Seattle’s New Bike Parking Requirements Show How Regulation Kills Housing

I’m often greeted with some skepticism when I make the point that regulation is making housing prices worse. Some people just don’t believe it, instead blaming greed or Amazon. Others dismiss what I’m saying as libertarianism; we shouldn’t have any rules! But David Neiman, an architect and an expert at explaining how bad rules and regulations distort design and drive up costs, sent a letter to the Council that makes my point better than I ever could. This absurd overreach by the City Council is emblematic of why housing is expensive in Seattle.

Subject: CB 119173 – Concerns about changes to bicycle parking requirements

Dear Councilmembers,

As an architect who specializes in the design of small, dense, affordable housing, I want to voice my concerns about the changes to bicycle parking requirements proposed in CB 119173. The proposal increases the requirement for bicycle parking almost five times from what is required today, creates rigid prescriptive requirements for how parking must be provided that does not reflect the wide variety of valid solutions in common use, and creates technical enforcement issues where the land use code would require accessible features beyond what is required by the building code, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Fair Housing Act.

This is a radical Increase in bicycle parking requirements

Prior to 2014, multi-family projects required 1 bicycle parking space for every 4 units of housing. In 2014, Councilmember O’Brien crafted micro housing legislation that doubled these requirements for small units (to 2:4). When that micro-housing legislation came under consideration by the PLUS committee, councilmember Nick Licata inserted an amendment to raise the requirement by another 50% (to 3:4).  The 2014 changes were not based on an empirical study of the parking needs for residents of micro housing. They were based on hand-waving and hunches. The new legislation will increase the requirement for all housing types to 1.2 bike parking spaces for every dwelling unit. This is another 60% increase in parking requirements for micro-housing. For conventional housing (not micro-housing) this is a 480% increase above today’s baseline. Based on my own experience, I’d guess that the demand for bike parking in our projects is around 1 bike per 4 units. It’s nowhere near the 3:4 ratio currently required in micro-housing. The 1.2 spaces per unit requirement proposed is simply ludicrous.

 Prescriptive requirements are not appropriate for emerging issues

There is some need for bicycle parking in multifamily buildings, but exactly how much and the best way to provide it is something that is emerging and evolving. Some building owners provide bike parking in enclosed secure rooms. Some owners provide parking in open racks in the lobby where it is most convenient and visible. Some provide parking right by the front door for convenience, some by the alley entrance to keep the lobby clean and tidy. Some put the bike parking down in the basement so that they can save the prime locations for other more essential functions. Some provide a bike rack in the units themselves. Some provide a bunch of parking because they suspect their target demographic may need it, some provide very little parking based on their experience owning and operating buildings. All of these approaches are potentially valid for a given location, building type, and demographic. There is no consensus as to what an appropriate amount of bicycle parking should be. Locking down all projects to a single prescriptive requirement would be deeply counterproductive & will lead to poor design outcomes.

The burden of these new requirements fall most heavily on small projects with generous common spaces

The successful design of micro-housing requires efficient, thoughtful planning. There is no free lunch. Every square foot that is wasted on a useless feature is one that is not available for other needs. To help illustrate this point, I have applied the new bicycle parking standards to one of our current projects. 8311 15th Avenue NW is a 78 unit micro-housing project currently proposed for the Crown Hill Urban Village. The main floor of the project provides a mix of accessible housing units, a generous residential commons, small incubator retail spaces, and a courtyard shared by the residential and commercial spaces. The accessible housing is required. The commercial space is required. The trash room is required. The only element left at the main floor that is optional are the common spaces.  With the application of CB 119173. Almost all of the common area would be consumed by bike parking. This drawing shows the bike parking provided exactly as it is prescribed: All of it fully enclosed, on the main floor, accessible, one for every resident. The outcome is an abomination. The project loses its common kitchen, dining area, and living room. In its place residents get to enjoy a bunch of (mostly empty) bike storage rooms.


Accessibility requirements should not be in the land use code

Lastly, the proposed legislation contains a requirement for all bicycle parking to be accessible. Accessibility is a term of art in the regulation of buildings. The building code exhaustively scopes when accessible features are required, the Fair Housing Act and ANSI 117.1 provide technical standards for how accessible features must be designed. As it stands today, the building code does not require all bike parking to be accessible, and neither the Fair Housing Act nor ANSI 117.1 contain design standards for what constitutes accessible bike parking. The new legislation quite literally goes beyond anything required by today’s codes, mandating the building owners provide an accessible feature that no building official can enforce because no one knows what that actually means.

The bicycle parking provisions in CB 119173 are ill conceived, poorly vetted, and deeply counterproductive. I suspect they have been crafted by reading and transcribing standards from a planning textbook, without meaningful input from the design profession, and without research into current bicycle parking usage in Seattle multi-family housing.  I implore you to remove these standards from this legislation. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

David Neiman

Principal, Neiman Taber Architects, PLLC

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