Lukas Flippo, Photo Editor

Yalies volunteering with a Connecticut housing advocacy group say that New Haven could use less parking. Officials from the New Haven Parking Authority and some Yale professors agree.

The advocacy group, Desegregate CT, views parking quantities and the zoning reforms that govern it as adjacent to its principal concern of housing equity in the Nutmeg State. The group’s organizers, which include several Yale College and graduate school students, have focused their recent efforts on lobbying for S.B. 1024, a bill that the organization hopes could bring much of the zoning reform they believe is long overdue. 

The bill proposes to set a statewide cap on the minimum number of parking spots cities can require developers to include with new housing projects, in addition to changes in zoning and how Connecticut measures traffic congestion. The state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee heard testimony for the bill on March 15.

“Parking minimums require developers to purchase more land, which drives up costs, and they also force us to pave over green space,” Desegregate CT Partnerships Coordinator Robby Hill ’24 told the News.

In recent years, the New Haven Independent reported, the Elm City’s zoning codes have hindered new housing developments in New Haven, some of which were meant to construct affordable or higher-density units.

Hill stressed that the bill does not eliminate all parking minimums but instead sets a ceiling for them. If passed in its current form, S.B. 1024 would cap requirements at zero lots for multifamily units within a half mile of transit stops, one lot per studio or one-bedroom apartments, and two lots for two-bedroom apartments and larger. In New Haven, residences that fall under the “general high density” category — which includes apartment houses — require three parking lots for every four residential units built, with exceptions for public or elderly housing.

Desegregate CT was founded by attorney and visiting professor at the Yale School of Architecture Sara Bronin.

Since the onset of the pandemic, New Haven has reported unprecedentedly low rates of ticket sales for its parking garages, leading many to call for a reconsideration of the role of parking. Most recently, board members of the New Haven Parking Authority, led by Executive Director Doug Hausladen, voted on March 15 to sign on as one of Desegregate CT’s supporting organizations, making it one of the highest-ranking bodies in the state to do so. Hausladen, who penned an op-ed in the Register in support of S.B 1024’s parking minimum provision, said that Desegregate CT’s platform furthers many of his department’s goals, including bringing cars back into city-run garages.

“No matter what town in Connecticut you live, parking requirements raise your cost of living and diminish the vitality of your downtown,” Hausladen wrote in an email to the News. “NHPA is proud to join a broad-based list of coalition members to support the Desegregate Connecticut platform to bring about a more environmentally friendly, equitably designed, and economically viable State of Connecticut.”

According to Professor of Urban Studies Elihu Rubin ’99, the push by city planners to make cities less dependent on car-based transportation began to gain traction during the 1980s as part of the New Urbanism movement. Capping parking lot requirements is one way to move closer to that goal, Rubin told the News.

“Parking requirements are a hangover from the retrofitting of cities to the automobile … and take away a lot of otherwise-marketable, usable spaces,” Rubin said. “If you want to build an urban future oriented to pedestrians, bicycles and transit, you need to start institutionalizing a decreased dependence on automobiles.”

Hill noted that S.B. 1024, which is due for a committee vote on or before April 10, would also switch Connecticut’s method of measuring traffic congestion from an “archaic” level-of-service system to “vehicle miles traveled,” a move which was most recently passed in California with the support of transportation leaders statewide. This change would shift the suggested focus of cities’ traffic quality metrics from drivers’ convenience to other goals like reduced greenhouse gas emissions and better multimodal transportation.

Among the bill’s other transit-related policies is a proposal to change zoning laws to require that 50 percent of the land around transit stations be set aside for buildings with four or more units of housing. This proposal, along with other zoning changes, recently generated controversy among public officials.

Rubin added that he believes New Haven has huge potential to be extremely walkable. He said that S.B. 1024 is one example of public policy and activism catching up to decades of urban theory.

The New Haven Parking Authority was founded in 1953.

Isaac Yu | isaac.yu@yale.edu

ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu writes about transportation, traffic safety and urban planning in New Haven. He is also a production and design staffer for the News. Hailing from Garland, Texas, he is a Berkeley College first-year majoring in English and Urban Studies.