At first, Sonny Astani wasn’t too happy about the city’s new bike ordinance, which was going to force him to build hundreds of bicycle parking spaces for his mixed-use development in downtown Los Angeles.

But then he realized that simply complying would cut him a big break. In exchange for installing the required bike parking, the city was suddenly willing to let him cut 110 of his required 705 car parking spaces. That meant one less floor of underground parking and an ultimate savings of more than $3 million.

“I think originally everyone was freaking out, but then you realize the savings and how we have less car parking,” he said.

For those keeping score at home, Astani’s 640-apartment development that includes 40,000 square feet of retail space on Grand Avenue and 12th Street will have 744 bike parking spaces and only 595 car parking spaces. That’s less than one car-space per residence.

That’s a risky move for an L.A. developer, one that others are unwilling to accept.

“If you want to rent units without the luxury of onsite parking, good luck,” said Hamid Behdad, president of consulting firm Central City Development Group. “Parking nowadays in downtown L.A. has become an amenity that a lot of people don’t want to pay for.”

Astani is nonplussed and remains willing to bet that parking will not be needed for every unit.

“It’s correct that it could be a problem for marketing reasons, and a lot of institutional developers don’t like it because their investors and construction lenders want more car parking,” he said. “But I think this was more of a problem two to three years ago. Now everybody gets it, that urban life means less cars.”

The City Council passed the bike parking requirements for new residential and commercial projects in January with little fanfare. Many developers are embracing the new law because it gives most large projects the option of cutting car parking requirements by 10 percent to 30 percent, resulting in construction savings and greater flexibility.

“It’s kind of funny. It’s a transformative ordinance but didn’t get that much attention because I don’t think people really understood it until it passed,” said Eric Bruins, planning and policy director at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, which championed the ordinance. “The only way you can reduce parking by right is through this ordinance.”

New requirements

The law, which went into effect in March, requires most new commercial, industrial and multifamily residential projects built anywhere in the city of Los Angeles to install bicycle parking.

Requirements vary depending on size and project type. Retail stores, for example, are required to have two bike spaces – one long term (covered) and one short term (uncovered) – for every 2,000 square feet built, meaning a 100,000-square-foot facility would require 100 bike parking spaces.

Multifamily residential buildings are required to have one covered space for each unit, plus one uncovered space for every 10 units. As a result, a 100-unit apartment building needs to have 110 bike parking spaces.

Projects that had completed entitlement applications as of March 13 are exempt.

The ordinance also requires developers in some cases to provide showers and lockers for bike-riding employees.

But in exchange for the new requirements, developers have the option of reducing the required number of car parking spaces at a rate of one less car space for every four bike parking spaces built. A residential building can reduce up to 10 percent of its auto parking this way, while those near transit stations can reduce auto parking by up to 15 percent. Nonresidential buildings can reduce auto parking by 20 percent, and up to 30 percent if transit adjacent.

With the cost of underground parking running to about $40,000 a space, those savings can be significant.

While not going to the lengths Astani is, other developers are taking advantage of the opportunity to reduce the number of expensive car spaces they build into their projects.

Under the new ordinance, Izek Shomof, building a 450-apartment project downtown, could have built fewer car parking spaces than residential units. But he chose to maintain a one-to-one ratio. Townscape Partners, developer of a 249-unit Hollywood mixed-use project known as 8150 Sunset, also chose to build more car parking spaces than the reduced requirement.

Both Townscape and Behdad, a consultant on the Shomof project, declined to say whether the swaps would have saved money, though both could save on square footage if they built according to minimum bike-parking dimensions.

“In general, subterranean parking in an urban infill development is a costly situation. The deeper in the ground you go, the more expensive it gets,” Behdad said. “But, ultimately, the market dictates what the requirements are.”

A spokesman for Townscape also cited market demand for building 849 car parking spaces instead of the reduced minimum requirement of 787 for its Hollywood project.

Two other large mixed-use projects, Martin Expo Town Center in West Los Angeles and the Hollywood Palladium, could qualify for significant reductions in auto parking but have not yet indicated plans to do so.

Not everyone is as enamored of the ordinance as the developers and bike advocates.

“This is just a giveaway to developers more than any promotion of alternative transportation,” said Ken Alpern, chair of the Transit Coalition and committee member of the Mar Vista Community Council. “This really just smacks to me of letting developers skirt the law.”

The ordinance is wide-reaching, requiring all new residential projects of more than three units to have more bike parking spaces than units. Developer Barry Shy, who is still in the design stages of a 40-story residential tower in downtown, said he supported the concept of mandatory bike parking but thought the requirements were far too high.

“One bike space per unit is very stupid – they’re never going to be used, especially in Los Angeles. Maybe 20 percent of tenants will have bikes,” he said.

David Somers, in charge of implementing the city’s bike plan at the Department of City Planning, said there has not been much negative feedback and that the ordinance is in line with the city’s broader transit-oriented goals.

The Bicycle Coalition’s Bruins added that building bike infrastructure would promote use and reducing auto parking could reduce the cost of housing for residents.

“It’s about trying to get the city to be reflective of the type of city that we are expecting it to become,” he said.

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