Reader view: Edmonds should follow Spokane, and eliminate parking minimum requirements

 (My Edmonds News file photo)

My Edmonds News recently published a story from the Washington State Standard explaining Spokane’s recent decision to remove parking minimum requirements, and that the Washington State Legislature is considering this policy on the state level. I wanted to write to the people of Edmonds, my hometown, and voice my support for this policy.

While it sounds like a radical idea, many jurisdictions across the U.S., from small towns to large cities, have implemented such reforms and have since benefited from lower housing costs, more connected communities, and more vibrant local economies. And, most importantly, this simple yet innovative reform helps reduce reliance on car travel as a mode of transportation, while at the same time not reducing parking availability for those who must or want to drive.  (I’d like to note that this argument does not include nixing accessible parking for those with disabilities, which of course should be provided).

I’d like to explain why. I know parking is a hot topic in Edmonds politics, but building consensus around this parking solution that sounds scary on its face could help our community move past the problem of parking for good.

Since the automobile began dominating American transportation, cities have required parking spaces for every kind of land use — residential, business, industrial and so on — assuming that every person (or at least most people) living in or visiting these places would drive. Despite the fact that nearly every city in America requires a specific number of parking spaces per development — depending on the square footage, number of dwelling units, etc. — there is no evidence that these metrics actually provide the right number of parking spots, according to a study by UCLA transportation researcher Donald Shoup. Simply put, urban planners made it up, and other cities copied them, and so on, until a network of parking minimum rules proliferated across the country, without any data supporting this policy (Shoup 1999).

This is bad news, because someone (businesses, renters, homeowners, taxpayers) pays for these parking spaces. I was astonished to find, as I researched these policies, how expensive it is to build a single parking space: a single spot can cost up to $10,000 for surface parking and up to $50,000 in a garage, depending on the value of the land (Strong Towns 2018), and yet the City of Edmonds requires business owners and homeowners to spend this money, even when extra parking is not needed or desired. For example, Edmonds requires retail stores to build one space for every 300 square feet, 1.2 parking spaces for a studio apartment, and three spaces for single-family homes with an accessory dwelling unit (Off-Street Parking Regulations 2023). Do these requirements really make sense in all cases? I would argue that the people paying for parking should decide how much to build or buy.

Parking minimums prevent residents and businesses from making the choice whether to spend this money. I think this is wrong. I grew up in downtown Edmonds, and my family moved here 20 years ago because it was affordable and walkable, and full of small-town charm. It made sense to purchase a home with parking spaces because of commuting needs. But Edmonds has made huge investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure like sidewalks and bike lanes over my lifetime; what are these investments for if not to allow people to live and work car-free?

I love the idea of living without a car, but even though I could theoretically do so in Edmonds, I would have to pay for a parking spot costing thousands — these costs are passed onto renters and homeowners, increasing housing costs across the board. And not only does parking cost more, it takes up more space on valuable land, limiting the number of units that can be built on a lot, limiting both housing affordability and supply. As a 23-year-old fresh out of college, housing is unaffordable in Edmonds. No other young person I know from Edmonds has been able to stay here after graduating high school, at least not without living with their parents. And certainly not downtown. Parking reform is a simple way to address this problem, and many more.

Since parking reform policies started popping up around a decade ago, the cities that implemented them have seen positive, and anticlimactic, results. I think the best example is Fayetteville, Arkansas, also a fast-growing city seeking to retain its small-town charm. First: While many Edmonds residents may be concerned about this potential, removing parking minimums in Fayetteville did not reduce parking availability. When homebuilders and businesses chose how many parking spots they needed based on expected demand, they still provided enough parking for customers or homeowners. While the overall number of parking spaces decreased, there was never a shortage of parking. Traffic did not increase either. Also worth mentioning is that there was no reduction in home values for existing homes, but newly built homes were cheaper for buyers and renters because the number of parking spaces was not excessive. Second: removing parking minimum requirements lifted barriers to starting a business while also not preventing access by customers. Business owners could still provide parking, but they could decide how much they needed and what would be financially viable (Sightline Institute 2022).

