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The High Cost of Free Parking

Donald Shoup, a professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, is known as a parking guru. He argues that parking is never really “free” and it has hidden societal and real costs that everyone ends up paying for in the long run. He has been everywhere lately and I wanted to highlight some fantastic resources where you can get more information. While parking sounds like a completely boring topic, his arguments are quite compelling and perhaps eye-opening for first time viewers.

The first place you should start is his book – The High Cost of Free Parking. I have not read it myself, but have heard that it’s a very good book.

I had the opportunity to see Mr. Shoup speak at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Los Angeles in February. His presentation was outstanding, and he made it quite funny as well. Recently, the conference organizers placed all of the presentations online. I highly recommend taking a look at the presentation (Look under the title “Getting the Parking Right” – it’s an 8mb file).

Mr. Shoup also wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times a few days ago. The article had some interesting points, including this point that really stood out for me:

When my students and I studied cruising for parking in a 15-block business district in Los Angeles, we found the average cruising time was 3.3 minutes, and the average cruising distance half a mile (about 2.5 times around the block). This may not sound like much, but with 470 parking meters in the district, and a turnover rate for curb parking of 17 cars per space per day, 8,000 cars park at the curb each weekday. Even a small amount of cruising time for each car adds up to a lot of traffic.

Over the course of a year, the search for curb parking in this 15-block district created about 950,000 excess vehicle miles of travel — equivalent to 38 trips around the earth, or four trips to the moon. And here's another inconvenient truth about underpriced curb parking: cruising those 950,000 miles wastes 47,000 gallons of gas and produces 730 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. If all this happens in one small business district, imagine the cumulative effect of all cruising in the United States.

While this article is no longer available for free viewing on the New York Times website, you can view the article on the CNU website.

Finally, Streetsfilms recently conducted an interview with Donald Shoup. You can watch that video below.

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