Trouble Parking? Des Moines Has 1.6 Million Parking Spaces

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If you’ve ever wanted to move after making concentric circles trying to find a parking spot in your city, maybe Des Moines, Iowa is the place.

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA) released a comprehensive inventory of parking in five cities across the country. It found that Des Moines, Iowa has 1.6 million parking spots available. That’s seven for every human being in the city.

It’s a similar situation in Jackson, Wyoming. “Parking spaces outnumber homes 27 to one in Jackson, swiftly answering the question…’was there really a shortage of parking in Jackson?'”

The report, authored by Eric Scharnhorst, Principal Data Scientist for Parkingmill, which provides heat maps and information for the parking concentrations in cities all over the country, suggests that cities have invested a lot more in parking than was really necessary, especially given changing driving habits in some cities on the coast.

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That may come as a shock if you’ve ever tried to park a car in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It’s one thing to study Jackson, Wyoming, where the report notes that 64 percent of parking spaces are left empty during the day. What about a city where people actually live? The answers are pretty surprising.

The study also looked at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Seattle, Washington and New York City, and it shows similar patterns.

In Philadelphia, for example, the city has actively reduced parking spaces across the city. Yet, “Twenty-five years of parking studies in the City Center of Philadelphia show that public parking occupancy rates have been declining since 2005, despite infill development reducing the overall amount of parking in the area,” the report reads. In 2015, one 110-space parking lot was converted to a 540-space, above-ground parking garage, only to realize that it recorded just 56 percent occupancy, with 302 parking spaces left vacant throughout the day.

Of course, this is a city where parking vigilantes regularly put cars in the median.

The report cites a NYC DOT study of on-street parking near Barclays Center, where the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders play. “[M]ore than half of metered parking spaces were vacant on non-events days and 30 percent of these stalls were still available during a Nets game.”

Of course, the Brooklyn Nets stink.

Regardless, the study points out three major trends that make a report like this one timely:

First, we’re driving less, especially in cities, thanks in part to ridesharing, and people simply own fewer cars. For the first time in 40 years, the number of households in Seattle that own a car has declined.

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Second, cities are relaxing their parking regulations. The way a city like Des Moines gets 1.6 million parking spaces is that the city requires every single development to offer a minimum number of parking spaces. As trends in driving change, some cities are beginning to ease those requirements.

Finally, there’s just more data, and it’s more available for research than ever. Cities that enacted parking requirements in the 1990s were — at best — working on an educated guess of how many parking spots were available in a city, and how many were actually being used. Today, we’re a lot closer to understanding how parking is actually utilized in major cities, thanks to satellite imagery, as well as the “open data” movement that finds cities releasing data more readily than ever before.

It’s also interesting to look at how differently cities have managed their parking.

The vast majority of Philadelphia’s parking spaces are in off-street, surface parking lots, with just 20.4% of the entire city’s parking available on-street.

It’s completely the opposite in New York City, where 65.% of parking spaces are on the street, and just 16.6% are found in parking garages. That means that if you’re hunting for parking spaces in an unfamiliar city, it requires a completely different strategy.

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How those parking spaces are structured makes a huge difference in what a city, and its residents, pay to make that parking available. For this study, Scharnhorst calculated a “Total Parking Replacement Cost” for every city, using land values calculated with the size of each existing parking spot, and whether they’re on-street, off-street lots, or garages, which are obviously the most expensive.

Using these calculations, Scharnhorst determined that Des Moines, Iowa had invested $6.42 billion in parking, which cost each household approximately $77,165.

Compare that with New York City. NYC invested more in total ($20.55 billion), but that’s largely due to the cost of land in that city. Because it offers most of those spaces on-street, each household only picks up a $6,570 tab to make parking available.

There’s a ton of interesting data in the 40-page report, which is available from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Let us know how the parking situation is in your city, and how it’s changed over the years.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at