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A cheat sheet on Professor Donald Shoup's groundbreaking work

Evan Goldin

Parkade was born out a belief that the way parking is used in the United States leaves a lot of room for improvement, and we want make it a lot easier for buildings to do a better job of better utilizing their parking.

There's much more to the story, literally, and the story was written by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup. His groundbreaking work, The High Cost of Free Parking, finally shined a spotlight on how parking works in America, and why it's so vital to fix it. In his parking treatise, he explains the rise of "minimum parking requirements" — the pesky laws most cities have on the books that require specific amounts of parking in pretty much every type of new construction (or even existing buildings, when the building's use changes).

He also dives into the problems with such laws, and why it's so problematic that the costs of parking are paid indirectly by all members of society, rather than by people who are driving and parking. His work even inspired an entire Vox documentary:

At 800 pages though, it's a long read. And while we highly recommend it everyone, to help educate the public on parking and how much better it could work, our founder Evan Goldin has summarized the book and, with Professor's Shoup permission, published a summary of the most vital parts of his magnum opus.

In Summary

Shoup’s treatise carves the arc of parking policy in the United States and abroad. 

To form the context of the storyline, Shoup lays out the evolution of the two places people park: On-street and off-street. As cars started becoming popular in the early part of the 20th century, the most desirable part of cities quickly became filled with cars, and not enough parking spaces. A few different approaches were tried to solve this problem — parking meters and off-street parking minimums. While parking meters have become popular in the densest part of in America’s biggest towns and cities, parking minimums became much, much more prevalent, affecting nearly all new developments nationwide.

Parking minimums were cities’ way to ensure that there were enough parking spaces for people to park in. That solved one problem, as Shoup said, but created many, many others. Namely, parking minimums have literally flooded the world with far too much parking.

Urban planners try to make them appear scientific (4 parking spots per 1000 feet of commercial space, 1.5 per dentist chair), just as bloodletting proponents made bloodletting appear to be a highly precise science (Shoup’s book is filled with wonderful metaphors — see below). And the minimums increased vastly over time, as most minimums try to ensure that there’s enough parking to satisfy peak demand for parking — for free parking, that is. 

Noble aims, poor outcomes

Americans, rather than trying to manage a common good with prices, have tried to legislate a vast abundance of parking without much thought for the consequences. And the consequences, as Shoup goes on to point out, are dire. 

Minimums have produced poorly-designed cities, where more land is often devoted to parking than the primary purpose(s) of the buildings on the site.

Typical American commercial office space, with most land for parking (via Google Maps).

Off-street parking requirements reduce density because each building has its own, unshared parking that is often unavailable to the general public.

Minimums destroyed the market for parking

Minimums have eviscerated the ability for most places to install parking meters, because meters can’t compete with free parking.

Parking minimums have, perhaps most importantly, broken the link between using parking and paying for parking. 99 percent of all parking in America is free, so most people (87 percent) drive on every trip they take. Meanwhile, prices of all goods (especially housing) have gone up to indirectly cover the cost of providing those parking spots, and those cost are almost always paid by cyclists and pedestrians at the same rate, even though they don’t consume parking (with very rare exceptions). 

Of course, as Shoup points out, it isn’t that everyone wants to drive. Parking requirements have helped to create the illusion that, all things considered, almost everyone prefers to drive everywhere alone, but everyone actually prefers the best value, and parking requirements keep the cost of driving so low that solo driving is the cheapest form of travel. If all drivers had to pay for their own parking, fewer people would “prefer” to drive everywhere.

Everyone generally preferring to drive, as a result of parking minimums, the world has become much more congested and polluted because everyone’s driving to their destination. And when they get there, rather than finding open spots because the market is setting the price of parking, free parking ensures nearly all parking is consumed, so drivers spend far too much time cruising for their spot.

A framework for change

After breaking down the state of the world and what’s led us there, Shoup spends most of the second half of his book laying out a framework to change the status quo.

Rather than free parking serving a community poorly, Shoup encourages market-rate pricing. But citizens generally don’t want to pay more for parking — because the money feels like it just disappears and doesn’t benefit the person playing. To solve this problem, Shoup suggests communities charge for parking as part of a “Parking benefit district,” where some or all of the money fed into the meters would go directly to the community where the meter resides. Doing this would create a way for locals to charge outsiders (and locals) for parking, harnessing the ownership so many people already feel over their home or business’ curb to actually turn them into the beneficiaries. Parking benefit districts will create the necessary political support to charge market prices for curb parking.

