Expert: Free parking is a myth

By Barbara West

My sister happens to work for Transform, a Bay Area nonprofit advocating for public transportation and more walkable cities. She happened to host UCLA professor Donald Shoup when he recently visited Northern California, and mentioned the visit to me.

It turns out that Shoup is the foremost national expert on parking. Allow me to sum up his ideas.

Parking is never free; we pay for it in many ways, including:
* Taxes for maintaining streets and building parking lots and garages;
* The costs business owners pay (and pass on to shoppers) for the above;
* Time, gas and traffic congestion incurred from “cruising for parking.”

When we have unmetered parking, the shopper walking past a parking space is paying the same for that parking space as the person who just parked a car there.

Shoup has a simple measure for successful parking in a downtown business district: When the average driver comes by, she should find one open parking space on each block face.
To accomplish this, he works with cities, such as San Francisco, to adjust the rates at programmable meters one block face at a time.
Currently, in one San Francisco neighborhood, meter rates are being adjusted gradually until they get to the “one open spot per block face” steady state.
For example, they have found that a certain block face needs a $4-per-hour meter, but one block away needs only a 50 cents-per-hour meter.
Once the steady state is achieved, businesses on both blocks benefit from customers being able to reliably find parking at the lowest possible cost for that block.
A key factor in the success is that money collected from meters is returned directly to that area for improvements and added public services.
Cities such as Pasadena, which, like Davis, compete with nearby suburban “free parking,” have found that, by adopting Shoup’s ideas, they increase patronage at downtown businesses, since drivers are no longer “cruising for parking” and can now count on finding a spot near their store of choice.

I appreciate all the work that our Davis Parking Task Force and City Council have done in studying our local situation.
Perhaps they already have studied Shoup’s work and found that it does not apply to Davis for some reason.
But, in case his ideas didn’t fall into their laps, our leaders might be glad to hear that a very intelligent man has spent his long career studying parking and coming up with successful solutions.

We can all learn more about Shoup’s work at http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Shoup.

— Barbara West is a Davis resident.

Special to The Enterprise

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