Free Parking: More Bad News

Shortly after a recent discussion about parking in downtown — during which I argued that free public street parking is inherently problematic — I found this piece from the San Francisco Chronicle that provides related bad news.

According to the article, free parking may be the reason people across the U.S. continue to drive solo to work:

One explanation for persistently high rates of solo drivers, said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, is free parking.

“If you can park free at work, it’s an invitation to drive to work alone. And almost everybody who does drive to work has this invitation,” he said.

Shoup also apparently was instrumental in passing a 1992 California law that required employers to offer cash to employees in lieu of a parking spot. The program worked, the article states, though it also quotes Shoup as saying California hasn’t sufficiently taken advantage of it.

A newly repaved parking lot next to an office in downtown. This sort of free parking for employees puts more cars on the road, which is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen.

Of course the underlying goal is to get cars off the road while still allowing people to get around. That benefits drivers because it reduces traffic congestion and it benefits everyone else because it reduces emissions, among other things. Carpooling — as well as public transit, biking, and walking  — is just one way to do that.

But that goal is being undermined by free parking that effectively puts the maximum number of cars on the street. This is basically the problem in downtown right now, where there are rumors that construction workers are leaving their cars in spots near shops. The situation isn’t making anyone happy, but the underlying issue is that free parking exists and that workers are driving too many cars into the area. Reduce the number of cars by tightening the supply of parking somehow, and you reduce the problem.

Center Street is lined with diagonal parking. Though this kind of parking has some benefits, it has recently become a source of conflict. One way to solve that problem is to simply stop providing it completely free of charge.

Shoup’s solution is for employers to incentivize people to carpool or use other transit. Public parking complicates the situation — who would pay if workers aren’t parking on company land? — but other economic incentives such as parking meters, parking passes or permits, or simply the reduction of parking itself could work.

In any case, the point is that underlying many conflicts about public space and parking is the fact that parking is simply offered up for free.

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4 Comments

Filed under driving, parking

4 responses to “Free Parking: More Bad News

  1. Bill Graff

    is a good approach to consider for downtown Provo and the Joaquin. Maybe we should expand this to student parking also.

  2. Reblogged this on XoomPark and commented:
    Interesting perspective!

  3. You might not even need to disincentivize driving, just incentivize the alternatives. Split the cost of a bus pass, give free bike tuneups, a wellness credit, a free meal, or even a button that says “I walk/bike/take UTA to work” and I think you’d see fewer cars in your lot.

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