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Dr. Shoup: Parking Guru!

Shoup, here he is!

World-regarded as an expert on parking policy, UCLA Urban Planning Professor Dr. Donald Shoup is the author of The High Cost of Free Parking, a publication so popular among scholars and devotees that he attracts groupies known as Shoupistas at book signings!

High Cost of Free Parking book jacket

According to Dr. Shoup, free parking is the root problem of many of the ills that face our biggest cities. He posits that reforming parking policy will lead to a better pedestrian environment, cleaner streets and air, safer downtown shopping districts, and - yes - even less headaches for drivers trying to find that ever elusive curb space.

In March 2007, Dr. Shoup paid a visit to NYC to enlighten city leaders with his research. Here's part of a taped chat with The Open Planning Project's Mark Gorton.

[intro music]

Mark Gorton: [00:12] I’m here today with Professor Donald Shoup, who is a Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA and one of the world’s leading experts on parking. And Professor Shoup, you’ve been brought to New York to help enlighten us a little bit about parking. So let me ask you, I spent time trying to think about parking policy. I read your book, The High Cost of Free Parking, which I think is very aptly named because I think the name conveys a lot. How do you tell, you know, people who just have a few seconds to think about parking, what wisdom do you have to offer them?

Dr Donald Shoup: [00:45] Well I would say that getting the price of parking right will do a world of good. I think that by the right price I mean the lowest price you can charge that will lead to a few vacant spaces. It will reduce cruising for parking. It will reduce air pollution. It’ll make the pedestrian life better. It will reduce energy and maybe even slow global warming. But more than any of that, I think getting the price of curb parking right will immensely improve the public realm of New York, how we use the sidewalks, how we enjoy our neighbourhoods. And numbers of people would benefit, it’s just about everybody in New York.

Mark Gorton: [01:28] What are New York’s policies today? And how are they flawed? And what can we do to improve them?

Dr Donald Shoup: [01:33] I don’t see why people have to pay market rents to live in a neighbourhood but the car should live rent-free. I think in New York you have expensive housing for people and free parking for cars. You’ve got your priorities exactly the wrong way round. If curb parking is free, and all the spaces are full and you want to park, the only thing you can do is drive around the block, hunting for parking. You drive around this block and then maybe have no luck, you drive around the next block and you keep on going until you see a space being vacated by another driver, then you pull in. So you’ve got the free parking space but you’ve spent a lot of time waiting to get it. That maybe a good bargain for you. The problem with this policy is that you’re congesting traffic for everybody else, that cars that are wanting to go some place and they’re mixed in with people like you who aren’t going anywhere, you’ve already arrived.

Mark Gorton: [02:29] Well so how many people are actually just driving around looking for parking?

Dr Donald Shoup: [02:33] Well a study was recently done in Soho and asking drivers who were stopped at red lights whether they were hunting for parking, and 29% of them said they were hunting for a parking space. So if you charge the right price for curb parking, by which I mean the price would lead to about a 15% vacancy rate, nobody would be driving around hunting for a parking space. So you could take off the road 29% of the cars in Manhattan, if that’s an average. The reason I would suggest that there are huge advantages for New York to change it, to reform these policies is because great improvements have been achieved elsewhere.

Mark Gorton: [03:15] Could you talk a little bit about Pasadena, I guess Old Town Pasadena, and what they did there and why that was so successful?

Dr Donald Shoup: [03:24] The city wanted to put in parking metres and the merchants of the property said, no way, it’ll chase away the few customers we have. And the city actually bought the parking metres and stored them for two years while they argued. And finally the city said, well if we put in the parking metres, we’ll spend all the metre revenue in Pasadena. And like that the merchants said, that’s different, you didn’t tell us that. Let’s run the metres till midnight, let’s run them on Sunday. And they put in the metres, they immediately borrowed enough money to rebuild every sidewalk and all the alleys, they put the wires underground, they put in store street lights. And now it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southern California. There are over 40,000 people visit there on a weekend to walk around and marvel at the place. And it’s all because of the money that comes out of those metres, that steam cleans the sidewalks twice a month, that pays for added police protection, that removes graffiti every night. That I think returning the metre revenue to the metered neighbourhoods is the political key to unlocking the public wealth of the city.

Mark Gorton: [04:35] You know part of what we’re, you know, the Livable Streets movement is advocating in New York is, you know, making a lot of improvements to the street, to improve the life of neighbourhoods and this is one very local source of money that could be a great way to do that.

Dr Donald Shoup: [04:51] I would say that if in Manhattan you try it out as a pilot programme in any business district, and said any business district that wants it, that they have to ask for it. And say… but the city has to offer it before they can ask for it. We will adjust the prices of parking, day and night, weekend and weekday, to achieve about an 85% occupancy rate, and spend the revenue on improving your business district, you would see very quickly what that policy would do. And I suspect other neighbourhoods would say, I want that.

Mark Gorton: [05:26] The people talk about vacancy targets, which means you set the price so that there are always 15 or 20% of the spaces available.

Dr Donald Shoup: [05:33] The city ought to set the lowest price that it can charge and still have one or two vacant spaces on every block. I know that some people say that’s not going to be fair. But think of it this way, when you underprice the curb parking so there are no spaces vacant, you have cars driving around, looking for parking, they’re congesting traffic, they’re polluting the air, they’re interfering with pedestrians, cos they almost always turn right at every intersection, they’re wasting fuel, so, but it comes to issues of equity or morality. I think I have the moral high ground when I say that it is fair to charge the lowest price of to yield a few vacant spaces and spend all the revenue on fixing up the pedestrian realm where most people spend most of their travel time.



Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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