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The High Cost of Free Parking

By Donald Shoup. I haven't read it, but I've seen some reviews:

High Cost of Free Parking reviews
parking subsidy

"For instance, after including construction and land costs, he measures
the value of a Los Angeles parking space at over $31,000"
"Yet 99 percent of all automobile trips in the United States end in a
free parking space, rather than a parking space with a market price. In
his book, Professor Shoup estimated that the value of the free-parking
subsidy to cars was at least $127 billion in 2002, and possibly much
more. "

And this one is a 2005 essay by Shoup himself:


"Paving an entire state for a parking lot sounds outrageous. But because
there are at least three parking spaces for each of the 230 million
vehicles in the United States, the total space devoted to parking in
America amounts to an area about the size of Connecticut. "

"Studies of cruising in downtowns have found that up to 74 percent of
traffic was searching for parking, and the average time to find a curb
space ranged up to 14 minutes. "

"Most cities require commercial buildings to provide a parking lot
larger than the floor area, and for restaurants the parking lots are
often at least three times the size of the dining area. "

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/331315.html#comments


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 13th, 2012 11:15 pm (UTC)
"... [F]or restaurants the parking lots are often at least three times the size of the dining area."

While there's much to be said for reducing the degree to which Americans rely on cars, particularly in urban areas, this particular observation is downright asinine. The amount of space it takes to seat four people is considerably less than a vehicle would require, let alone providing sufficient margin for maneuvering said vehicle. And that doesn't even account for the space required for the staff's own transportation.

Here in NC, public transportation ranges from a poor joke to a punch line, in general, and there are many places where the available parking is certainly above the sort of thresholds implied above, and yet parking can still be a nightmare. This includes my current apartment home.
Aug. 13th, 2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
Why is it asinine, and not an illustration of how inefficient requiring parking at every business is?
Aug. 14th, 2012 12:38 am (UTC)
The fact of it being required or not is moot. Parking lots are a bit like power grids -- you have to build capacity to handle peak load, not just average and a bit more. Thus, in many places where there just aren't much in the way of viable alternatives to owning and using a car of one's own as primary means of transport, it follows that parking lots will necessarily dwarf, in terms of square footage, the buildings they're intended to serve. Blaming such on, say, zoning requirements, as opposed to the realities of the transportation infrastructure, is asinine.

Compare and contrast... well, almost anywhere in North Carolina to, say, Manhattan, where public transit is far more reliable and cost-effective for most people than a car. (There's plenty of real estate given over to parking in Manhattan, far less, I'm sure, by any sane measure, than to where I live, in terms of business or home capacity vs. parking capacity.)
Aug. 14th, 2012 01:16 am (UTC)
But the "realities of the transportation infrastructure" aren't an exogenous variable (am I using that right?) that has to be coped with. They're just as much a social and government choice as the mandates to have vast amounts of parking.

I mean, yes, if you waved a wand and abolished free parking tomorrow without doing anything else, that would make life suck in new ways for different people than the status quo sucks for. But taken as a whole, the free parking is part and parcel of, and enabler for, those "realities".
Aug. 14th, 2012 04:11 am (UTC)
Endogeneity has to do with how clearly causality can be said to run, and to decide whether (in this example) transportation infrastructure is exogenous to decisions about how commercial parking lots are to be built means that you have to figure out how they influence each other, and/or how a third factor might influence them in some way that similarly muddies the waters. Depending on how you formally specify the relationship, it likely would read as an endogenous variable, which is where you start looking at ways to deal with it.

One of the largest factors is population density; I don't know if you've lived in the Boston area for your entire life, or if you've lived in places that are more prone to sprawl like the places I've lived in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and now North Carolina. The places I lived in Connecticut had mass transit that I could get around on, in general, and the gaps in between were generally quite manageable for foot travel. Still, in Danbury in particular, the sprawl was just enough that getting my driver's license freed up colossal swaths of my time.

