Speaker drives case against free parking

A visiting urban planning professor said free parking is costly for society.

Angela Gray

In a typical metropolitan area, a vehicle drives an average of three times around a city block to find a parking spot.

“After a few years, the mileage covered by those vehicles searching for a parking spot could be equal to four trips to the moon,” said Donald Shoup, Center for Transportation Studies fall luncheon speaker.

The Center for Transportation Studies had a fall luncheon Thursday at the Radisson Hotel Metrodome.

Shoup, a professor in urban planning at University of California, Los Angeles, has studied the issue of parking as a key link between transportation and land use that has important consequences for cities, the economy and the environment.

Shoup said the two main mistakes in parking policy are keeping curb parking free (or cheap), and requiring off-street parking lots.

“I couldn’t find the lakes or the arbor at the Shops of Arbor Lakes; they must have been replaced with parking spots,” he said. “And at the Maplewood mall, the maples must have been cut down for parking lots too.”

He said that whenever builders put in office buildings or apartment complexes, they are required to have a certain amount of parking space available.

He said these parking requirements use up a lot of land and limits the use and creation of new development.

“City planners can predict the number of parking lots and spaces needed to be built by the number of gasoline nozzles down to the number of nuns in a nearby convent,” he said.

Shoup said having vehicles park for free 99 percent of the time (such as at restaurants and movie theaters) distorts urban form, increases housing costs, impedes the use of older buildings and harms the environment.

He said residential taxpayers, businesses and even residents without vehicles end up paying for the parking lots.

“Everyone pays for parking except the motorist,” he said.

Shoup praised the University for not embedding parking costs into other sources of income, such as tuition or meals.

“I realize it’s expensive on campus,” he said, “but it’s partially exposed.”

Alex Klemz, sophomore communications student, said he pays $410 a semester to secure a parking spot in the East River Road Parking Garage.

Klemz said he has had negative experiences trying to find parking.

“My car got towed from McDonald’s; I had to walk like 40 blocks in the freezing cold and then pay $200,” he said. “It was the most horrific experience.”

To improve parking policy, Shoup proposed increasing prices for curb parking and returning meter revenue to the neighborhoods that generate it.

“The purpose is so that cities can use the resulting revenue to pay for services in the neighborhoods that generate the money and remove zoning requirements for off-street parking,” he said.

The meter revenue could be split between the business improvement district and the city.

“Traffic in cities is like a mass evacuation before a hurricane,” he said.

He said that if people continue giving away parking and requiring ample parking space, it will cause the U.S. to import more oil with borrowed money, create longer commutes and waste more energy.

Rick Krueger, executive director of the Transportation Alliance, said the presentation was provocative.

“When estimating cost it is difficult to quantify, know what’s behind the numbers and analyze them, but it is a good start,” he said.