Furthermore, there was no reduction in patronage. An article from the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, highlights two business owners in Fayetteville who would have had to provide 30 parking spots in order to open up a restaurant in a large building. After the reform, however, they only needed to provide four, which, while much fewer than previously required, had no impact on their bottom line (Sightline 2022). Like Fayetteville, local business is the lifeblood of Edmonds. But we need to work to keep it that way. Parking requirements often give competitive edge to corporate chains, which can absorb the cost of parking much easier than small, unique, family-owned businesses (Strong Towns 2018).

This reform also provides cities the opportunity to build more pedestrian-friendly spaces, which in turn help businesses do better. A walkable downtown is part of the reason downtown Edmonds thrives (and it couldn’t have been developed with parking minimums in place, either); walkable places are places people gravitate toward, and the more people there are, the more money local businesses make. Many more people can fit on a sidewalk than in a parking space. Why would we provide more space for something which encourages fewer people to visit?

Finally, this reform would encourage more people to visit places like downtown, Firdale Village, Westgate, and Perrinville, without using a car to get there. Thankfully, Edmonds has both an ever-expanding network of high-quality pedestrian infrastructure, as well as a fantastic public transit service provided by Community Transit. Continued investment in these alternative transportation modes would allow more people to visit local businesses, decrease traffic and air pollution from cars, and help meet Edmonds’ climate goals.

Edmonds has indicated that it is serious about city-level climate action, but these promises mean nothing if the city continues to encourage auto-oriented development and force residents to rely on cars (which are even more expensive to own than building parking spaces). This will keep Edmonds from a real reduction in carbon emissions that all elected officials have indicated that they want to see. According to Edmonds’ climate action plan, 80% of Edmonds Greenhouse gasses come from transportation. To solve this enormous problem, we cannot rely on a transition to electric vehicles; we do not have time. Parking reform would help Edmonds meaningfully address greenhouse gas emissions without restricting car usage, while encouraging low- and zero-carbon transportation such as walking, biking and transit usage.

We have the policy tools we need to make Edmonds a more welcoming, sustainable and equitable community for the people who live here and who want to live here. If a city is unaffordable and exclusive, it by definition cannot be a welcoming and equitable community. Now and in the future, starting a business is and will be costly and a project only undertaken by those with strong financial backing, instead of simply anyone with a good idea. Parking reform, as I hope I have shown, is a simple, cost-free, and basically painless way to make our community work better for everyone by reducing costs for families and businesses across the board and reliance on polluting and costly vehicles while still providing parking to those who do need it.

— By Noal Leonetti

Noal Leonetti is an Edmonds-Woodway graduate who served a student representative on the Edmonds City Council in 2017-18.


  1. I don’t agree that parking limits should be lifted. I feel by having a posted limit cars will not park on the street and walk on the ferry or use parking as a residence.

      1. Mr Lin, if you’re able to narrate a genuine opinion, I would read it in an effort to understand it. But this treatment of other’s opinions does not advance anything.

        1. The writer of the Op-ed is proposing to eliminate current rules that require any new construction in the city to also include a minimum number of parking spaces based on size, use, and other factors. He gives lots of good reasons and points out that Spokane has recently done the same.

          The reply has *nothing* to do with that and mine was a tongue-in-cheek effort to point that out.

  2. Spoken like a true URBAN planner. The first question I would ask, does Edmonds want to be a dense urban city or a neighborhood suburban city? Once we can agree what we want to look like, then maybe some of these other concepts will fall into place.

    1. I moved to Edmonds in 1971. We lived at B Ave and fir. I loved Edmonds, worked at the pancake haus through high school and for the parks department during the summer while in college. As the author stated, I could not afford to buy in Edmonds so established myself in Mukilteo and raised my family there. My wife and I love to go to Edmonds as often as possible. We shop local and eat in the many lovely restaurants. We loved the outside seating during covid and the closed streets on summer weekends. One complaint, is the difficulty in finding parking as Edmonds has become very popular. I’ve stated the need for public parking lots. If parking became less available, we may be forcedto stop coming to Edmonds. With all due respect to a well written article, Edmonds is more than the current generation living there, or who have just finished their undergraduate and want to continue living there. It has a history which I am a part of. I want to continue enjoying my home town even though I dont live there and that, unfortunately, includes the availability of public parking.