There will be many counter arguments to this, with “this is unfair to everyone” or “this is unfair to poor people” being the main ones. To counter that attack, Shoup reminds readers that poor residents are far less likely to own cars, meaning today’s policies actually have poor residents subsidizing wealthy drivers.

Source: "Transit Access and ZeroVehicle Households" from the Brookings Institution

Shoup also points out that ability to pay is just one of many factors (number of car occupants, value of time savings, parking duration, etc) that goes into a driver’s choice of where to park. To summarize,

"Directly charging drivers for their parking is much fairer than forcing everyone to pay for it indirectly."

When it comes to parking policy, Shoup reminds us that America has become a strange place. In the country that proved capitalism the winning governance model, we let planners tell us exactly how much parking is needed at every type of residence or business, and take it as gospel. To counter, say, parking minimums for restaurants for example, Shoup suggest planners treat parking at restaurants just like the restaurants itself: Let the market decide how much parking to provide, just as the market decides how many restaurants to provide. 

A world with market-dictated parking would allow consumers a choice — pay more for your goods and have easy parking, or pay less for your goods and pay the meter (or walk, bike or take transit). 

Other reform options

Shoup adds a few other ways to move toward smarter parking policies. Unbundling parking from rent/condo deeds, deciding parking and building approvals separately, and — if minimums are still present — having minimums that focus on car-parked hours rather than the raw number of spots (to encourage better usage) would help tremendously.

His epic treatise shows the ills of today’s system and guides us toward smarter policies to fix the status quo. It won’t be an easy fight, and he knows that. But until we do, if motorists don’t pay for parking, society at large must pay for it in other ways — traffic congestion, energy consumption, degraded design, urban sprawl, and the high opportunity costs for land. 

A framework for change

One of the highlights of Shoup's writing is his ability to expertly metaphors that really make you think. Here are the top metaphor's you'll find The High Cost of Free Parking:

Road construction

Suppose cities financed roads the same way they finance parking. Cities could require new buildings to pay for adding enough road capacity to handle all the additional vehicle trips generated. Each new building would pay for street widening and intersection flaring, for example, to meet the added demand for driving, so that traffic congestion would not increase. Like the cost of parking, the cost of roads would be shifted from drivers into higher prices for everything except driving. Would this be a good idea? No, because everyone but drivers would pay for roads.

Minimum telephony requirements

To gain a new perspective, imagine what would happen if urban planners arranged to have the charges reversed for all telephone calls, so the called parties, not the callers, pay for telephone calls. Let’s further imagine that the cost of all the reversed charges are bundled into every property’s mortgage or rent payment, without separate itemization, so that nobody seems to pay for using the phone. Because all the calls are free to the callers, the demand for telephone use soars. To avoid chronic busy signals, cities set minimum telephone requirements so that each new building provides at least enough telephone lines to handle the peak number of calls. Soon everyone expects every building to have at least one telephone line for each occupant plus addition lines for fax machines, computer models and burglar alarms. Developers pass the cost of providing this telephone capacity on to the occupants, raising the price of all goods and services, including housing.

Rent control for cars

Free curb parking is like rent control for cars. High demand for a limited supply of free curb spaces predictably leads to shortages, and to deal with this problem cities impose off-street parking requirements that increase the cost of housing. Free parking for cars thus raises the cost of housing for people.

Why isn't gasoline free?

Gasoline is a basic necessity for cars, but this does not mean gasoline should be free. Filling stations offer different grades of gasoline (with both self service and full service) at different prices, and this is not unfair. Parking spaces differ from one another chiefly in location, and different prices in different locations are likewise not unfair.

Minimum dessert requirements

If cities required restaurants to offer a free dessert with each dinner, the price of every dinner would soon increase to include the cost of a dessert.

To ensure that restaurants didn’t skimp on the size of the required desserts, cities would have to set precise “minimum calorie requirements.” Some diners would pay for deserts they didn’t eat, and others would eat sugary desserts they wouldn’t have ordered had they paid for them separately. The consequences would undoubtedly include an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. A few food-conscious cities like New York and San Francisco might prohibit free desserts, but most cities would continue to require them.

Many people would get angry at even the thought of paying for desserts they had eaten free for so long.

Free wardrobe adjustments

Off-street parking requirements eliminate any incentive to charge for parking in proportion to a car’s size. When cars grow larger, cities typically respond by increasing the minimum width and length of the required parking spaces so that drivers can safely and comfortably open the doors of their bigger cars without marring the finish of adjacent vehicles in parking lots. Imagine the public health problems if people always given, free, an entire new wardrobe of larger clothes whenever they gained weight.