In Greensboro, getting around solely on public transit is only viable for a very small part of the town, relative to the size of the greater metro area (which includes not only Greensboro and the unincorporated county land around it, but also High Point, Winston-Salem, and Burlington). These are areas that grew out of farming, and I didn't have to drive far in any direction to find working farms. The whole area is built around the assumption of widespread automobile ownership and use; here in the Triangle, an hour or so east (by car), there's marginally better transit, and there's supposedly going to be some kind of high-speed commuter rail line to connect the three major urban areas (the Triangle, the Triad, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area), but even that will still likely be heavily reliant on using cars to get to and from the rail stations.

To get to a place where parking spaces relative to other uses for land area resemble places like (for example) northern New Jersey, Manhattan, or parts of the Boston area, policy would have to completely reshape development here, in ways that would be downright alien to people who've grown up here. There's just a powerful sense of open space here, and it permeates everything -- I don't know if the lanes on the public roads are actually wider than they are up north, but they certainly feel wider.

I'm not saying that it's not a worthy goal, but it is seriously a far more challenging problem for most of the country (going by land area) than it might appear if you're accustomed to the kind of mass transit that, say, metro New Yorkers might take for granted. There's a lot of good reasons for increasing population density in places where the tendency is to sprawl, on a number of levels (economic, environmental, health), but that doesn't negate the personal benefits that can come from sprawl (such as how every apartment complex I've lived in since 2003 has allowed me to look out in at least one direction and see nothing but trees, as far as the eye can see). (Also, there's no need to raise how illusory these benefits may or may not be -- I'm aware of that, but ... well, I'm still a human being, and I love being able to walk around back of my apartment building and see a bunch of undeveloped woods a lot more than looking out my office window and seeing the building next door.)
Aug. 14th, 2012 04:58 am (UTC)
Chicago streetcar suburb; southern Pasadena; San Francisco; Bloomington IN; Cambridge. Basically school's taken me to lower density though still pedestrian-possible areas; choice takes me to RealCities.

Obviously density matters, but it's also a policy choice, affected by minimum lot sizes, building restrictions, zoning (density doesn't help much if there's no businesses near homes), freeways, road width, and, ahem, parking space requirements.

I should have quoted this from the NYTimes:

The subsidies are largely invisible to drivers who park their cars — and thus free or cheap parking spaces feel like natural outcomes of the market, or perhaps even an entitlement. Yet the law is allocating this land rather than letting market prices adjudicate whether we need more parking, and whether that parking should be free. We end up overusing land for cars — and overusing cars too. You don’t have to hate sprawl, or automobiles, to want to stop subsidizing that way of life.

As Professor Shoup wrote, “Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars.”

Under a more sensible policy, a parking space that is currently free could cost at least $100 a month — and maybe much more — in many American cities and suburbs. At the bottom end of that estimate, if a commuter drives to work 20 days a month, current parking policy offers a subsidy of $5 a day — which is more than the gas and wear-and-tear costs of many round-trip commutes. In essence, the parking subsidy outweighs many of the other costs of driving, including the gasoline tax.
Aug. 14th, 2012 11:43 am (UTC)
See -- there's the problem right there.

"Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars."

There's that endogeneity right there. Does the minimum parking requirement cause the proliferation of cars, or does the widespread ownership of cars (i.e. high ratio of cars per person) encourage generous minimum parking requirements? Back when I first moved to the Tarheel State I observed that there seemed to be more cars than people; while there was some hyperbole there, and right now I have higher priority things to be doing than going and digging up the relevant numbers, I'm not sure that's far from wrong. Also, given the sorts of complaints that are routine here about parking in downtown areas and other places with a low proportion of parking spaces to people on site during the day (one of the things people in Greensboro take for granted about UNCG is that it is *horrible* to try to park there -- deck passes cost about $400/year... which, I note, is well below Shoup's estimate), I think it's a bit of a naive argument. And that doesn't even get into the regressivity of charging people for parking...
Aug. 14th, 2012 05:01 am (UTC)
Personal benefits from density too. :) I get a feeling of freedom from being able to walk or transit to many places -- especially as someone who was going around Chicago on my own at age 10. Places that accommodate the freedom to drive make it an obligation to drive, too.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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