Jan 29, 2024 - News

Downtown Des Moines is full of parking lots

Parking lots in downtown Des Moines
Data: ParkingReformNetwork; Map: Axios Visuals

More than a quarter of downtown Des Moines' central business district is dedicated to parking lots, according to analysis by Parking Reform Network.

  • That's slightly more than neighboring Omaha, Nebraska (23%) but less than Grand Rapids, Michigan (28%), for example.
  • Larger and more commuter friendly Chicago is only 4% parking lot.

Why it matters: Parking lots decrease walkability and create dead space by sprawling out between buildings and taking up space that could be used for housing.

  • They're bad for the environment, too. Pavement creates more flood risks due to lack of vegetation and also retains and creates warmth when it's sunny outside, according to a Yale study.

How it works: Parking Reform Network analyzed the downtown area encompassing the Iowa Events Center, the Des Moines Civic Center, Court Avenue and Hotel Fort Des Moines and determined 26% of it is dedicated to parking lots and garages, excluding street and underground parking.

Driving the news: The group is advocating for cities to eliminate mandates that require developers to create new parking spots for new residential and commercial businesses, Tony Jordan, president of Parking Reform Network, tells Axios.

  • In 2022, 15 cities rolled back parking space mandates, including Gainesville, Florida and Anchorage, Alaska, the New York Times reported.

Zoom in: Des Moines has not required parking minimums for decades, Mike Ludwig, deputy director of development services, tells Axios. That extended to most of the East Village in 2019.

  • Ingersoll and the Dogtown districts require 40% less parking spots than other areas of Des Moines.
  • Mayor Connie Boesen has also said she wants to redevelop unused parking lots downtown into housing.

What they're saying: For communities to become less car-dependent, Jordan argues reducing available parking and increasing the price of existing spots will create a demand for more transit routes, helping those options become more financially solvent.

  • Less parking lots also allow more room for development — increasing transit demand and pedestrian infrastructure, he says.
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