Useful statistics

The High Cost of Free Parking was published in 2005, so some of its stats are a bit dated. However, knowing they may need a refresh, you'll still find some incredibly useful statistics.

  • 6.1 billion people on Earth own 735 million vehicles. If car ownership outside the US looks like it does inside the US, we'll need space for 4.7 billion vehicles on Earth. That's a parking lot the size of France.
  • Parking garages are seldom built as freestanding commercial ventures because parking revenues cannot cover the cost. In a study of 8 municipal parking agencies in the Middle Atlantic and New England states, Hebert Levinson found that their annual operating revenue per space ranged between 26 and 36 percent of the annual cost pew new garage space.
  • The total subsidy for off-street parking in 2002 was between $127 billion and $374 billion. Because the US GDP has had grown to $10.5 trillion in 2002, the subsidy for off-street parking as a share of the economy amounted to between 1.2 percent and 3.6 percent, almost exactly the same as in 1991.
  • With market-priced parking, the number of persons arriving in the village during a day is 222 percent of the number arriving with underpriced parking, but they stay only half as long, so the number of curb-parked persons in the village during the day is 111 percent of that with underpriced parking.
  • The parking meter reader’s function is not to measure how much time a driver used but is instead to give a ticket to anyone who overstays the time they paid for … on average, cities collected $5.10 in parking fines for every $1 of meter revenue.
  • The 2001 National Household Travel Survey found that households with incomes less than $25,000/yr are nine times more likely not to own a car than households with incomes greater than $25,000/yr.
  • A 10 percent increase in the fixed cost of car ownership reduced VMT by 6.8 percent in the Netherlands and 4.8 in Norway.
  • All this free parking is charity for cars. In 2002, the total subsidy for off-street parking was somewhere between $127 billion and $374 billion a year. If we also count the subsidy for free and underpriced curb parking, the total subsidy for parking would be far higher. In the same year, the federal government spent $231 on Medicare and $349 billion for national defense.
  • American motor vehicles now consume an eighth of the world’s total oil production, more than half of it imported and paid for with borrowed money.

High Cost of Free Parking (bite-sized)

Want to read the High Cost of Free Parking, but in tiny, bite-size nuggets? Or, you read the book but just want a refresh? 

We've pulled out the key points for you to review.

