In the “before times” pre-COVID19, when beginning a parking study in an area that has a “parking problem,” I would start by interviewing people and asking them about the problem. I’d talk to business owners, residents, elected officials, principals at local schools, and anyone else who wants to talk to me. Can you guess the #1 complaint I would hear (prior to lockdowns)?
“There’s not enough parking!”
If you’ve found this site, you probably already understand that parking is more complex than that. But I thought I would share how I generally work with people to help shift their perspective – slowly. Rather than immediately reject the idea that more parking is needed, I start a conversation around the cost of parking. For at least $30,000 per space for new garages, I can ask who they think should pay for it. Will drivers be willing to pay for that? Should the local taxpayers cover it? Should the businesses have added taxes to pay for it? Will it be worth it? Will each new car bring in the sales tax revenue to cover that? What about people who don’t drive; should their taxes be higher so that others can park free? Should they pay more to dine out so that others can park for free?
When it settles in that their small town or neighborhood isn’t going to get a new free parking garage, I start to talk about ECON 101. Parking and driving are unique in our society because they don’t fit into the standard laws of supply and demand, because we typically don’t price much that has to do with driving. When it comes to other goods (housing, food, cell phone, etc.), the right price makes it so that suppliers can continue to produce and make a profit and demand can be satisfied. The point where the supply curve and the demand curve cross, determined by price, is called the equilibrium. (Credit to Jeffrey Tumlin for graphics and inspiration for this post and others yet to come)
When you don’t price driving and parking, you force people to wait for desirable spaces or sit in congested roadways, and TIME – rather than price – regulates how much demand there is. How much time are you willing to spend looking for parking or on your daily commute? And congestion, or full parking, becomes the equilibrium. While parking problems are very different than they were in February, that is because the demand is lower. The same principles of supply and demand still apply.
As San Francisco MTA’s Executive Director, Jeffrey Tumlin, says: congestion is what happens when the demand for mobility equals supply. It is the constant. Building more parking or more roads won’t fix the problem. So we need to understand what the problem is. Usually, the problem is better stated as “I can’t find convenient parking when I need it.” Solving for that problem requires more than just additional parking.
Part 2 of this series will look at how pricing and parking meters impact driver behavior. Part 3 will dive into the equity considerations of metering parking.