Donald Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking” and UCLA planning professor, lectured in Delray Beach as part of the Delray Town Hall series. Of all the lectures, this was the one I was the most eager to attend for the combination of wonkiness and rockstar-like status Dr. Shoup has among his acolytes, who call themselves “Shoupistas“:
Shoup: "I'm thinking of changing my name to Shoup-Dogg" #delraytownhall
— WalkableWPB (@WalkableWPB) April 24, 2014
Parking policy seems the most boring of subjects, but Shoup makes it funny and interesting. It probably has more of an impact on the physical form of cities and neighborhoods than any other policy. Cities like Jacksonville devote so much land area to parking that there has been a “March Parking Madness” competition for several years from StreetsBlog to show the absurdity of mandated parking minimums and how they destroy the character and value of urban places. This is the tyranny of the planner at its worst, with overly bureaucratic requirements like requiring a nunnery to have 1 parking space per 10 nuns, and requiring parking lots that are 8 times larger than the building footprint. The area in green is lot area devoted to the building, and in red the parking requirement.
This kind of policy kills good urbanism and walkability, and turns the neighborhood into an ugly crater of parking lots.
Shoup argues for three specific policies to get parking right:
1. Price parking right, in accordance with supply and demand
2. Get rid of mandated parking minimums
3. Dedicate parking revenue generated to be spent in the district in which it is raised, rather than going to the general fund
Pricing parking right doesn’t necessarily mean increasing meter rates. In the best pure test of Shoup’s theory, SF Park, the average meter price actually declined. The objective is to price parking as low as possible and still have 1-2 open spaces available on every block. This means the right price for parking could be zero on certain blocks if ample parking is available on the block.
If curb parking is priced correctly in this manner, it will result in a higher turnover of short-term parkers and should bring in even more customers to downtown. If a block is under-occupied, the city should help out the adjacent merchants and lower the rate.
How do you know when parking is priced right? Shoup has a few suggestions. Try the “key test” in which you take your keys out and approach the driver’s side door. If you see drivers hit their brakes and try to beat each other to the space, you know people are cruising for parking on the block. Even easier — are there one or two open spaces on the block? You’re doing it right.
Government mandated parking minimums are one of the most harmful policies in existence for building walkable urban places. Mandated parking causes buildings to spread out, and creates a positive feedback loop in which lowered walkability leads to more car use, which leads to more demand for parking and less walkability. Parking minimums make it next to impossible to build the small increment of main street USA, as developers have to spread their hard costs over many units to achieve economies of scale. This leads to massive developments that assemble lots and develop entire city blocks at once. Parking minimums make housing more expensive, as the cost to provide parking falls upon the end user and a structured parking space costs around $15-$20 thousand per space. Lower income people disproportionately do not own cars. Subsidizing parking does not help these people.
If your downtown is a place where it’s “easy to park, but not worth arriving at” (credit to Jeff Speck), what have you really achieved? Downtowns do not compete with strip malls or Gardens Mall on ample free parking. We’ll always lose that battle. Instead, we must focus on our core strengths — exceptional placemaking and vibrant street life. This is a vital issue that is crucial we get right, so that we don’t end up degrading our waterfront by putting parking before people.
The key to parking reforms has been to show how parking revenue can benefit the districts in which it is collected, rather than going into the general fund of the city. Residents feel parking revenues that go into the general fund are wasted, according to Shoup. On the other hand, the tangible benefits of ‘parking benefit districts’ have led to the revitalization of places like Old Pasadena, California. This money can be used for public benefits such as street trees, trolley expansion, and public art.
What could this money be used for here in West Palm Beach?