Parking minimums and pricing

  • Initially, drivers just parked on the curb, where they had previously parked their horse. But very quickly, there wasn't enough room for all the cars. So planners started creating parking requirements. That solved one problem, but created many others. Today, restaurants typically need 3x the land area of the business for parking, and commercial buildings need 2x.
  • Initially, a developer may pay for the parking. Then it's the tenant. Then it's the customer, in the form of higher prices. The cost of parking has seeped into everything we buy.
  • When the cost of parking is hidden in the prices of other foods and services, no one can pay less for parking by using less of it. Bundling the cost of parking into high prices for everything else skews travel choices toward cars and away from public transit, cycling, and walking.
  • One of the biggest problems with off-street parking requirements is that planners calculate demand based off a $0 price for parking. Because there's so much parking, this drives the price of parking to nearly zero.
  • Shoup draws a comparison to the use of lead therapy in medicine. Parking minimums create a localized benefit, but greatly harm the overall system (road widening, induced demand, etc).
  • Most cities are planned on the unstated assumption that parking should be free -- no matter how high the cost or how small the benefits.
  • If cities didn’t require parking, the market would supply it only when profitable, like the sale of gasoline. There would be fewer spaces, and spots that were frequently empty would get redeveloped.
  • Most planners and elected officials don’t recognize that parking requirements will encourage more driving.
  • Studies show no evidence between parking restraint (elimination of parking minimums) and economic visiting.
  • Mobility and proximity are two ways to improve accessibility. The problem with using off street parking requirements to provide mobility is that they reduce proximity. Induced demand further reduces mobility by increasing congestion.
  • American cities put a floor under the parking supply to satisfy the peak demand for free parking, and then cap development density to limit vehicle trips. European cities, in contrast, often cap the number of parking spaces to avoid congesting the roads and combine this strategy with a floor on the allowed development density to encourage walking, cycling and public transport.
  • All potential drivers can park free even at the time of peak demand — a policy we can call parking satiation. Everyone can park free everywhere because parking requirements keep the parking supply high enough and zoning keeps the human density low enough.
  • [Building parking to meet minimums is a hard task] — probably meaning that the developer must forego surface parking and provide spaces within or underneath the apartment building itself. Furthermore, if the area in question has a three-story height limit, the only alternative is to provide underground spaces, which doubles their cost of construction.
  • Popular historic styles like courtyard housing cannot be replicated with today’s parking requirements Planners initially intended parking requirements to serve buildings, but architects now design buildings to serve the parking requirements.Instead, form follows parking requirements. And because function follows form, cities are now in thrall to their own parking requirements.
  • Because the curb cuts are not available for on-street parking, and because the off-street spaces are often unused during the weekdays when residents are at work, the off-street parking spaces effectively reduce the available parking supply.
  • Off-street parking requirements increase the supply of and thus reduce the price of parking in the central business district, but they also have other consequences. They increase the cost of all development, reduce density by pre-empting land from other uses, and increase traffic both within the CBD and on the routes to it.
  • The economics of shared parking help to explain the appeal of a successful downtown. Everybody wants to park once and walk around to shop, dine and go to a movie or a theater. A dense downtown can provide this experience, but off-street parking requirements reduce density because each building has its own, unshared parking that is often unavailable to the general public.
  • Who provides the parking spaces for cars, and who pays for them? Everybody does every time they write a check for the rent or mortgage, shop at a grocery store or buy tickets for a movie. Free parking is not really free because its cost is bundled into higher prices for everything else. Off-street parking requirements ensure that everybody pays for parking even if they walk, bike or ride the bus. Because motorists pay for parking indirectly, the cost of parking rarely deters anyone from owning or driving a car, and the result is increased automobile dominance, traffic congestion, air pollution and urban sprawl. Parking requirements thus help explain why America’s attempt to be urbanized and fully motorized at the same time is destroying both the benefits of cities and the advantages of the private car.
  • Suppose cities had always charged market prices for curb parking and had let private decisions determine the quantity of off-street parking. Parking would not be free, but few people would complain about a shortage of it. Gold is scarce and expensive, for example, and is essential for many purposes, but there is no shortage of it: Shortages result from underpricing.
  • Parking requirements and free parking have helped to create the illusion that, all things considered, almost everyone prefers to drive everywhere alone, but everyone actually prefers the best value, and parking requirements keep the cost of driving so low that solo driving is the cheapest form of travel. If all drivers had to pay for their own parking, fewer people would “prefer” to drive everywhere.
  • Some people think cities should not charge for curb parking because it is a public good, but curb parking is exactly the opposite of what economists define as a public good. Public goods have two economic characteristics. First, they are nontrivial in consumption: one person’s use does not reduce the amount left for everyone else. My listening to a radio broadcast, for example, doesn’t prevent anyone else from listening. Second, public goods are nonexclusive: once the good has been produced, charging for it is difficult because no one can be excluded from receiving its benefits. Again, once a radio program has been broadcast, charging the listenings for tuning in is difficult. Radio programs are therefore public goods, even if they are privately provided.
  • Predictability of travel time is an important goal for a transportation system, but the time needed to find underpriced curb parking is highly unpredictable. When all curb spaces are occupied, the major determinant of search time is luck. Finding a space may take less than a minute if you pull up just as someone else is pulling out, or it may take half an hour. Drivers who want to avoid arriving late must therefore begin their trips early in case it takes a long time to find a parking space. Since raising the price of curb parking reduced the variability in the time required to find a curb space, it also reduced the uncertainty of travel time, which is yet another benefit of right-priced parking.
  • Market-priced curb parking will real-locate the curb spaces to visitors who place a higher value on their time.
  • The higher reward for solo drivers helps explain both the higher share of solo drivers among curb parkers and the higher share of carpools among off-street parkers.
  • Cities create the economic incentive to cruise by underpricing curb parking. Each driver may not think that three minutes is too long to spend cruising for a curb space, but the aggregate consequence is an astonishing amount of excess driving. Charging the right price for curb parking eliminates the incentive to cruise, and therefore reduces traffic congestion, energy consumption, accidents, and air pollution. If cities want to improve transportation, the economy and the environment, charging the right price for curb parking is essential.
  • Two major problems — one practical, the other political — prevent cities from charging the right price for curb parking. The practical problem is how to collect the revenue, and the political problem is that everyone wants to park free.
  • Scientists of yore predicted a future where energy would be so abundant it would be too cheap to meter. Urban planners have succeeded where nuclear physicists have failed, and drivers now park free for most of their trips. Most parking is literally too cheap to meter.
  • American cities now use parking meters almost exclusively in areas that were developed before zoning required off-street parking.
  • The existence of an externality is equivalent to the nonexistence of a market, which typically occurs either when property rights are not defined or the transaction costs are too high.
  • American every American adult owns a car and almost every car is parked most of the time. Free parking therefore seems to serve almost everyone’s interest, and it may appear naive to recommend charging fair-market prices for curb parking, no matter sophisticated the technology.
  • Charging for parking is sound economic policy…good public policy is that any public service with an easily identifiable direct beneficiary should be paid by that beneficiary, unless sound arguments in favor of a explicit subsidy can be made. This starting point is in complete opposition to that which many countries seem to have adopted, namely that whatever subsidies now exist are right, so that the onus of proof with respect to any change lies with the proponents of change. This position may not be logical, but that is the one with which proponents of user charges almost certainly will have to deal.