      1. Hi Dave. As I tried to address in my piece, this reform does not eliminate parking–it simply reapportions it to fit demand. Overall parking will decrease, but only in places it isn’t needed, allowing valuabe land (and land in Edmonds is EXTREMELY valuable) to be used in a more responsible and useful way. As many other cities have found, congestion and parking availability do not become a problem after this policy is put in place. It sounds counter-intuitive, but unfortunately many best-practice urban planning concepts are. With this reform in place you would absolutely still be able to come down to enjoy Edmonds. Additionally, Historic Downtown Edmonds already does not have parking minimum requirements (to preserve historic areas).

    2. Hi Jim. Yes, Edmonds is in an urban area, and should accommodate the growth and change that comes with our geography. If we continue to restrict population growth, the housing crisis will continue to worsen, because people are moving here whether we like it or not. But that doesn’t mean Edmonds needs to look like Seattle. Medium density, like townhomes or duplexes, could serve to dramatically increase population and lower costs without putting high-rises here. These denser areas would allow for increased transit, which would mitigate any congestion created by population growth. All that would change are some homes adding a unit and increased bus frequency.

  3. What a well researched and thorough editorial. I completely agree that Edmonds, as well as other neighboring cities, should eliminate parking minimums for all the reasons Noal highlighted.

    1. Don’t forget edmonds businesses count on tourists to help support their business. They need parking availability. Lynnwood needs parking minimums with all the development going up everywhere. The Eastside of Washington does not compare to the Westside parking problems.

  4. City planning would certainly always require consideration of shared parking needs for groups of businesses in an area, but the onerous implications of parking minimums is that each and every business is made responsible for providing a minimum number of spaces. Strategically located lots and structures shared by businesses (typically at the edges of such areas), along with shuttle services to and from, would accommodate tourist arrivals and still promote the walkability of an area.

    Certainly, it’s a balancing act trying to maximize walkability vs. parking convenience, but this regulation change puts the onus on such planning decisions back onto the city where it belongs instead of on each individual business. At minimum, only specific areas of a city could have relaxed parking minimums, especially if single parking structures are located nearby. And residential parking minimums would still be considered separately.

  5. The main problem with this proposal is that public transportation options in Edmonds are very limited. Until there are convenient public transportation options, allowing development without parking will just add to congestion and lack of access to local businesses and to our senior population.

    1. Hi Peggy. I would agree that Public Transportation options in Edmonds are too few. But there are still great options in Edmonds today–I ride the 116, 196, and 130 buses all the time. The frequency of the buses need to improve, and I am excited that Community Transit is increasing service in anticipation of the Link Light Rail expansion next year: However, I would counter that this policy can be made devoid of transit expansion. Many small towns across the country have implemented this policy with no impact to congestion. As I noted in my piece, congestion does not increase with this policy and access to local business will not be negatively affected. It sounds counter-intuitive, but research and real-world examples back this up. Countless cities and towns across the country have implemented parking reform and have reaped the benefits of lowered cost of living, less pollution, and fewer barriers to local business.

      1. So how would an elder get to Firdale from the Bowl? It sounds great for towns that are walkable or have lots of options for transit. Your suggestion sounds great for young people, but not for elders. Your suggestion will increase density while marooning elders with no ability to ride a bike.

        I also notice that your comments discuss access to business and congestion. But what about an elder’s ability to get to the doctor or even the light rail?? Your piece loves to avoid the question of mobility for a segment of the population that you don’t seem to care about.

        1. Hi Peggy,

          I regret your characterization of my position, and your assuming that I do not care about elderly folks. There is nothing in my piece that should suggest this is the case. I am also not just optimistic, but have carefully researched my position, which is backed up by published scholars studying planning. First, just to clear this up, the 130 bus runs directly between the bowl and Firdale Village. Second, as I made clear in my article, this policy would not affect those who must drive. It simply removes unnecessary parking. Third, Sound Transit provides parking at light rail stations, and Community Transit is reorienting its service to get folks to and from Light Rail stations once it opens. Hope this helps clear up your concerns.

