasing temperatures as much as 19° during the summer. Asphalt is also a non-porous surface, meaning rain isn’t filtered into the dirt, instead pollutants are washed into oceans, rivers, and lakes.

Los Angeles doesn’t need to be told how damaging car fumes can be. The LA basin ranks worst in the nation for Ozone emissions, fifth for Year-Round Particle Pollution, and is now number one in the country for childhood Asthma cases. This means higher risks of developmental harm, lung cancer, and permanent cardiovascular damage. In LA bad air disproportionately affects people of color Car centric infrastructure is ruining our environment and ruining lives.

142 acres of non-permiable parking around Dodger Stadium

California has set the goal of being carbon free by 2050, but the reality is we need to decarbonize far sooner. As a leader on green innovation and policy California has managed to scale a fast growing economy without increasing greenhouse emissions, growing GDP 3.5% while CO2 tonnage fell -.34% between 2014 and 2015. That said, emissions need to be shrinking more than -5% per year to reach net zero just by 2050.

Personal Vehicles (read: commuters) make up the single largest source of CO2 emissions in the State of California: around 25% of the entire state’s carbon footprint. Outside of equity, abolishing Parking Minimums can also be framed as a climate issue. For at least the next 20 years, every new parking space is an expensive home for a future CO2 emitter. Parking spaces are also carbon intensive in their own way -- cement is the second most consumed resource on earth behind water and accounts for a 8% of global CO2 emissions. Less parking means less cement which means greener construction.

Los Angeles mode share needs to rapidly abandon it’s dependance on cars. Transit, walkability, and micro-mobility aren’t just the future of a more efficient and safer Los Angeles, but necessary for any attempt in reducing its carbon footprint.

An electric scooter, for example, cost 1/70th the cheapest Tesla, can travel more than 20 times the distance on the same kWh charge, and takes up 1/15th the space when parked.Small electric vehicles, including scooters and bikes, are far more affordable to individuals and families than car ownership. Efficiencies in price, energy, and space are essential to a rapid clean energy transition.

The UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network published an interactive map breaking down the average carbon footprint per household in every zip code across the nation. Spend five minutes looking at the map and a pattern becomes obvious: dense city centers are clearly the most CO2 efficient areas. The surrounding suburbs are the worst offenders. Density of housing and destinations allow people to drive less and take transit more. Denser housing also allows heating and air conditioning to operate more efficiently as neighbors share walls and people live in smaller homes.

Healthy urban environments sit at one end of a seesaw. Car centric infrastructure, including parking, sit on the other. These are combative ideals, oil and water; they define each other but cannot coexist.

DTLA highest and best use of land


Even the most automobile centered techno-future will have less parking. The double threat of autonomous vehicles and rideshare services makes car ownership obsolete. A system with fewer cars working more hours is far more efficient than the current model of “everyone spends lots of money on a personal vehicle that’s parked 95% of the day.” The future isn’t parked, it’s constantly moving.

It's important to understand that the answers to many of our cities largest problems don't involve glamorous solutions. Dense housing existed thousands of years before the earliest written language. London was building subways in the 1800s. In many cases, building safer pedestrian or cycling infrastructure simply requires painting different lines on the road and installing cheap bollards.

Cities are organisms that grow and change of their own accord, but we can't look past the fact that every part of a city is built by design. Every parcel in LA is zoned for certain uses, densities, and heights. There exists an archive in LADOTs headquarters of the exact dimensions of every roadway in the City of Los Angeles. People choose what cities look like and how they function, it's not only our responsibility, but also entirely in our power to change city design to be better.

Street parking can be converted into micro-mobility lanes, bus lanes, expanded sidewalks, parklets, and bike/scooter corrals. Let’s not only move more people, but also make our streets enjoyable places to be in instead of the fastest possible route through. If it isn’t comfortable for children and the elderly then we are failing.

Surface lots can be converted into housing, but also community amenities. Lets build more playgrounds and schools and parks. Let's plant more trees to capture carbon, absorb toxins out of the air, and reduce urban heat island effects.

Los Angeles has the space, it just needs right priorities.

Of course Los Angeles needs more than parking reform to fix it’s housing, transportation, and environmental challenges, but it’s representative of an unsustainable system. Los Angeles has 15,700 people living in their vehicles each night because we’ve done a better job building homes for cars instead of people.

