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The Economist: notes on “Free Parking”

Notes from a great article in the Economist on the hidden costs of free parking.

Apple’s new “Spaceship” in Cupertino contains 318,000 m2 of offices and 325,000 m2 of parking.

Cupertino, the suburban city where the new headquarters is located, demands it. Cupertino has a requirement for every building. A developer who wants to put up a block of flats, for example, must provide two parking spaces per apartment, one of which must be covered. For a fast-food restaurant, the city demands one space for every three seats; for a bowling alley, seven spaces per lane plus one for every worker. Cupertino’s neighbours have similar rules. With such a surfeit of parking, most of it free, it is little wonder that most people get around Silicon Valley by car, or that the area has such appalling traffic jams.

Cars sit idle 95% of the time.

Water companies are not obliged to supply all the water that people would use if it were free, nor are power companies expected to provide all the free electricity that customers might want. But many cities try to provide enough spaces to meet the demand for free parking, even at peak times. Some base their parking minimums on the “Parking Generation Handbook”, a tome produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. This reports how many cars are found in the free car parks of synagogues, waterslide parks and so on when they are busiest.

Car parking takes up space. Parking lots dominate the downtown area of Kansas City, MO. As space gets stretched out, walking and bicycling lose their appeal. “Besides, if you know you can park free wherever you go, why not drive?”

The rule of thumb in America is that multi-storey car parks cost about $25,000 per space and underground parking costs $35,000. Donald Shoup, an authority on parking economics, estimates that creating the minimum number of spaces adds 67% to the cost of a new shopping centre in Los Angeles if the car park is above ground and 93% if it is underground. Parking requirements can also make redevelopment impossible. Converting an old office building into flats generally means providing the parking spaces required for a new block of flats, which is likely to be difficult. The biggest cost of parking minimums may be the economic activity they prevent.

There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: everyone pays for free parking:

And that has an unfortunate distributional effect, because young people drive a little less than the middle-aged and the poor drive less than the rich. In America, 17% of blacks and 12% of Hispanics who lived in big cities usually took public transport to work in 2013, whereas 7% of whites did. Free parking represents a subsidy for older people that is paid disproportionately by the young and a subsidy for the wealthy that is paid by the poor.

When autonomous cars become available, many will likely operate like taxis. Less parking will be needed for homes and businesses. There will be more demand for drop-off and pick-up areas. There will be more demand for service garages, where the autonomous cars can go to charge, clean, and receive maintenance.

Existing parking minimums, which provide a subsidy for individual car ownership, will retard the adoption of autonomous vehicles in the United States. Personal vehicles will be subject to a parking subsidy, whereas autonomous car operators will need to supply maintenance garages at their expense. See Also: streetcars versus buses, railroads versus trucking.

Market-rate parking permits for public streets are logical, but culturally unpopular, even in transit-based European cities like Amsterdam.

The result is a perpetual scrap for empty kerb. As San Francisco’s infuriated drivers cruise around, they crowd the roads and pollute the air. This is a widespread hidden cost of under-priced street parking. Mr Shoup has estimated that cruising for spaces in Westwood village, in Los Angeles, amounts to 950,000 excess vehicle miles travelled per year. Westwood is tiny, with only 470 metered spaces.

In the 1950s, while Japan was still poor, Tokyo required motorists to show proof of access to a dedicated parking space. There is no overnight street parking in Tokyo.

Freed of cars, the narrow residential streets of Tokyo are quieter than in other big cities. Every so often a courtyard or spare patch of land has been turned into a car park—some more expensive than others. Once you become accustomed to the idea that city streets are only for driving and walking, and not for parking, it is difficult to imagine how it could possibly be otherwise. Mr Kondoh is so perplexed by an account of a British suburb, with its kerbside commons, that he asks for a diagram. Your correspondent tries to draw his own street, with large rectangles for houses, a line representing the kerb and small rectangles showing all the parked cars. The small rectangles take up a surprising amount of room.

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