Our Urban Challenge: Free Parking

Dr. Donald Shoup wrote a book called The High Cost of Free Parking in which he argued that too many American cities just give away their most valuable real estate in the form of free parking spaces. The usual cry from business owners in response is: “But we’ll drive away customers if we charge for parking.”

But just the opposite happens. And clogged traffic is often alleviated, too.

Below is a picture of a Springfield city parking lot at N. Robberson Ave. and Pacific St. just a block south of Commercial Street.

My central contention in this series is that Springfield’s urban core should be more densely populated and that density will naturally lead to improvements — especially transportation improvements — that will benefit the entire city.

I took this picture on Thursday at about 1:00 p.m. Only about a third of the spaces in this lot were filled. There’s free, on-street parking on Commercial St. All those spaces were filled. Suggestion: Sell this parking lot to a developer who will build medium-to high-density housing. Put parking meters on the streets in the “center cityzoning areas. Use most of the money for streetscape and complete streets projects in the same zone.

It’s All Downtown brags about 6,000 downtown parking spaces — some of them free, some of them free at particular times, and some of them paid. On-streets parking is free. Given the number of parking lots and garages, it seems time for the city to install parking meters on the streets.

Amenities precede people. Free, on-street parking does not draw people downtown to live (and, thus, spend money and pay taxes). The stuff that parking meters can pay for draw people downtown to live and to visit, i.e. spend money and pay taxes.

If you haven’t done so already, click Dr. Shoup’s name at the beginning of this post.

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Comments 3

  1. Steve A wrote:

    My initial reaction when I read the title of your post was that businesses ought to be able to provide free parking if that fits their business model. I can either elect to patronize same or not as I choose. But, SINCE you talk about TAXPAYER-FUNDED parking, that is a whole different matter.

    While I was up in Seattle, visiting my parents, I frequently commented about the taxpayer-subsidized parking on streets that otherwise would have had an added lane that I, as a cyclsist could use (the cars get to use them when I’m not there as well). Heck with all this bike lane bullpucky, let people keep their personal cars on their personal property. Sure, that might decrease property values – on property that depends on taxpayer subsidies. OTOH, it will increase property values on the properties that do NOT suck at the public trough.

    Posted 03 Apr 2010 at 8:06 am
  2. Keri wrote:

    Businesses don’t necessarily provide all that free car parking by choice. They are usually mandated to do so by code. In some cases, the parking requirement is based on the busiest shopping day of the year. The asphalt is nothing more than empty impervious surface most of the year… subsidized by increased prices for good and services.

    A decade or so ago, a popular restaurant in Winter Park expanded to include more tables. The city made them close off the expansion because they didn’t have the ability to increase their car parking area. What if a business was able to meet parking requirements by providing the same number of parking units for bicycles instead of cars? Right now that’s not an option.

    Posted 04 Apr 2010 at 12:17 pm
  3. Ole wrote:

    After 15 years in Chicago, on the North side, I moved to Springfield. I’ve now spent six years living downtown and more recently 8 months on Commercial Street. I am astounded by the population of this City and their attitudes about parking.

    I paid for parking in an alley area while downtown. While clearly marked, it was a magnet for lazy downtown patrons who apparently refused to park legally. The primary excuse was often distance, yet walking from the garage to South Avenue is less than you would walk from a Mall spot down one of the primary hallways to get to Starbucks for example.

    Meters are an excellent economic model. The closest parking should cost the most, and reduce the price going out. It also creates turnover so there is regular availability of spots. It’s not a difficult model to understand.

    Posted 05 Apr 2010 at 11:36 am