Parking is a point of contention in communities across Metro Boston, yet many deliberations about the topic occur in the absence of hard data about how much parking we have, and how much we need. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) has begun a multi-phase initiative to develop the data and tools that communities need to establish informed, sustainable, and economical parking policies.

In Phase 1, MAPC conducted weekday middle-of-the-night surveys at 80 multifamily residential developments to measure how much parking was actually being used during the presumed hours of peak demand– when most people are at home and asleep. We also began to model the factors that best predict parking demand. Surveys were conducted in Arlington, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, and Melrose.

In the next phase, MAPC will collect data in Boston, Cambridge, and other nearby communities to create a broader sample and more robust statistical results. Ultimately, we plan to create online tools to support community decision-making about parking requirements.

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Parking Spaces Available

Our statistical models indicate that parking demand may be induced by abundant parking supply: the number of parking spaces available per housing unit is the single biggest factor associated with parking demand per housing unit. The analysis seems to indicate that “if you build it, they will park.”

Overbuilt Parking

Approximately one in four multifamily residential parking spaces were unused between the hours of midnight and 4 A.M., precisely the time one would expect the highest utilization. On average, each housing unit has 1.15 spaces available, but utilizes only 0.85 spaces. In all, MAPC counted nearly 1,200 empty spaces sitting unused across the 80 surveyed properties.


In Arlington, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, and Melrose combined, MAPC observed 1,187 unused parking spaces. This means that for every 10 housing units in the surveyed buildings, there are, on average 3 excess parking spaces. At 300 square feet per parking space, that translates into 356,100 square feet of unused space and, with construction costs at $10,000 per surface lot parking space, $11,870,000 of unnecessary spending.

Lost Opportunity

Instead of overbuilding parking spaces, communities can instead put this land to more productive and beneficial uses, including the development of open space, affordable housing, or other uses that may provide a higher tax base.

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