This issue of ACCESS considers the most controversial topic in transportation: parking. When it comes to parking, rational people quickly become emotional, and staunch conservatives turn into ardent communists. Critical and analytic faculties seem to shift to a lower level when people think about parking. Some people strongly support market prices—except for parking. Some vehemently oppose subsidies—except for parking. Some abhor planning regulations—except for parking. Some insist on rigorous data collection and statistical tests—except for parking. This parking exceptionalism has impoverished discussions about parking policies. The authors in this issue have taken a more rational and rigorous approach.
Andrew M. Fraser, Mikhail Chester, Juan Matute, and Ram Pendvala
Minimum parking requirements create more parking than is needed. This in turn encourages more driving at a time when cities seek to reduce congestion and increase transit use, biking, and walking. After nearly a century of development under these requirements, parking now dominates our cities.
Andrew Millard-Ball, Rachel Weinberger, and Robert C. Hampshire
Parking management has been a vexing problem for cities since the invention of the automobile. Among the concerns are traffic congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions caused by drivers searching for available parking—an activity colloquially known as cruising. Cruising for parking in a 15-block business district in Los Angeles has been estimated to produce 3,600 miles of excess travel each day—equivalent to two round trips to the Moon each year.
Michael Manville and Daniel G. Chatman
One of the first lessons of economics is that price controls lead to shortages, and shortages lead to queues. Street parking vividly illustrates this principle. Many cities keep valuable street spaces free or underpriced, and as a result they fill up quickly, creating shortages at busy times. These shortages then create moving queues as drivers circle the block, or “cruise,” searching for spaces. Cruising, in turn, creates congestion and pollution.
Parking is the sacred cow of land uses. It claims privileged status in zoning codes and there is simply too much of it in cities. Previous ACCESS articles reveal problems with minimum parking requirements; show how excess parking harms livability, sustainability, and equity; and explain how pricing can manage its use. This article demonstrates that progress requires more than code reforms and better pricing; it requires coordinated, comprehensive parking management. We need to shift from building parking to managing it.
Minimum parking requirements create too much parking, reduce the supply of housing, and increase traffic congestion. Without parking requirements, the market would provide fewer parking spaces, resulting in fewer cars and more housing units. Evidence to support this argument is inconclusive, however, in part because few local governments have removed their parking requirements. Even when they do adjust parking requirements, the changes are usually quite minor, often targeting small areas (e.g., near a rail station) and including only a few development types.
Most drivers seem to think that charging for parking on a residential street is like charging children to play in a public park. But if on-street parking is crowded, drivers will congest traffic, pollute the air, and waste energy while they hunt for free parking like hawks circling for prey.
Brian D. Taylor
Prior to the recent explosion of digital access to individual songs, greatest hits albums were a staple of the music industry. An artist with enough successful albums under his or her belt could repackage the best songs on each previous album into a greatest hits collection, which often then became a bestseller itself. Here at ACCESS, we have more than a few successful issues under our collective belt, so many that our first greatest hits album even has a theme: Transportation Finance. While it was hard to narrow it down, the six articles we chose for this ACCESS Finance Special Issue collectively consider creative approaches emerging in California and elsewhere to address our mounting financial challenges in transportation.
For much of the past century, federal and state taxes on gasoline and diesel have provided the majority of funding for US highway construction and maintenance. Fuel taxes perform well in this role: they distribute the tax burden among drivers in rough proportion to their use of the road network, are inexpensive to administer, and offer a modest incentive to buy and drive fuel-efficient vehicles. Download the PDF.
Gregory Pierce and
In 2011, San Francisco adopted the biggest price reform for on-street parking since the invention of the parking meter in 1935. Most cities’ parking meters charge the same price all day, and some cities charge the same price everywhere. San Francisco’s meters, however, now vary the price of curb parking by location and time of day. Download the PDF.
Lisa Schweitzer and
Brian D. Taylor
Economists have long advocated road pricing as an efficient way to reduce congestion and improve the environment. Many critics, however, object to road pricing on the grounds that it unfairly burdens low-income drivers. Implicit in these objections is the idea that existing transportation finance methods burden the poor less, or at least spread the burden more fairly. Most of the equity concerns about road pricing stem from the fact that it is regressive; that is, poorer people spend a larger share of their incomes on tolls than do wealthier people. But in the US, road systems are financed primarily through fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, property taxes, and, increasingly, sales taxes—all of which are also regressive. Thus the relevant question is not simply whether road pricing is regressive, or even if it will burden the poor. The relevant question is whether road pricing will burden the poor more than other ways of paying for roads.
Michael Manville, and
It is almost universally acknowledged among transportation planners that congestion pricing is the best way, and perhaps the only way, to significantly reduce urban traffic congestion. Politically, however, congestion pricing has always been a tough sell. Most drivers don’t want to pay for roads that are currently free, and most elected officials—aware that drivers are voters—don’t support congestion pricing.
Marlon G. Boarnet and
Joseph F. DiMento
The gap between needed highway-construction funds and gasoline-tax revenues threatens to widen further. Hybrid vehicles are a reality; alternative fuels are on the horizon; and the gasoline tax—long the workhorse of highway finance in the United States—will inevitably decline in importance. So the search is on for new funds. Can the private sector help fill the gap? Only a few privately financed highways have been built in the US in the past half century. Among them, California’s State Route 91 (SR 91) in Orange County stands out as one of the mature examples. It began as something of a public policy long shot. In 1989, when state legislators debated a bill to allow a limited number of private highway franchises, even the bill’s supporters doubted it had a real chance of passage.
Ever since the widespread adoption of automobiles, Americans have preferred to pay for highways and bridges with “user fees”—that is, money collected from those who use the roads. Tolls and fuel taxes, which are roughly proportional to travelers’ use of roads, have been the most common user fees. However, revenues from user fees have been falling for three decades, as legislators become ever more reluctant to raise them to meet inflation. It has been easier to try new kinds of fees, such as sales taxes, to pay for transportation infrastructure. In the guise of urgent solutions to immediate problems, seemingly modest local tax increases are setting a national trend. Without deliberating or consciously adopting a change in policy, indeed without much discussion at all, we are gradually devolving transportation finance back to local governments and reducing user fees. Without knowing it, we may be experiencing a revolution in transportation finance, and we haven’t stopped to ask whether this is good or bad.
If you read about the future of transportation, you likely will be overwhelmed by a flood of contradictory good and bad news, especially in California. The good news is that there is boundless promise of growth and change in personal mobility, mostly in the private sector. The current pace of innovation in transportation is faster and farther-reaching than at any time since the invention of the automobile. Automated vehicles are evolving rapidly, new apps are helping us find our way and lowering travel costs, social network transportation services are booming, and the hyperloop promises to increase future longer distance mobility. We are on the verge of blending new technologies to provide instant automated point-to-point mobility for people and goods.