A Review of MAPC’s Parking Conference

June 05, 2014

April 8, 2014: Boston was honored to have UCLA Professor of Urban Planning and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup speak at MAPC’s parking conference in April. The conference’s title “sPARKing new ideas” set the scene for a casual conversation between the Yoda of Urban Planning and the audience.

Shoup began with a strong statement stating that cars are parked 95% of the time and the cost of parking doesn’t cease to exist just because you don’t pay for parking. Parking spaces encourage people to drive and cities to expand with low density, or “sprawl”. Shoup suggests that the country is filled with seas of asphalt due to the American Planning Association (APA) parking standards, which states some comical regulations. For example, there should be 2 spaces per barber at a barber shop, 1 space per 10 nuns at a monastery, 1 space per 2,500 gallons at a pool facility and 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet at a novelty shop. Who thought of these regulations?

Parking seems to be the most debated limitation within each construction project today. Either people don’t think there is enough parking, or they think there is too much parking. Cambridge has low parking requirements relative to other neighboring communities, but still makes the mistakes of keeping curb parking free and requiring lots of off-street parking. The reality is the high number of parking spaces weakens the sense of community by creating a physical barrier between people and places.

In Boston, an aboveground space costs $75 per square foot, or $25,000 a space and an underground space costs $95 per square foot or $31,000 a space [according to Rider Levett Buckwild Quarterly Construction Cost Report, 4th Quarter 2012]. Boston is on the lower end of the scale compared to Chicago, Honolulu, San Francisco, Seattle and NYC, perhaps encouraging driving even more. “One structural parking spot costs more than the entire retirement savings of most families”, says Shoup. “Planning is supposed to be about the future, but parking requirements are just about satisfying present needs”. Shoup believes parking should not be governmentalized but rather a private decision.

Shoup’s ideas for fixing this problem include implementing dynamic pricing where depending on the congestion and traffic each street will be priced accordingly, establishing parking benefit districts to spend the meter revenue in the neighborhoods that generate it and reduce or remove off-street parking requirements.

San Francisco implemented a federally funded project back in the summer of 2010 called SF Park, which introduced dynamic parking to the city as a way to ease congestion and the frustration of never being able to finding a parking space. A successful street will almost always have 85% occupancy with a 1-3 parking space availability. This idea eases the congestion of double-parked vehicles, backed up traffic, pollution stemming from idling cars and trucks and overall hindrance of finding a parking space. The way to accomplish 85% occupancy is to price each street according to parking popularity. For example, Newbury Street is almost always at full capacity but if the prices were a bit higher on Newbury and lower on adjacent streets, this would encourage people to park where it is cheaper therefore leaving space on Newbury for those who need it. San Francisco’s parking system is connected to a Wi-Fi technology that changes and rearranges parking fees depending on the time of day and the capacity at which each street is filled. People have the ability to check parking availability online, through text or with a smartphone app before arriving at a destination. They can then choose to drive or take a train, bike, or walk instead. We encourage you to visit SF Park’s website and watch their video on demand-responsive smart pricing.

Shoup says that this idea is a transportation management tool and an economic development tool, that it increases public spending, relies on markets and reduces government regulation, reduced energy consumption and air pollution, unburdens business enterprise, improves urban design, gives opportunities for individuals to make their own choices, reduces cost for developers, pays for local investments and improvements, and reduces regulations on land use . Local elected officials wouldn’t have to sit in long meetings and fight over the price of parking anymore.

Do you think Boston will ever consider dynamic pricing? How will our local economy adjust to this new infrastructure?

View the full video of Shoup’s presentation at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uzwQlVzLrA

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