CNU CITY SPOTLIGHT: The Parking War in Cincinnati

This post is part of a new series on the CNU Salons, CITY SPOTLIGHT. City Spotlight shines a light on the latest news, developments and initiatives occurring in cities and towns where CNU members live and work.

The below post is a City Spotlight on downtown parking issues in Cincinnati. This is also the first City Spotlight from Katie Poppel, University of Cincinnati Planning student, current Amsterdam resident, and former CNU intern.

Cities across the globe are taking steps toward more sustainable transportation options. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are promoting biking, while Shanghai has one of the largest, most advanced rail systems in the world. Transportation is a key factor in creating a more sustainable lifestyle, but density is another important factor to consider. And density is not possible with a checkerboard of parking lots and buildings, now is it?

Parking lots cause many problems for a city, while only giving the benefit of somewhere to park an automobile when not in use. (They do not even look appealing.) Parking lots cause environmental problems; water run-off is disturbed without the option of sinking back into soil and polluted with chemicals on the pavement surfaces. Permeable surfaces allow less disruption to natural cycles. Parking lots also cause density issues. The more lots placed throughout a city, the less dense the urban area becomes. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.If you think about it, parking lots are one of the major, most visible differences between urban cities and their surrounding suburbs. Along with the environmental and density issues, parking lots give way for unsustainable modes of transportation. Parking lots promote automobile use over public transit or biking.

Underground Parking Garages

Cincinnati has struggled with parking in the past, but a new development technique gives way for a possible parking surrender in the future: underground parking garages.

(Important aspect: being underground, these garages do not take the place of buildings on the surface). These underground garages eliminate the negative environmental aspects of surface lots, although they do come with increased costs. The positive environmental aspects outweigh the cost for the most part. 

In Cincinnati, the redevelopment of Washington Square Park included an underground parking garage, as well as a park revamp. Mercer Commons, a new mixed-use development a block east of Washington Square Park, will hide its above ground parking, placing it behind the building.

The problem with parking garages or underground garages is the cost. The cost is originally taken on by the developer, but inadvertently raises the cost of the residential or office space it caters to. This eliminates the possibility of affordable housing; higher rental or sales costs narrow who can afford the unit. Not to mention, the cost for underground parking garages under public land, such as parks, is funded through taxpayers’ dollars. 

Cycling In Cincinnati

Cincinnati has also made more efforts for bicycle, scooter, and moped parking within the last few years. On-street parking spaces have been given to two-wheeled modes of transportation in an effort to promote these more sustainable options. The city ultimately hopes that by people seeing the option to bicycle, scooter, or moped, more people will choose those modes over the automobile.

The best way to encourage residents to use more sustainable modes of transportation is to change policy. Currently, there are parking minimum mandates based on development type.  Minimums account for the 'largest' case scenario; in other words, parking must accommodate the few times a year that every space will be needed. Large lots are unused along the banks of the Ohio River a majority of the time, only showing their true purpose during a football or baseball game. On the daily basis, they sit empty.

Allowing parking lots to share uses would be a better idea than requiring one or more lots for every attraction. 

You might be thinking those spaces are needed, even if only for a few times a year...yet, are they? Why could spectators not use public transportation and simply park further away?

Changing policy to allow for parking maximums would spur a rise in walking and possibly the use of public transit. According to UrbanCincy, there are over 30,000 parking spaces within the downtown core. Factor in that Cincinnati has about 550,000 residents, and you have an abundance of parking spaces classified obsolete a majority of the time. Maximums would funnel residents and visitors into public transit or more walkable communities. 


Personally, I would like to see Cincinnati take a more progressive approach toward eliminating the abundance of parking lots. Making room for two-wheeled transportation and choosing underground garages over surface lots are steps in the right direction, though not enough to pull the city out of its parking rut. Cincinnati needs to take the steps towards making downtown more pedestrian-friendly and public transit oriented. Until then, developments will continue including more parking spaces than necessary.


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