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Parking is a resource constrained by supply and demand

Parking functions like any economic good: when demand is high and supply is low, it will be quickly used up -- unless managed well and appropriately priced. When street parking is free, people leave their cars for hours or days at a time, forcing potential customers, visitors, and employees to drive in circles, searching for a parking space -- or abandon their trip altogether. If there is not a parking problem, that's usually a sign of even worse problems, either there is not enough business or there's so much parking that there is no street life or sense of place.

Parking can support businesses, public life, and city revenue

In a commercial or mixed use neighborhood, a parking shortage is a sign that people want to come to the neighborhood. In a residential area, it means that there are probably a lot people living in a small area. In both cases, it is a sign that on-street parking is not being managed optimally. When demand is high and supply is low, the most convenient spaces will quickly be used up and many other drivers will be frustrated at the lack of parking. Managing parking requires thinking like an economist -- raising the price when supply is low and lowering it where demand is low. A small shift in the cost to park will translate into changes in behavior. Balancing demand at about 85% occupancy (mostly full but without complete parking congestion) means that drivers are not abandoning the location and killing businesses, but they will be able to quickly locate a parking space. The revenue generated from parking can be used to keep streets clean, safe, and lively. Revenues could also be used to provide better transit access, to improve upon streetspace equity.

Streets are generators of value, not just conduits of movement

For decades, most transportation planning departments and highway planning offices and state Departments of Transportation have primarily considered any strip of car-carrying asphalt for its ability to move cars quickly. Yet, historically, streets were places that created value -- especially when close to other transportation options. Businesses can thrive in high-density, walkable places that have atrocious traffic. Often, our nation's most successful financial districts are those whose roads fail every possible measure regarding traffic flow. Not every street needs to be a walkable place. When it comes to walkability and place-making, it can be helpful to think about a street as having one of two functions: is it a link to encourage movement between points, or is it to be a destination? Once that is determined, then public rights-of-way can be appropriately prioritized. The streets as destinations are going to be where walkability improvements should be focused.


Elaine: Oh come on, George, please put it in a garage. I don't want to spend an hour looking for a space.

George: I can't park in a garage.

Elaine: Why?

George: I don't know, I just can't. Nobody in my family can pay for parking, it's a sickness. My father never paid for parking; my mother, my brother,nobody. We can't do it.

Elaine: I'll pay for it.

George: You don't understand. A garage. I can't even pull in there. It's like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free? 

Policy and leadership must look to the future

Thriving, vibrant cities balance the need for placemaking, freight movement, public transport, walking and biking, traffic flow, deliveries, and private vehicle storage with an understanding that some roads will be economic power-houses where cars don't do well, and others will be links between destinations where fast vehicular travel and people throughput is prioritized. City policies should remove the burden of parking provision from developers, and take the reigns by actively managing on-street parking. Finding the right price to achieve optimal occupancy and reinvesting the revenue in the block where it is collected will make the street better for everyone - regardless of how they get around. Transportation is changing rapidly, and we cannot know how curb space will be used in 50 years, or if we'll even have curbs. Technology can help make better use of the curbs today; to communicate convenient, reliable, and predictable alternatives to influence mode shifts; and to help us adapt quickly to changing trends.

We cannot build ourselves out of a parking shortage 

Most people will go to great lengths to avoid paying for parking (See George Costanza in Seinfeld). Some people will even find other ways of getting around to avoid paying for parking. Since the problem is usually a shortage of the most convenient free on-street parking, building new parking is unlikely to solve a parking shortage. Everyone hopes that "all those other cars will park in the less convenient, isolated parking lot or garage," and most will continue to search for on-street parking. Requiring buildings to provide parking does not alleviate the problem; in fact, it may exacerbate it by encouraging people to drive and creating a less walkable streetscape. Furthermore, each space in a parking garage costs about $30,000 to build -- excluding land costs and opportunity costs. Since most people scoff at paying $3 to park, a garage won't work unless someone other than a driver is paying for the parking. And, unfortunately, that is what happens now when the cost of parking is wrapped into the cost of everything else or when employers pay for the parking that their employees use.


Better Parking 101: Ingredients for a Parking System that Boosts Tax Revenue and Invigorates Communities

​Download the handout here.

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