Tackling parking reform

  • If nonresidents pay for curb parking, and the city spends the revenue to benefit the residents, charging for curb parking can become a popular policy rather than the political third rail it often is today.
  • Market prices can create a few curb vacancies, increase turnover, reduce search time, and attract customers who are now kept away by parking shortages. Parking won’t be free, but it will be more convenient.
  • Merchants may oppose charging for parking on the grounds that it will drive away customers, but this fear is often unfounded. Parking consultant Mary Smith explains that many customers are short-term parkers who care more about the convenience than the cost of parking … If merchants realize that convenient parking is more important to customers than free parking and are guaranteed that their business districts will receive all the meter revenue, they will soon support market-rate prices for curb spaces.
  • The path to better pricing of the curb is localizing benefits while generalizing the costs. Money going to the parking improvement district is the way.
  • Many residents seem to think they own the parking spaces in front their homes, or at least they act that way. So rather than fighting this thought, cities can accept it and take advantage of it by treating residents like the landlords they think they are.
  • Generally speaking, the policies the are easiest to implement tend to produce concentrated benefits and widely distributed costs.
  • "Policies that increase the cost of cars are never popular or easy to implement, but parking benefit districts are an exception. They appear to meet all seven of the criteria that Arnold Howitt deemed critical to the political administrative feasibility of policies to restrain automobile use:
    1. The smaller the geographical area affected, the fewer the persons likely to feel threatened economically or to have their travel habits interrupted. A small restraint area, therefore, is less likely to evoke political opposition.
    2. Policies that extend existing restrictions seem less threatening than new types of restraints and therefore tend to generate less opposition.
    3. New policies that can be adopted and implemented incrementally, rather than all at once, are less visible and less likely to evoke opposition. Successful implementation of the first step, moreover, helps to allay public concern about the potential impact of subsequent steps, which become easier to adopt and implement.
    4. Schemes that do not require both local and state legislative approval are less vulnerable to opposition.
    5. Policies are more likely to be successful if they do not depend on regular amendment.
    6. Policies that generate revenue tend to be more attract to elected executives and administrators.
    7. Policies that require less interagency coordination and commitment of fewer organization resources by key agencies are more likely to implemented successfully."

Parking benefit districts

  • Some neighborhoods may choose to retain free curb parking, off-street parking requirements and no curb parking revenue, but this is only the choice that cities now give neighborhoods. Cities offer the option of parking benefit districts and let each neighborhood make its own choice.
  • The right to park free in front of one’s own home is now an ingrained social practice, and free parking for residents in a benefit district is probably necessary to generate political support.
  • Many neighborhoods decayed during the 20th century because they were inconvenient for families who owned cars. The natural response of car owners was to move to the suburbs where house or apartment had its own off-street parking and on-street parking was plentiful. Even those who valued the architecture and the location of old row houses found the neighborhoods inconvenient because there were never any vacant parking spaces. Residents who did own cars stored them on the street for free, but there were not enough spaces for everyone, and the curbs were overcrowded. As more affluent car-owning residents moved out, the row houses were left for families who were often too poor to own cars. Property values fell, and the land became less valuable in its existing use than for redevelopment in new uses. Many blocks of these row houses were then demolished to make way for offices and apartments with all the required parking.
  • With dedicated spaces rather than curb cuts, however, residents can “sublet” their curb spaces to other motorists.
  • If curb parking is free, most residents will say “not in my backyard” to any nearby development with fewer off-street parking spaces than the zoning requires … parking benefit districts can create a symbiotic relationship between commercial development and its nearby neighborhood because nonresidents who park in the neighborhood will pay for the priviledge.
  • Where curb parking is treated as common property free to anyone, everyone will object to granny flats if the new residents park on the street. Suppose, however, that a parking benefit district charges market prices for all curb parking in a neighborhood with granny flats. Everyone will have an incentive to economize on curb parking. Some residents who formerly parked their cars at the curb will park off-street, and others might sell an old car that isn’t worth the price of a parking permit. If some homeowners convert their garages into granny flats, the rising price of curb parking will prevent the reduction in off-street spaces from creating a curb parking shortage.
  • Higher urban land prices are not a bad thing is they lead to more housing, but off-street parking requirements prevent higher densities. Parking benefit districts will, in contrast, allow the market to supply less parking and more housing, without generating more traffic.
  • Parking benefit districts will not finance curb parking but will instead create the necessary political support to charge market prices for it.

