By Ryan McGreal
Published February 06, 2007
One of the more popular articles on Raise the Hammer was the April, 2005 review of Donald Shoup's book The High Cost of Free Parking, which makes the controversial argument that there is too much parking, and that the false economy it produces is very harmful.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal takes another look at Shoup's approach.
Since the parking meter was first introduced 70 years ago, in Oklahoma City, the field has been dominated by two simple maxims: Cities can never have too much parking, and it can never be cheap enough.
Shoup, of course, rejects these maxims categorically, arguing instead that trying to meet the demand for "free" parking is as futile as a restaurant trying to meet the demand for a "free" buffet lunch.
Fortunately, some cities are starting to come around:
Seattle is doing away with free street parking in a neighborhood just north of downtown. London has meters that go as high as $10 an hour, while San Francisco has been trying out a system that monitors usage in real time, allowing the city to price spots to match demand. (A recent tally there showed that one meter near AT&T Park brings in around $4,500 a year, while another meter about a mile away takes in less than $10.) Gainesville, Fla., has capped the number of parking spots that can be added to new buildings; Cambridge, Mass., works with companies to reduce off-street parking.
Of course, not everyone is convinced. Many city planners and, ironically, business gruops, are still convinced that downtowns struggle to compete with suburban malls because they don't have enough free parking.
I write "ironically" because business owners, of all people, should be open to the role that market forces play in regulating the supply and demand of goods and services.
Shoup recommends variable pricing for parking, set to slide up and down based on what price will lead to 85 percent occupancy. This increases "churn" and reduces spot-hoarding, as well as increasing transit ridership - which lets transit providers improve service - and, incidentally, ensuring that people who choose to drive and pay can usually find a spot withoug having to cruise around and around a block.
There's plenty more in the article, including evidence from a number of successful cities that reducing parking, while counterintuitive, actually works much better than demolishing real destinations to make room for more "free" parking.