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A solution to parking problems and traffic congestion
on February 9, 2006
This book is a detailed analysis of parking problems and their solution. Shoup zeroes in on the reason for such problems: we assume that parking should be free. Shoup points out that if we decided that gasoline should be free, the result we would expect would be obvious: people would drive too much, shortages of gasoline would develop, fights would break out over scarce gas, and governments would go broke trying to pay for it all. Shoup shows that parking is no different. Providing free parking leads to overuse, shortages, and conflicts over parking. Cash-strapped local governments and neighborhoods lose out, too. Free parking is like a fertility drug for cars. Many people don't realize how much of the high price of housing is due to requirements by local governments that a certain number of parking spaces must be provided. These costs are paid by everyone, including those who don't own a car.
I agree with Shoup that free parking is the great blind spot of American local politics. I recall vividly a couple of years ago I was attending a church service when it was suddenly interrupted by a person from the neighborhood, screaming that churchgoers had used all the parking spaces in front of his house AGAIN. I could understand why he was upset, because Sunday mornings did cause a serious parking shortage in the streets around the church. Shoup shows how to solve such difficulties: instead of putting in burdensome regulations about who can park where and when, just charge the market price for parking spaces, and make sure most or all of the money goes to the local neighborhood for improved public services. A high price for parking spaces on Sunday would have led churchgoers to find other options, like walking or carpooling. The church's neighbors would benefit from the money, and anyone who really needed a parking space would be able to find one, including on Sunday mornings.
As Shoup admits, nobody likes having to pay for a parking space. But which would you prefer: parking free, or spending a couple of bucks a day for parking and being able to afford to live 10 or 15 miles closer to work? Parking lots are not only ugly, they also consume vast amounts of land, much of which could be put to better uses. One of the great parts of the book is that Shoup discusses exactly how to go about developing political support for putting in parking meters and other methods of paying for parking. Parking technology has come a long way in recent decades, so that payment doesn't have to be inconvenient. Businesses are often afraid that parking meters will drive away customers. Shoup shows that isn't so, and provides several case studies of business districts and neighborhoods that have started charging for parking. What these places find is that their business actually increases, because people no longer have to waste time cruising the neighborhood looking for a parking space. Local governments' tax revenues increase, because valuable land is being used for revenue-producing activities instead of wasted on excess parking lots. Removing parking requirements also makes it much easier to renovate old buildings, which revitalizes neighborhoods.
I was stunned to find out that in some neighborhoods up to 90% of the traffic has been found to be people cruising around looking for a place to park. Shoup shows how charging the right price for parking according to local demand can get rid of this problem. Bus service benefits, too, because the buses don't have to sit in traffic jams and can arrive at their stops on time.
The book does get a little too academic for general readers in spots. There are equations in a few of the chapters. However, the book is too good to let that stop you. Just skip the equations; they aren't necessary to understanding Shoup's points.
I wish I could send a copy of this book to every local government official within 20 miles of where I live. Maybe then the bus service would be better, and when I really needed a parking space I would be able to find one.