Parking is simple, we have more than Los Angeles will ever need. There’s absolutely no reason to be building more.

900 parking stalls in a 7-level podium across from the Wilshire/Vermont station.

Santa Monica recently passed what might be the region's most progressive Parking Regulation. But even this only affects a small downtown core area and still requires half a parking space per multi-family unit.

The City of Los Angeles Transit Oriented Communities guidelines passed in 2018 allows developers to build higher, more affordably, and with less parking near rail stations and frequent busses. However only the least common Tier allows units to be built without any parking, and still sets the commercial parking minimum to 40%. All told, only some 2.5 square miles of Los Angeles are eligible for construction with no new residential parking through the TOD guidelines.

The City of LA’s Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan is currently the only zoned area in LA completely residential and commercially parking minimum free. Although not even one square mile, it allows any development to be built without any parking all and should be used as a model for future zoning decisions.

Re:Code LA , the city’s project to update zoning code across the city, looks to move towards a more sustainable parking policy: “In summary, the current approach to parking across the city should be reevaluated in light of contemporary development trends. Parking ratios should be more responsive to context and the availability of transit, without significantly impacting surrounding residential areas.” While the above summary reads optimistic, outside of unbundling parking and potential parking maximums around transit stations, the report specifics are generally bullish on parking. It assumes large amounts of new parking will continue to be built, used, and necessary.

Parking legislation should be focused on two things; what will get the most housing built the quickest, and what will best prioritize low-carbon solutions.

A proper policy would be similar to the following:

  1. No universal parking minimums. Developers choose how much parking the market requires.

  2. Parking Maximums in Transit Oriented Communities.

  3. All new parking garages must be built with a flat floor and a high enough ceiling to allow future conversion into office, studio, or living space.

  4. 20% of parking spaces must include EV charging, with the rest install ready.

  5. Garages must include an equivalent number of bicycle/micro-mobility parking spaces.

Authors note: Everyone who’s interested in improving parking policy should reach out to their local politicians. The full list of LA City Council Member contact info is here. Readers have been getting responses and opening up conversations!

A future with more people and fewer cars.


10. There are 18.6 million parking spaces in Los Angeles County. Two parking spaces (~400 sq ft) can comfortably fit a one bedroom apartment, meaning there is physical space for 9.3 million new units.

However, that fails to account for all the utilities, corridors, and amenities that go into residential buildings. It also fails to account for the opportunity to build vertically. So let’s start over. Parking spaces come in many different sizes, so estimating area based off a number of spaces can yield different results. The average parking spot in the US is 9’ by 18’ (162 sq ft), but that fails to include drive isles and eggresses which increase area to 330 sq ft.

How many acres of parking in LA County?

WB Estimate includes all parking lots larger than 5000 sq ft excluding residential 101 sq mi / 64,640 acres
UOT study 162 spaces per acre * 18.6m 179.4 sq mi / 114,814 acres
JAPA Study Total Estimate 200 sq mi / 128,000 acres

To calculate housing opportunity the above acreage estimations were multiplied by different housing densities. 50 units per acre seemed a medium amount of density suitable for most locations, with dense cores needing something closer to 100+ an acre and current single family neighborhoods needing sub 30 an acre.

64,640 acres 114,814 acres 128,000 acres
25 units per acre (Rowhouse) 1,616,000 units 2,870,350 units 3,200,000 units
50 units per acre (Mid-Rise) 3,232,000 units 5,740,700 units 6,400,000 units
100 units per acre (Short Highrise) 6,464,000 units 114,814,000 units 128,000,000 units

Although the total surface area we sacrifice to parking could be even higher, and the density of buildings built above even taller; 114,814 acres at 5,740,700 potential housing units is more than enough to prove the absurdity of current parking legislation in Los Angeles County.

21. There is an additional conversation to be had about California's reggressive Prop 13 which capped property tax increase at 2% per year of its most recent purchase or improvement value assessment. This incentivises property owners to sit on land because improving property will not only add taxable value but also bump them from outdated prices to market value. It also means the deficit in property tax revenue has been replaced by developer impact fees which makes new housing more expensive to build. California has impact fees 3 times the national average. The California Legislative Analyst's Office page sums up the hidden costs of Prop 13 nicely