Skip to main content

Eliminating Parking Minimums in Buffalo, NY

Illustration by Wynton Henderson

Read Next


Cities across the nation have minimum parking requirements, which set a mandatory number of parking spaces to be included when new housing is developed. These minimums have led to an oversupply of parking, with parking spaces making more than one-third of land in many American city centers.

Parking minimums raise the cost of housing by using up valuable land, thereby preventing increases in housing density and supply. They also add to construction costs: As of 2016, the average cost to build a parking space was found to range from $5,000 per surface space to up to $35,000 per underground garage space. The extra costs of construction are passed on to households or businesses in the form of higher rents or sale prices, and they disincentivize development.

In Buffalo, NY, parking spaces made up much of the downtown area by 2017, guided by a zoning code established in 1953. Meanwhile, over that same period, the city experienced a significant decline in population, jobs, and economic investment, as well as a dwindling housing supply—lessening the need for so much parking downtown.

Reforms Implemented

In 2017, Buffalo enacted its Unified Development Ordinance, or Green Code, becoming the first U.S. city to eliminate off-street parking minimums citywide. Under the new ordinance, large development proposals are required to submit transportation demand management plans, although these still have no standard parking minimums. The elimination of parking minimums allows developers to consider a variety of factors including the walkability of an area, the distance from bus or light rail stops, and the possibility of shared parking arrangements.

While other case studies in this series highlight reforms to boost housing supply to keep pace with the demand for homes, Buffalo did not have excess housing demand it needed to satisfy. Instead, Buffalo’s Green Code was proposed as a tool to attract businesses and offices, promote economic development, and revitalize the downtown, as well as to reduce the city’s environmental impact. However, for other cities, eliminating parking minimums is in fact a tool to increase affordable housing supply to meet demand.

Early Evidence

In the years after the city eliminated its parking minimums, the reform meaningfully reduced the number of new annual parking spaces per unit of development. Specifically, new mixed-use developments—those with both residential and commercial units—included less than half of the parking spaces that would have been required under previous parking minimums. However, development for single-use residential, commercial, and civic developments exceeded the previous parking minimums. Overall, in the first two years of the reform, the number of off-street parking spaces decreased by 502 spaces.

This immediate, overall drop in the number of new parking spaces demonstrates that Buffalo’s elimination of parking requirements is having the impact the city intended. Out of the developments that chose to include parking, one-third made parking an amenity available at an extra charge, instead of factoring the cost of the spot into rent or the purchase price. As a result, there are signs the city is starting to become less car-dependent, with a stretch of road once lined with car dealerships now filled with new sidewalks, streetlights, and a protected bike lane. Meanwhile, the population of Buffalo increased in recent years for the first time in decades.

The elimination of parking minimums also allowed new developments that would not have been feasible under the old zoning code. According to researchers, 68% of new homes permitted in Buffalo since the Green Code was implemented would be illegal under the previous zoning code. For example, one project rehabilitated an existing older building and turned it into 10 new apartment units as well as retail space. More broadly, mixed-use developments that have shed parking spaces allow for denser, more walkable cities as residents can access commercial parts of the city without the use of a car.

However, parking reform cannot claim all the credit for economic development in recent years. For example, in 2012, New York state committed $1 billion in grants and tax credits to grow Buffalo’s economy.

As mentioned, housing supply was not the primary issue targeted by Buffalo’s Green Code—so housing supply data is not the best measure of the program’s success. Still, as the graph below shows, Buffalo’s annual multifamily housing construction grew after the Green Code was implemented, compared to previous years, though the high level of new housing was likely due to a variety of factors, including recently increasing population.

Read more zoning and land use case studies here.

Support Research Like This

With your support, BPC can continue to fund important research like this by combining the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans.

Give Now