Lecture Report: The High Cost of Free Parking – Donald Shoup May 28th, 2009
At the Masonic Temple in Alexandria last night Dr. Donald Shoup held a lecture on his recent book, “The High Cost of Free Parking.” Dr. Shoup has caused quite a few ripples with findings and has been called everything from the “Rock Star of Parking” to “Anti-American” (guessing the second one might have come from somewhere in Michigan).
Shoup’s discussion centered, as the name of his book indicates, on the real cost associated with free parking, particularly free street parking, and the benefits that communities can see by using performance based pricing for the parking. As nothing in life comes free, he argues that free parking is only free to us in our roll as drivers, but that we pay for it in all other aspects of our lives. This means that we are paying increased taxes to maintain parking, paying for the distorted urban form and degraded sense of place that comes along with auto-centric planning, paying for it through the increased burden the environment, paying for it through increased housing costs that are bundled with parking spaces, and paying for it through lowered redevelopment/reuse of older buildings due prohibitive parking requirements. To compact these many woes and to use parking as a positive generator for change, Shoup recommends three key reforms that he has seen work in communities across the country:
-1: use performance based pricing for street parking which will leave 1-2 or 85% of spots on all blocks available at all times
-2: return all revenue generated from parking in a community directly back to the community to increase public services
-3: reduce off street parking requirements in zoning
The use of performance-based pricing is possible now due to new technologies in the parking meter world, namely digital multi-space meters. The new meters can be adjusted to have different rates for different times of day, or for different lengths of stay on different days of the week. Because the meters are flexible in their set-up, city planning officials will be able to experiment and eventually hone in on “sweet spot” for pricing. This is not an immediate process and does require significant attention by planning officials, but it is a process that will pay huge dividends once completed. The “85% at all times” benchmark ensures that no matter when you come to park, you will be able to find a space and you will pay market value for that space. Managing parking in this manner insures that no time and energy (personal and petrol) are wasted cruising for spots and the fair market value price adjustments help to bring in more revenue during peak hours of usage — without overcharging during “off” periods. This approach can work for commercial streets which would be 100% metered and residential streets that would only require payment of the meter if the parked car did not have the appropriate zoned parking sticker.
Dr. Shoup found that initially many businesses were strongly resistant to a change from free street parking to metered street parking in front of their establishments. They thought that it would be bad for business and that they would reap no benefits. These feelings changed once the concept of keeping the money in the community for public services and improvements is introduced. One it is realized that benefits such as increased street cleaning, graffiti removal, alley improvements, overhead wire removal, plantings and street furniture in their immediate community could be achieved strictly through parking revenue, without an increase in taxes, business and community members became the biggest advocates.
In Old Pasadena, one of Shoup’s case studies, the institution of the meters and performance based parking rates raised $1.2 million dollars over the year for a 15-block area (roughly $80K in improvements and services PER BLOCK). Old Pasadena business owners even began to publicize the efforts through signs stating “Your Meter Money is Making a Difference” and listing out all the services that were being provided. Old Pasadena businesses have seen regeneration in business instead of a decline and life has been brought out to the streetscape.
The reduction in the code minimum parking will allow developers to build parking at a market dictated instead of code dictated rate. Removing the additional burden from developers will free up more money for design, streetscape improvements, etc. Additionally, Dr. Shoup states, it will allow for more adaptive reuse in old buildings that are currently restrained due to parking availability.
There are certainly areas that will be slow to adapt to these sort of ideas and changes to how we look at parking. The storage of automobiles will continue to trump the pedestrian experience for many communities, but this idea can have some foot-hold in more progressive cities and towns, particularly ones with good alternative forms of transportation and a walkable urban grid and scale. San Francisco is working to establish performance based parking around the city, and I believe that Washington, DC could benefit greatly from a similar policy. This is particularly true in mixed-use neighborhoods such as Adams Morgan, 14th/U St, and Dupont Circle where the neighborhood is amply served by public transit, parking as at a premium, and often residents are unable to find available spots on the residential streets due to people visiting the adjacent commercial establishments. Realizing this missed revenue stream can help to fund many of the streetscape improvement projects that are on the table waiting for funding and make the neighborhoods cleaner and safer places to live, work, and play.
Great lecture and another book to add to the reading list (hopefully on some BID and DDOT reading lists as well).
The above picture was taken in Adams Morgan with an Olympus XA2 35mm camera.