Proper pricing

  • The 20th century saw a great competition between two economic systems: central planning and market prices. Central planning is essential for some purposes, but it failed spectacularly where it governed too much of the economy. Parking is a perfect example of an economic activity where planners have usurped markets without justification. We have relied almost exclusively on the command-and-control approach to regulate parking, and we have failed spectacularly.
  • The only constraints on charging market prices for curb parking are now political … public concern has shifted to problems that free parking makes worse, such as traffic congestion, energy consumption and air pollution.
  • Cities have tried to manage parking almost entirely without prices.
  • Market prices show that carpoolers, short-term parkers and those who places a high value on saving time will park close to their destinations, even though they have to pay more to do so. Solo drivers, long-term parkers and those who place a low value on saving time will, in contrast, park in the peripheral spaces to save money. This pattern of individual parking choices will minimize society’s collective cost of travel.
  • A high price per hour is no problem if you park only for a short time or split the cost of parking among several people in the car. But a high price per hour is a problem if you drive by yourself and park a long time.
  • These results also suggest that there is no single, sensible estimate of how far drivers are willing to walk from parking spaces to their final destination. Willingness to walk depends on the parking duration, the number of people in the car, their walking speed, and their value of time.
  • Parking duration and the number of people in a car also affect location choice, so prices do not automatically allocate all the best parking spaces to drivers who place a high value on time
  • Directly charging drivers for their parking is much fairer than forcing everyone to pay for it indirectly.
  • Market prices tend to allocate parking spaces quite efficiently. The most convenient parking spaces are occupied by carpoolers, short-term parkers, those who have difficulty walking, and those who place a high value on saving time. In contrast, the less convenient parking spaces are occupied by solo drivers, long-term parkers and those who enjoy walking, and those who place a low value on saving time. These individual choices response to market prices minimize the travelers’ total cost of walking from their parking spaces to their final destinations.
  • By allowing millions of decision makers to respond individually to freely determined prices, the market allocates resources — labor, capital, and human ingenuity — in a manner that can’t be mimicked by a central planner.

Parking's role

  • Parking is the key to urban order … a double-parked car is a call to lawlessness. It’s like a sign inviting in the forces of disorder.”
  • The parked car was an even greater obstacle to the flow of traffic than the moving cars. The crux of the problem was that the streets were unable both to move motor vehicles and to store them. This was especially true in the central business district, which had the heaviest traffic and thus the greatest demand for parking space. Hence, downtown business interests were in a bind. If motorists could not park at their destination, the central business district would lose trade; but since parked cars increase traffic congestion, it would lose trade even if they could.
  • Transportation historian Scott Bottles explains that the private car represented liberation from from the slow pace and conformity of public transit, which the parking ban appeared to cast aside the future in favor of the past.
  • The ability of a transportation vehicle to bear the terminal charges at both ends of the run is not a very severe test of its utility. If a private passenger automobile is not worth enough to its owner to justify his paying 25-50 cents a day for its storage [$2.60 to $5.20 a day in 2003], it does not seem reasonable that the public should provide him with improve street space for the purpose.
  • We need a new Golden Rule for the price of parking: Charge others what they would charge you.
  • In contrast to the self-organizing efficiency of a market, most cities now require at least enough off-street spaces to satisfy peak demand for free parking at every site, and the cost is shifted into high prices for everything else. The result is both inefficient (prices do not reflect costs) and unfair (nondrivers subsidize drivers).
  • My suggestion is to treat parking spaces for a restaurant (or any other land use) in the same way we treat the restaurant itself. Planners don’t say how many restaurants a city must have. We let the market provide as many restaurants as people are willing to pay for. Similarly, planners should let developers provide as many off-street parking spaces as drivers are willing to pay for. Charging drivers less than the cost-recovery price a parking space provide a subsidy for driving. When cities require more parking than developers are willing to provide voluntarily, the result is to subsidize the car over other travel modes.
  • Removing off-street parking requirements will merely shift the cost of parking out of the prices for everything else; the net effect will not increase inflation or the CPI because increases in the price of parking will be offset by decreases in the price of everything else.
  • Individual consumers will thus have a choice: To park free in return for higher prices when they get out of their cars, or to pay lower prices for everything except prices.
  • Market prices are a sensible bottom-up approach to planning for parking, while off-street parking requirements are a confused and costly top-down approach.
  • Both businesses and the city will have an incentive to make off-street parking available to the public where the market price covers the cost of providing it.
  • Land and capital will shift from parking lots to new uses that employ more workers and generate more tax revenue.
  • Market-priced curb parking and no-off street parking requirements will steer business investment toward activities whose customers and employees require less parking. The result will more mixed-use and infill development near existing infrastructure and less greenfield development in outlying areas.

