On Aug. 24, City staff presented a recommendation to the City’s Parking and Transportation Committee to reduce the parking requirements for multi-family dwellings in Transit Oriented Development (TOD) areas, which are designated areas near public transit stations.  The recommendation is to require one parking space for each residential unit for new multi-family developments in TOD areas. Currently the requirement is 1.25 parking spaces for each studio or one-bedroom unit, 1.5 parking spaces for each two-bedroom unit; and 2 parking spaces for each three-bedroom unit in a multi-family development.

In addition, staff said they plan to propose requirements to establish parking spaces for bikes in new multi-family and commercial developments, and they asked for the Committee’s guidance on the number of parking spaces for bikes to be required for multi-family developments.

Longer term, staff recommends that the City conduct a comprehensive study of public and private parking facilities to determine parking needs within key TOD areas.

The recommendations are based on a study conducted by the staff of the Regional Transportation Authority and its consultants, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Sam Schwartz Engineering and Duncan Associates. The study was funded by a grant from the RTA.


Evanston has a total of 11 transit stations, and it has designated areas around the transit stations as TOD areas. A TOD is typically defined as a compact, higher-density development in proximity to a transit station. People who live within a TOD have the ability to walk, bike, or take transit to work.

Data show that on both a national and local basis, there is a trend for people who live in TOD areas to own fewer cars and thus need fewer parking spaces than people who live further away from transit stations. The City’s current parking requirements, however, do not reflect this trend, which results in higher parking requirements than necessary, says the RTA Study.

A memo prepared by Mark Muenzer, the City’s Director of Community Development, and other City staff says, “The City has made concerted efforts in encouraging denser, more walkable development near these transit stops in recent years,” and “that while current parking requirements may be well suited in more residential areas away from transit stops, they often lead to underutilized parking spaces in TOD areas.”

The RTA Study listed some key benefits of encouraging denser developments near transit stations.  These developments can lower the cost of living by enabling households to get by with fewer cars.  When more households live close to transit stations, they can drive less, reduce traffic congestion, and produce fewer greenhouse gases. Also denser developments near transit stations can increase the City’s property tax base.

Municipalities can maximize these benefits, says the RTA Study, when they allocate more space toward housing units in TOD areas, rather than toward parking for automobiles. For example, the RTA Study says that excessive parking requirements may unnecessarily increase the cost of housing and may also reduce the availability of affordable housing. An indoor parking space costs about $37,300, which is passed on to the buyer. 

Excessive parking requirements also reduce the space that could be devoted to other uses. For example, the study found that 350 square feet is needed for each parking space, taking into account the parking stall, the turning radius, lanes and ramps. If the need for three parking spaces is eliminated, a 1,050-square-foot housing unit could be added to a development, which expands the stock of housing near transit stations and also increases the City’s tax base.

Additionally, the RTA Study concludes that excessive parking requirements disproportionately burden lower-income households, who are less likely to own multiple cars.

The study concluded that the City’s parking requirement were excessive, relying on four types of data:

• Vehicle ownership in Evanston is 1.36 vehicles per household. Vehicle ownership in census tracts that include all TOD areas is 9% less than the average. In areas around the Davis Street TOD, car ownership is 15% less;

• A recent traffic study found that parking demand for four developments in Downtown Evanston (Optima Towers, Optima Views, Optima Horizons, and The Reserve) ranged from 0.9 vehicles per unit to 1.05 vehicles per unit;

• City Council recently approved developments near transit stations with reduced parking requirements ranging from 1.0 to 1.15 parking spaces per unit (835 Chicago Ave. – 1.09 spaces; 1571 Maple Ave. – 1.13 spaces, 1620 Central St. – 1.15 spaces, 1700 Central St. – 1.0 spaces);

• An analysis of eight “peer” cities indicates that for units of one bedroom or less, the amount of required parking ranges from zero to 1.125 parking spaces per unit, for two-bedroom or larger units, the range is zero to 1.5 parking spaces per unit.

Under staff’s recommendations, the incentives provided for affordable housing units under the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance would not change. In addition, developers could continue to request reductions in parking spaces on a case-by-case basis and could seek to provide required parking by leasing spaces in the City’s garages.

 At the meeting of the Parking and Transportation Committee, Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynn, 3rd Ward, expressed reservations about reducing the parking requirements. Mr. Muenzer told the RoundTable that members of the committee also asked for additional information and made several suggestions, including that staff determine the number of vehicles registered at TODs, compared to the actual parking utilization numbers observed; determine the number of registered vehicles in Evanston, compared  to the number of households within Evanston, in order to project car ownership per household in the future; investigate a fee in lieu of providing parking that the City would collect from developers;  and explore starting a pilot downtown TOD parking area. 

Mr. Muenzer said staff will negotiate with the consultants who prepared the RTA Study to determine which steps can be completed under the RTA grant.  A proposal, with additional data, will go back to the Transportation and Parking Committee most likely in the first quarter of 2017. Once reviewed again by the Committee, it will go to the City’s Plan Commission for its review and then to City Council, he said. 

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...