26.2.13

Today on Streets.mn: Shoup-ian Parking Economics vs. the World of Costanzas

I had a late start today, but just finished my fortnightly post over at Streets.mn about parking lot economics. I've already written about the 6th Street sidewalk expansion debate in the context of historic preservation (and why I think the St Paul HPC got it wrong). Here's another stab at the argument, this time from the perspective of parking economics.

Basically, I finally coughed up the dough and bought Donald Shoup's thick book on parking. I'm really glad I did! It's terrific.

It really helps you understand the mysteries of parking, or as I put it, why we all "turn into Costanzas" when were trying to stop driving our car. I spend a lot of time explaining Shoup's main points, which aren't that complicated, but here's the punch of my piece:
Let’s return to the example of the parking spaces around Mears Park. What the original analysis gets wrong, showing that removing these meters will cost the city $55,000 each year, is that parking is a dynamic market. If you remove one parking spot, it doesn’t mean that money goes away. People will still be driving around, looking for somewhere to stop their car. If you take away one meter, the one next to it immediately becomes more valuable.
The issue in Lowertown, Saint Paul is that lots of people want to park on a very few places of land. The problem that comes from that is that many people spend a lot of highly frustrating time “cruising,” struggling in vain, attempting to find one of these precious patches of asphalt nirvana. That’s the key problem! We need to find a way a way liberate people this teeth-grinding white-knuckled automobile parking hell.
Shoup’s solution to this problem is to tweak prices so that the parking market equals out, to use pricing to equalize the supply and demand between the highly in-demand and the little-used parking psots in the city. (As a friend recently pointed out, downtown Saint Paul has lots of parking. Most of it is underused.) This might mean raising prices around Mears Park, and lowering them on the north side of West 7th Street. This might mean raising on-street prices in general, and lowering prices at the many parking ramps. Done right, there would always be a spot for the taking along Mears Park, and many of the (city-owned) underused parking ramps would be full.

While I'm not living and dying on whether or not this sidewalk expansion gets built, I do get irritated when people use faulty and misleading arguments to make their case. I think Americans are far too obsessed with parking. It's not something I can understand at all. Reading Shoup's book makes me realize that I'm not alone.


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