March 17, 2011

Capping Parking, Raising Quality of Life

Hamburg, Portland and Zurich are often cited in livability surveys as having high quality urban environments with citizens enjoying near mythical quality of life. All of them have instituted parking caps, sealing the existing public parking supply. Hamburg and Portland have had these caps in place since the mid-70s.

Zurich’s parking cap came later, in 1996, but the city had long been investing in public transit. Within the capped zone, when a new space is built off-street, an on-street space is removed to keep the equilibrium. The on-street spaces are then repurposed for other needs like widened sidewalks, pedestrian corridors, tramways or bikeways.

When I visited Zurich, the central business district was bustling with commercial and social activity. By boosting investment in greener and cleaner modes, alongside stricter limits on parking, the city has maintained, or even expanded access to the city’s core economic opportunities. Shops team with customers, office workers make up a good portion of the lunch crowd, area residents pursue their daily errands and visitors enjoy the abundantly fresh air.

Rennweg Street before, with parking
Rennweg Street before with parking


Rennweg Street after the parking cap, the street is transformed into shared space, creating more room for people
Rennweg Street after the parking cap the street is transformed into shared space creating more room for people


Outside of the cap zone in Zurich, developers are only permitted to build new parking if the surrounding roads can absorb additional traffic without congestion and without violating ambient air quality norms.

This rule was imposed on Sihl City, new a retail and entertainment center near Zurich’s city center. Though the development is roughly three times the size of Atlantic Center in Brooklyn (one of the most transit accessible shopping centers in the United States), it was only allowed to have half the number of parking spaces. Planners wanted to limit car trips (and congestion and pollution) to the site, so they capped parking, and provided high quality connections by transit, walking and bike. Today the center is meeting or exceeding the number of daily visitors (approximately 20,000) that planners wanted to attract, but 70% of them come by transit, walking or bicycle instead of driving.

Parking caps, along with a priority on making walking, cycling and transit more attractive options have helped make Zurich one of the most livable cities in Europe, without putting a damper on commercial activity.

Read more case studies in our European and United States parking reports.

Posted by: Michael Kodransky, Global Research Manager, ITDP


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