  6. I agree that the piece is very well written and that he did very thorough research ! And in a prefect world if we we’re building a city from scratch that those policies should be considered! But, in our city that is already 90+ percent built out and is wedged in by the water and other cities, this simply isn’t practical! Our transit systems do not provide a practical access to a large portion of the populace and cars remain a necessity for a large portion of the city and parking availability must be included in our planning !

  7. Thank you for this thought provoking contribution to the discussion about the issues of our times. A couple thoughts: First, we should question how much density and growth is desirable. Rather than just accommodating growth, maybe we should be questioning it more. How does merely accommodating growth affect quality of life? The elephant in the room is population growth. The US grew by some 50,000,000 people in the first two decades of the 21st Century. Is this a good thing? What is the limit? Do we just grow/accommodate/grow accommodate forever? Secondly, while things might have worked well in Fayetteville, comparing that place to Edmonds or anywhere else is not necessarily apt. There may be important geographical, demographic, social, and other factors that might nudge the metrics there, but not here. Same with Spokane. Third, public transportation both locally and nationally is decades behind. Most people still need a car. Here’s a partial list of things we can’t do without a car now, without a massive expenditure of time: go to work, to doctors, to the vet; go hiking, skiing, shopping, visiting friends, camping, visiting other cities. So, I believe removing a parking requirement while increasing density would result in a parking shortage and congestion for the foreseeable future. These are important matters, so thank you for sharing your ideas.

    1. Second, while different communities plan differently, urban planning concepts like this are universal. Yes, what Fayetteville did will work in Edmonds, just as it has worked in Beaverton, Bend, Raleigh, Hartford and other cities Finally, this policy works to change how we get around. We shouldn’t have to use a car to get to all those places you mention. This policy would encourage more people to use transit, which in turn would help fund and expand more transit. We don’t need to wait for a new transit system to stop using our cars. Not everyone will be able to make that change, but many will. If you need to use a car, this policy works for you–there will be enough parking. If not, it also works. That’s the beauty of this reform.

  8. Thanks for the great research, Noal.
    If Edmonds adopted a microtransit program such as the popular pilot project in Lynnwood ( ) small on-call vehicles could support the needs of people with disabilities as well as those needing quick trips to the pharmacy, to other transit and to downtown for events.
    Since Edmonds will need to absorb more population (there really isn’t a way to get out of that responsibility) it is time to try creative and sustainable solutions.

    1. Thanks for sharing this! In addition to fixed-route service, many transit agencies are adopting micro-transit, and it’s very popular!

    2. Nancy,

      Thanks for the link to this article. Project discussion was initiated in 2019, so four years later Lynnwood has the Community transit pilot project. Here is a quote: “Community Transit is in the early stages of evaluating on-demand and other microtransit services in Arlington, Darrington and Lake Stevens.” Seems Edmonds will have to wait our turn on this service being provided to us by Community Transit.

      The idea of Edmonds providing its own shuttle service to connect the neighborhoods, was proposed to our elected officials and has been discussed for years. Currently, the only service of this type in Edmonds occurs during the large, downtown events, such as Taste of Edmonds and the Arts Festival. And the holiday shuttle.

      Really good idea, but I suspect it will be a long time in coming. Unfortunately.

      1. So community transit wants to put taxis out of business by undercutting the cost of a ride and put that cost on the taxpayers no wonder the program is so popular, get picked up at home go to the store and a ride home with my groceries for less than the cost of a gallon of gas and saddle taxpayers with the bulk of the cost. What a great idea sign me up. Sorry uber drivers maybe you can get a job driving for the transit company you were underpaid anyway right, what is community transit going to offer next food delivery for nearly free how about you even doing the shopping for me. Will you tow the boat to the launch for me? Sure we will do that because we are the government and we are here to help.