Parking revenues

  • Free curb parking and off-street parking requirements are therefore the exact opposite of what Henry George recommended: Cities fail to collect land rent from curb parking, and they impose a heavy tax on buildings.
  • Both property taxes and parking requirements place a burden on buildings, but property taxes at least provide public revenue. What do parking requirements provide? Free parking, which skews transportation choices toward cars, adds to congestion and pollution, and plays a part in many other problems.
  • Many houses have two curb spaces in front, so market-price parking spaces may yield more revenue than the current property tax in some neighborhoods.
  • If the city keeps all curb parking revenue for the general fund, it collects almost nothing because most people oppose parking meters.
  • Residents tend to “vote their homes” in the sense they consider the effect on the value of their homes when voting on municipal taxes and services.
  • Revenues need effective political claimants, and returning the toll revenue to cities with freeways can create these claimants.
  • The complaint that charging for curb parking is unfair can be made against charging for almost anything. Motorists pay for most other costs of owning and operating a car (gas, tires, repairs, insurance and the vehicle itself), but few see this as unjust. If people pay rent for housing, why shouldn’t cars pay rent for parking?
  • Because cars are unequally distributed in the population, charging drivers for the curb parking they use is fairer than forcing everyone to pay for off-street parking, even those who do not use it. Parking requirements take money from the poor to subsidize the better-off: drivers without paying, while nondriver pay without parking.
  • Cities can individualize — decollectivize — the cost of parking, so that we less for parking if we use less.
  • Almost everyone will be better off by paying only for the parking they use and not paying the high costs off-street parking requirements impose on everyone.
  • Drivers value time savings differently from one trip to another, and market-priced parking gives travelers a trip-specific, spur-of-the-moment ability to place a high value on their time. Poor people can be in a hurry, and drivers who cannot always afford to park in the best spaces can still choose to park in them on occasions when saving time is particularly important.
  • Income is only one of several that affect the value of saving time on a particular trip, and the same person can make different choices on different days.
  • By shifting demand from private consumption to public investment, parking benefit districts will make cities more prosperous.
  • Because motorists don’t pay for parking, society at large must pay for it in other ways — traffic congestion, energy consumption, degraded design, urban sprawl, and the high opportunity costs for land. Every place we have to put a car is a place we could have put something else. When it comes to parking, we’ve forgotten and is not free.

