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The High Cost of Free Parking

4.5 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1884829987
ISBN-10: 1884829988
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Editorial Reviews

Review

George Costanza, the quintessential New Yorker, once said, "My father didn't pay for parking, my mother, my brother, nobody. It's like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I can get it for free?" The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup's 733-page tour de force, has the answer. With the exception of a Monopoly board, there is no such thing as free parking. In fact, free parking turns out to be the biggest problem you never thought about. "We all want to park free," Shoup writes. "But we also want to reduce traffic congestion, energy consumption and air pollution. We want affordable housing, efficient transportation, green space, good urban design, great cities and a healthy economy. Unfortunately, ample free parking conflicts with all these other goals."

But is this beach reading? Yes. Shoup is witty and profound. The Yoda of urban planning, he compares the current national parking situation to the overfishing of communal waters, an outbreak of cicadas, the Ptolemaic view of the universe, and all-you-can-eat buffets. The book inspired me to begin building an SUV-size apartment on wheels and park it in the Manhattan neighborhood of my choice. Call it "Alternate Side of Street Living." Why should cars be the only ones to get free, fully subsidized housing in New York City?
- Aaron Naparstek, New York Press

About the Author

Donald C. Shoup, a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, is professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 733 pages
  • Publisher: APA Planners Press (2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1884829988
  • ISBN-13: 978-1884829987
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.6 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #484,373 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paula L. Craig on February 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Come on, I know what you're thinking. There's no way you'd want to read an 800-page book about parking, let alone pay $60 for it. That's what I thought too.

Amazingly, I was wrong. Shoup shows how the simple matter of providing some free parking kicks off a chain reaction that leads to disastrous effects. First there's just a little free parking space in front of your house. But then a store opens down the street and its customers start taking your spot. So you demand the store provide enough parking for its customers. Which means the store gets pushed back from the street by its huge new parking lot. Which means nobody wants to walk to it, so more people start driving. Which means it needs more parking and more roads and more traffic cops and more cruising for parking and more sprawl and more pollution and on and on.

Shoup provides a simple solution to this madness: performance parking. If you provided everyone with free ice cream, you'd always have lines around the block. You'd go bankrupt from trying to make sure you always had enough supplies. You'd reorient your whole economy around ice cream. But luckily, we don't do that. We charge the market rate for ice cream. Shoup's simple suggestion: do the same for parking. Install parking meters that talk to each other and figure out how much parking is available and automatically adjust the price to ensure that 15% of the spots are always free. Imagine: no more looking for parking, a parking space always available.

Shoup has a political plan for getting there as well, involving playing one neighborhood off another. But I've given enough away already; perhaps you should just read the book.
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Format: Hardcover
In 100 years, people will look back on this book and realize its value. For now, though, it's far too rational to be of much practical use to planners, engineers or politicians. For anyone who ever imagined that parking requirements were established in accordance with scientific criteria, The High Cost of Free Parking should disabuse them of that notion permanently. Shoup recognizes all too well that parking requirements are imposed merely as a knee-jerk reaction to public fears rather than as a practicable solution to an actual problem. His solutions, though well intended, will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears in most instances--until the price of gas is at $30 per gallon and suddenly there are no cars to fill those free parking lots anymore.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book on the recommendation of the blogger Matthew Yglesias. I agree that it's an important text in understanding economic externalities. The arguments made are clear, structured and mercifully don't require pre-existing knowledge or jargon. The structure of these arguments was unfortunately to smash you with a tidal wave of evidence over many, many chapter with quite similar prose descriptions and interpretations. Unfortunately, even though the points were well made, they were made so often that I lost interest. Hopefully I will one day finish this (enormous) book since I learned so much from the first 2/3 but for now let me just agree we should have market rate parking and move on with my life.
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This book should be required reading for anybody who drives, or walks where cars are driven. This book does a brilliant job of pointing out the many distortions and problems caused by the almost universal expectation that parking should be free. Parking, in cities, is an incredibly valuable resource but because it is often free or underpriced it is used inefficiently. This ultimately benefits no one. The crazy (illogical, unjustified, counter productive) parking requirements in most cities zoning laws force developers to build massive amounts of parking to justify the powerful demand for free parking. If chocolate/liquor/cocaine were free then they would be overused and there would be shortages, so we shouldn't be surprised that the same thing happens with parking.

My only complaint about this book is that it is too big. I wish that it was half the size with better summaries and less redundancy. But, well worth getting, reading, and sharing.
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