Notable Quotes #4: Donald Shoup describes Grand Avenue's Parking Meter Debate

[Mayor Coleman describing Shoup's work to an angry crowd.]
[From Chuck Marohn's latest Strong Towns Podcast, legendary parking guru and retired planning prof, Donald Shoup, talks quite a lot about Saint Paul's recent thwarted attempt to put parking meters on Grand Avenue.]

Saint Paul only got half of the message. Every city should charge the right price for curbed parking. Every city should charge the right price for curbed pricing, and by “right price”, I mean the lowest cost a city can charge and still leave one or two open spaces on every block, on both sides of the block, so wherever you go, you can see just what you want: an open space waiting for you. So nobody can say there’s a shortage of parking.

And the cities that have done this, like LA and San Francisco in their downtowns, more prices went down than up. Because we have to charge a different price at different times of the day. If you have the same price all day long, it’s often too high in the morning and too low in the afternoon.

Saint Paul wanted to put in parking meters partly because there’s a parking shortage. Is it Grand Avenue? I think they made a big mistake by saying ‘we’re doing it because the city needs the money.’ They actually counted the money in the next year’s budget!

Clearly they were taking money out of the neighborhood and spending it every place else. I don’t think that’s fair. What has been politically successful is that, if you went to Grand Avenue and said, “we’ll offer you these parking meters”, but all of the meter revenue will go to repair your sidewalks or plow snow or plant street trees or put in historic street lights, and street furniture or have added police protection or whatever is your #1 priority something you’d like to see done on Grand Avenue, but don’t have a way to pay for it, here’s a way to do it.

If you’d like to have the meters you’ll get all the money for it. If you don’t want the meters, you won’t get the improvements. And we’ll run the meters just as long as it’s necessary to manage parking. If the demand falls at 7PM, then the prices go down or it becomes free at 7PM. If the demand doesn’t increase until 10AM, then the price remains free until 10AM. So I think it’s, combined as a package of prices and public services, the merchants and the property owners would begin to see it in a different way. It’s totally different from saying, “we’re going to give you parking meters but we’re going to take all the money.”

It’s pretty elementary that the city made a mistake saying that “we want the money” and therefore we’re going to put in parking meters. Of course that’s going to be unpopular. But in cities that do offer meters and public services as a package, they’re very welcomed.


Every city thinks it’s unique. I’m sure Saint Paul thinks its unique, different from Minneapolis, or Osceola or any other little town nearby. But I think most cities are very much alike when it comes to parking. If you have a parking problem, and there’s a shortage of parking on Main Street in a small city, that’s the same as the parking shortage on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul.

And you can do the same solution. It just means there won’t be nearly so many parking meters in the small city. And they won’t charge as high a price, but you have to manage parking.

Parking is kind of like successful socialism. There’s an enormous amount of very valuable land that the city owns, and it’s squandering the results. It’s really mismanaging, and I think the example you showed in Saint Paul is an example of this mismanagement. The transportation experts say that parking meters would prevent employees from parking all day long in front of their restaurants, and prevent complaining about that there’s no parking for customers. And it would provide a lot of revenue for things that the neighborhood wants, even to build an off-street parking structure, if that’s their first priority. But it rarely is, because parking is so expensive. They’d probably rather have clean sidewalks, than a parking structure. I think when we get parking right, cities will right themselves.

[Check out the whole conversation.]

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