    3. Nancy – Stay tuned! I’m hoping that Edmonds can be included in the 3rd year of this project. It is very successful for Lynnwood, well beyond their expectations.

      1. Community Transit is being severely challenged by budget constraints. Maybe you know of some expected fare or tax increases to pay for this?

  9. Want to see what Mr. Leonetti’s downtown Edmonds would look like if his vision were implemented? Just go to downtown Kirkland. Is that what we want for Edmonds ? I think not.

  10. Hi Vince. First, unfortunately, increasing density and growth is inevitable. Edmonds is in one of the largest metropolitan regions in the United States, and should not be planning like a small town. We can retain our small-town charm, but we are not a small town. People are coming to the Seattle area and Edmonds for a reason–it is a great place to be! We have challenges, but overall it is a wonderful place to live. Shutting people out of the opportunity to live in a vibrant community is wrong. I believe everyone who wants to live here should be able to.

    1. Noal,
      I respect your insights and the high quality research you put into your LTE. However, I’m struggling with the last sentence in your response above. Do intend that sentence should be taken literally? If so, how do you propose that goal should be achieved?

      1. Hi Dave,
        If you are referring to my position that everyone should be able to live in Edmonds, obviously, logistically that is difficult. Maybe I was being a bit hyperbolic. However, I do think Edmonds can get to a place where it is an affordable-enough place to be an option for families of all income levels can find a home in Edmonds. I don’t think parking reform could do this alone, but I believe it is an essential tool in keeping costs down. Achieving this goal would require zoning reform, which has already been mandated by the state legislature. Taken with the state-level reforms, parking reform, I believe could go a long way toward creating affordability in Edmonds, especially if neighboring cities adopt similar reforms.

    2. I don’t know whose proposal for the future is more wild-eyed, your belief that increasing density, without requiring parking will bring about a public transportation panacea in the near future, or my belief that we might be able to do something about population growth before it undermines the quality of life to such a degree that no one wants to move here anymore anyway. Quality of life has already greatly diminished in the area in the fifty years I’ve lived here, due to population growth, sprawl, uncontrolled development. Currently, we might see the parking requirement as a way of limiting density, which I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing. How dense do we want it? Having been to places like Bangladesh, Japan, India, and The Philippines, we don’t want things that dense! We need to do something about population growth sooner or later. It’s axiomatic that growth can’t continue indefinitely in a finite environment. I tire of those who wring their hands and say it’s just inevitable so accommodate it, helping make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Finally, going back to public transportation, in our anti-tax environment (plus the regressive gas and sales taxes in this state), there is no political will or ways and means for a public transportation salvation.

    3. “I believe everyone who wants to live here should be able to,” is one of the most absurd statements I’ve ever read. So by extension logic, “I believe everyone who wants to live in Woodway should be able to.” Or, ” I believe everyone who wants to live at Mar-A-Lago should be able to.” Man, where are these young people getting their educations and what are they being taught about just normal, simple, logical and reasonable thinking? No one can just live anywhere they want to, just because they want to.

      I’ve got a newsflash for you Noal; no one except car thieves and spoiled brats get anything they want just because they want it. If you want to live in Edmonds you have to have rich parents, a great education, job and income or a combination of that. If you want to be a brain surgeon you have to go to lots of school and earn the knowledge and ability to be one. The only people who get something “just because they want it” are spoiled brats and people in jail or soon will be.

      1. I used to think there were a lot of things I couldn’t have “just because I wanted them.” I was taught that you had to work, save, plan… Live and learn, I guess. /s

        Old Greek proverb: “Take what you want and PAY FOR IT.”

  11. A few thoughts here on a complex topic. Eliminating parking *requirements* would work in many areas where there’s no on-street parking available, such as along Edmonds Way and Highway 99. Developers there will include parking whether it’s required or not because it’s necessary to attract tenants and customers. And their lenders will almost certainly require it for the same reasons.

    But in other areas, like residential neighborhoods with free on-street parking, it becomes problematic. There developers can build apartment buildings with no parking knowing that tenants can and will park on the street~ but that only works until street parking is full up, then it becomes a problem for everyone. Reasonable parking requirements are necessary in such neighborhoods. The challenge is to get the number correct so developers aren’t forced to build more parking than needed.

