The High Cost of Free Parking

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Planners Press, American Planning Association, 2005 - Architecture - 734 pages
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Off-street parking requirements are devastating American cities. So says Donald Shoup in this no-holds-barred treatise on the way parking should be. Free parking, Shoup argues, has contributed to auto dependence, rapid urban sprawl, extravagant energy use, and a host of other problems. Planners mandate free parking to alleviate congestion, but end up distorting transportation choices, debasing urban design, damaging the economy, and degrading the environment. Ubiquitous free parking helps explain why our cities sprawl on a scale fit more for cars than for people, and why American motor vehicles now consume one-eighth of the world's total oil production. But it doesn't have to be this way. Shoup proposes new ways for cities to regulate parking, namely, charge fair market prices for curb parking, use the resulting revenue to pay for services in the neighborhoods that generate it, and remove zoning requirements for off-street parking. Such measures, according to the Yale-trained economist and UCLA planning professor, will make parking easier and driving less necessary.

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As extensive as it is, “The High Cost of Parking” is merely a regurgitation of well-worn ideas that generally originate from consultants working for large scale developers that want to eliminate having to provide on-site parking in buildings that they build in order reduce the costs of construction. Having to provide on-site parking in a building is generally one-third the cost of a project although it is much cheaper where the parking is on surface parking lots. Where it gets costly is when the developer must excavate the site to construct the parking which is usually the case in large cities. So it is easy why developers are pushing to eliminate “free parking” and they have found a stooge in Professor Donald Shoup.
Now no one would be expected to call the former head of the UCLA Department of Urban Planning and Professor Emeritus, particularly a graduate of UCLA who took courses in that department as I have, but unfortunately that is what he is. I expected a scholarly work but I was sadly disappointed. Instead the book is a blatant effort to promote the end to all free parking and Shoup breaks all scholarly rules in his zeal to send his message. He is so engrossed in sending his message that he can’t see the forest for the trees. His objectivity is clouded with his subjectivity.
As Shoup says, parking is not taught in urban planning courses and many of us had to learn what it is all about in the real world. Unfortunately, Prof. Shoup has never been out of his ivory tower so he doesn’t have that experience.
Ir is not that some of the schemes he advocates will work in certain localities which have all the elements necessary to work but Shoup makes the mistake of trying to jam square pegs through round holes in advocating that his schemes will work everywhere.
For example, what works in San Francisco ain’t going to work in Los Angeles as he advocates. San Francisco, the most densly populated city in California with an area of 44 square miles and which has a highly centralized commercial area with a well developed public transit system does not compare with Los Angeles which sprawls over 469 square miles and with a almost non-existent public transportation system and a mountain range splitting the city. Shoup is comparing apples to oranges and he does this with many other communities. It works in San Francisco so it should work every where else.
Moreover, his analysis of parking problems is usually incomplete and it can’t be determined as whether the inadequacies of his analysis are due to ignorance or whether the omissions are purposeful because they defeat his goal of convincing everyone to abandon free parking.
One example is the chapter on The Psuedoscience of Planning for Parking where he argues that the parking requirements imposed by cities are arbitrary and excessive. He cites studies that show that often much of the parking goes unused in office buildings even when 97% of the employees drive to work. But what Shoup omits is the reasons why the spaces are not used.
That is because in those buildings, clients, customers, and top management are provided with free parking and not the employees. So where do the employees park? Usually in the nearby residential neighborhoods thus defeating the very purpose that cities set requirements for on-site parking. What is the solution? Pass an ordinance that requires all landlords to provide free parking for all employees, clients, and customers. However, it is not in Shoup’s interest to promote such a solution.
Instead, to prevent employees from parking in nearby neighborhoods, he proposes that all parking on streets, including residential streets be rented to parkers, including the homeowners. For someone who has a PhD in economics, it is another instance where Shoup’s economics are suspect. Why? Because when a housing tract is built, the costs of constructing the streets, sidewalks, and curbs are included in the price that the homeowner pays to buy the house and in most cases, the homeowner also owns the property to the middle of the

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User Review  - Skylar - Goodreads

Donald Shoup convincingly makes the case that "free" parking distorts people's transportation choices towards making single-occupancy auto trips over the alternatives (walking, biking, busing, etc ... Read full review

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About the author (2005)

Donald C. Shoup, a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, is professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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