Parking & developers

  • Market-price curb parking will also allow cities to remove the off-street parking requirements that place a heavy burden on all real estate development, a burden ultimately passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for everything except parking.
  • The growth of paid, shared parking will therefore allow a smaller parking supply to serve more trips, while the higher price of parking will increase travel by carpools, transit, biking and walking.
  • A condo association could own parking spaces as common property and lease them to the residents at a price that equates demand and supply. The rent from commonly owned parking spaces could then replace all or part of the fees residents pay to maintain their association. Parking wouldn’t be free, but those who own fewer cars would pay less. After unbundling, developers would find they could build condominiums more cheaply.
  • If cities stop specifying the minimum number and size of parking spaces, developers and property owners can respond to changes in the demand for different sized cars by re-striping and reconfiguring the parking spaces, and then by charging for the spaces according to their size.
  • Because the size differences among cars are so large, charging for parking in proportion to a car’s size is fairer than charging the same price for all cars regardless of their size. After all, no one expects to pay the same rent for a 500-square-foot apartment as for a 1,500-square-foot apartment in the same building.
  • Unbundled parking will raise ownership costs proportionally more for the older and less reliable second (or third and fourth) cars in a household, which often consume more fuel and produce more pollution. When people consider the price of parking a rarely used car, it may come to be seen as an expendable luxury. As a result, unbundled parking parking will tend to cull from the fleet the cars that contribute least to mobility and most to fuel consumption and air pollution … separating the costs of housing and parking will therefore selectively discourage ownership of the cars that impose the highest social cost.
  • Most developers and landlords bundle parking with housing because the off-street parking requirements in zoning ordinances are so high. If cities require developers to provide two spaces per apartment, landlords cannot hope to rent the required spaces at a cost recovery price.
  • Off-street parking requirements are intended to prevent parking spillover. If curb parking is free and new development doesn’t provide enough off-street spaces, spillover will create a nuisance for everyone. Unbundling parking from housing will — if nothing else is done — create the spillover parking requirements are designed to solve. To discourage spillover in residential neighborhoods, some cities prohibit overnight curb parking in order to prevent residents from using the streets as their garages. A more promising approach is to establish parking benefit districts that charge market prices for curb parking and spend the revenue to pay for public expenditures in the neighborhood.
  • Urban planners have no training to estimate the demand for parking, and no financial stakes in the success of a development. They do not know more than the developers do about how many parking spaces each project needs. They may, at best, know a little about the peak demand for free parking at a few land uses, but they know nothing about the marginal cost of parking spaces at any site or how to estimate the demand for parking as a function of its price. Markets will quickly reveal the demand for parking if cities cease requiring off-street spaces.
  • If the cost of parking is bundled into the rent for housing, even those who can’t afford a car must still pay for parking.
  • Bundled parking hides the cost of owning and using cars, and it distorts choices toward cars and sprawl. The bloated parking supply required to satisfy the demand for free parking degrades urban design and drains life from the city streets. By contrast, unbundled parking will reveal the cost of parking, reduce the prices of everything else, and give everyone the option to save money by conserving on cars an driving.

Urban planning

  • Planners use surveys of peak parking occupancy to set minimum parking requirements everywhere. In most cases, the large supply of required parking drives the market price of most parking to zero. As a result, most surveys of parking demand are conducted at sites that offer ample free parking and the observed demand is correspondingly high. Following this circular logic, urban planners neglect both the price and the cost of parking when they set parking requirements, and the maximum observed parking demand becomes the minimum required parking supply.
  • If you’re advising a mayor, imagine which policy to recommend — off-street parking requirements that induce demand for cars and discourage public transit use and walking, and cause air pollution and urban design built around free parking. Or market prices, which will create curb vacancies, restrain demand for cars and therefore reduce energy consumption, traffic congestion and air pollution. Curb parking would pay for public investments. The decision, surely, would be obvious.
  • Why can’t building a Wal-Mart and the parking lot each be considered on its own merits? Parking is now seen as a condition for development, rather than as a part of the development itself, to be scrutinized and evaluated on its own. Although parking is the single biggest land use in cities, it has managed to become always part of something else, and from that position it dominates cities.
  • Who can seriously contend that minimum parking requirements and ubiquitous free parking are long-term strategies to make great places and create sustainable cities? Parking requirements help planners avoid immediate conflicts over current development, but they plant the seeds of many long-term woes.
  • Parking requirements have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If planners assume everybody will go everywhere by car and cities require enough parking spaces to meet the peak demand for free parking at every land use, everything will be so dispersed that most people will have to drive wherever they want to go.
  • In setting parking requirements, planners often consume the number of parking spaces with the capacity to park cars in them because the capacity of a parking lot or garage to accommodate parked cars is an ambitious concept. During the hours of peak demand, valet and stack parking can increase capacity by storing cars in tandem or in the access aisles, thus substituting labor for land and capital in parking cars. Automated garages, in turn, substitute capital investment and technology for parking spaces. Requirements for a minimum number of parking spaces eliminate the option to substitute labor for land and capital in providing parked-car-hours, which is the fundamental measure of what it ultimately consumed when drivers leave their cars.
  • Requiring “enough” parking spaces in a new development does seem sensible … so what went wrong? Two things. The first problem is that planners require at least enough parking spaces to meet the peak demand for free parking, regardless of the cost. Second, and more fundamental, the parking requirements are unnecessary. After all, people also need food to live, but this does not mean planners should require every office building to provide a lunchroom big enough to supply a free lunch at noon for everyone works in that building. But if all restaurants in the city were free, cities would soon need to impose lunchroom requirements for all office buildings, so that office workers would not overwhelm the nearby free restaurants. To satisfy the peak demand for free food, these lunchroom requirements would probably look exactly like off-street parking requirements.

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