    We have a family member who lives in a building with no parking on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. They have a map of the neighborhood on the fridge, and use a little magnet to locate where they last parked the car. They use transit for work and school, but for all the other trips that are difficult or impossible on transit, they still need a car. Try as we might, we can’t wish away private automobiles, at least not for many years to come.

  12. A town full of box style 900 Sq. ft. apartments with the only green and open space being in parks and a center of town, with ONLY walkable streets and no parking except bike racks. Boy that’s sure the “Burg” I want to live in. I can’t wait until we get our plastic state owned electric self driving transport pods and we can spend entire days in front of virtual reality screens reading our minds and doing our thinking for us. No, thanks. Glad I’m 77. Tonight I get to enjoy another evening of music, revelry and cars driving all over my neighborhood looking for guess what? PARKING

    1. And I’m looking forward to staying home, knowing that parking will be non-existent this side of Lynnwood, and disabled parking even more so.

  13. Noal,

    You recommend elimination of minimums for residential and commercial parking requirements, yet articles you reference support one or the other. The title of the first article is “Off-street parking for new homes: State may follow Spokane’s lead in eliminating requirements”

    Fayettville was the “first city in the nation to eliminate commercial parking”
    Quote from city planner, “These commercial buildings that sat vacant for years had a similar profile: older buildings on smaller lots, often near downtown.” These “were very quickly purchased, redeveloped, and are in use right now,”

    To my knowledge, there are no “vacant” commercial buildings in downtown Edmonds, our largest draw for residents and tourists. Unlike in Fayettville, developers are applying to tear down existing commercial buildings and build residential in our downtown.

    Your argument is not well backed up by your research. Edmonds is unique, and each neighborhood in Edmonds has it’s own unique qualities, including residential and commercial offerings. Eliminating all parking requirements is a bad idea. Each neighborhood must be addressed individually and with respect for the needs of those who live there.

    1. Ms. Bloom thank you for your comments. “With respect for the needs of those who live there.” I believe this is sorely lacking in both Olympia leadership and those who propose making Edmonds a one size fits all model model based on Spokane and Fayetteville. Edmonds and each neighborhood is indeed unique as you state and unlike either of these cities.

    2. Thank you Noel for this well researched and thought provoking article. It is very timely as our city moves forward with the 2024 Comprehensive Plan.

  14. I am familiar with this strong town group I have read a lot of their material and bantered back and forth with many supporters. I can’t say I agree with many of their positions. In Edmonds downtown parking minimums for business probably won’t affect much as long as we keep the public street parking. The problem would arise from new multi family development in downtown without enough parking because those new people will have cars and would take up much of our limited street parking used by the only thing keeping downtown prosperous visitors and tourists.
    I got a chance to talk to a candidate for elected office one thing I said was we have a really good thing here already, don’t screw it up. And the other came from strong towns the article was about underserved parts of town and that was to do something even if it was small and to keep working at it a sidewalk here a streetlight there as the infrastructure improves so will the whole area none of this giant landmark property nonsense being pushed now which does little to improve the area beyond its boundries. We need to focus on needs not wants what we got is better than most places already let’s not screw it up.

  15. I’m basically laughing at the idea that reducing parking space requirements for developers will trickle down to result in lower housing prices for residents.

  16. This is an interesting proposal to let the free market determine parking needs: property owners’ right to decide what parking they or their business need. The catch is the publicly funded street parking, but that can be solved. Since the public owns that, go back to charging for any daytime parking (the business user pays and the public gets the funds) and sell permits to residents. They can be reduced rates, but in the end the money paid goes back into the public coffers. At $10,000 for a surface space, over 20 years, “market value” is $500/year. This also hearkens back to the debate over streateries, and private business use of public property.
    The irony of this is, the idea of reducing parking to encourage public transit is a government-control, social-good argument. That’s usually seen as the antithesis of free market philosophy. Whenever I see that sort of juxtaposition, I think it’s ripe for unintended consequences.

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