The Real Cost of Free Parking
Donald Shoup, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, believes one simple thing: Better parking policies lead to better cities. That’s clearly why he has earned the nickname, the “Parking Guru”.
Politicians and academics in urban planning are often more concerned with the issues of air quality, traffic congestion, energy consumption, climate change and cost management. Parking infrastructure and policy is often overlooked. However, according to Donald, fixing parking could fix a lot of other big city problems. “The footprint of parking is bigger than the footprint of any other land use, so better parking policies can produce big benefits.”
One example of a small change with big impact is improving current building and zoning contracts. Most residential buildings allocate one parking spot per unit, which significantly adds to the overall footprint of the building. That footprint could be reduced dramatically just by replacing individually-allocated spaces with car sharing spaces. For example, assuming that one shared vehicle could satisfy five people’s driving needs, than in a building with 100 apartments, adding two shared vehicles would eliminate ten parking spaces.
Donald also recommends charging a fair and reasonable fee to park on city streets instead of offering free permits to residents to open up parking spaces and reduce congestion and CO2 emissions from cars hunting for open spots. Although it is difficult to quantify the impact.
In one 15-block business district in Los Angeles, cruising for curb parking creates about 950,000 vehicle miles of unnecessary travel per year, equivalent to 38 trips around the Earth or four trips to the moon.
Of course, Donald realized that advocating paying for parking isn't going to win him any popularity contests, so he recommends that the city dedicate all meter revenue to pay for added public services on the metered streets. “Residents and businesses can then see their meter money at work, improving their neighborhood."
So what’s next? He’s continuing to get cities to adopt his theories on how better parking policies will solve a wide range of problems. He hopes in the near future car sharing and better policies will become commonplace and lead to a better quality of life for all urbanites.