Most people view parking meters as a necessary evil, or perhaps just evil. Meters can manage curb parking efficiently and provide public revenue, but they are a tough sell to voters. To change the politics of parking, cities can give price discounts at parking meters for their own residents.
When cities require off-street parking with all new residential construction, they shift what should be a cost of driving—the cost of parking a car—into the cost of housing. A price drivers should pay at the end of their trips becomes a cost developers must bear at the start of their projects. Faced with these minimum parking requirements, developers may build less housing, and the housing they do build may be more likely to include parking. Parking requirements could therefore reduce both the amount and variety of housing in a city.
In December 2010, the City Council of Berkeley, California, voted to give what they thought was a generous Christmas gift to the city’s merchants: free parking at all parking meters in the city. “There are a couple of messages going out here,” said councilmember Laurie Capitelli. “One is that we are inviting customers to our commercial districts. Two, we’re sending a message to our small businesses, saying ‘we are hearing your concerns, and we do want to respond to them.’” 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.
Parking requirements in zoning ordinances create one of the most wasteful elements of transportation and land use systems: unoccupied parking spaces. Each space requires over 300 square feet of valuable land or building area, yet many sit empty. Minimum parking requirements at shopping malls, for example, often lead to sprawling developments surrounded by large, underused parking lots. Spaces for workplaces may be well-used during the day but remain unoccupied in the evening because they are not shared with other land uses. Sometimes, the parking required is greater than the amount of parking ever used. Download the PDF.
Michael Manville and
Anyone walking through downtown Los Angeles might notice many cars parked at expired meters without a ticket. On some streets, every space is occupied, meters are unfed, and enforcement officers walk by without writing tickets. What gives? The drivers have credentials—often disabled placards—that let them park free. Download the PDF.
Why do cities require so much off-street parking for new apartment buildings? Many urban planners argue that residents who own cars will park on the streets if a building doesn't have enough off-street spaces. Others counter that parking requirements increase housing costs and subsidize cars. A third group says that banks will not finance new apartment buildings without parking, developers will not build them, and tenants will not rent them. Download the PDF.
Solar panels have begun to find a new place in the sun—on parking lots surrounding commercial and industrial buildings, mounted on canopies providing shade for the parked cars. Parking lots in asphalt-rich cities have great solar potential because the panels can be oriented to maximize power production during summer afternoons when electricity is most valuable. Solar-powered parking lots can mitigate the substantial increase in peak-hour energy demand that major developments create, but few developers now install solar canopies over their parking lots. Although the demand for electricity peaks on days when the sun shines brightest, solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of our total electricity supply.
Arpad Horvath, and
We know surprisingly little about how parking infrastructure affects energy demand, the environment, and the social cost of vehicle travel. Passenger and freight movements are often the focus of energy and environmental assessments, but vehicles spend most of their lives parked. Because abundant free parking encourages solo driving and thus discourages walking, biking, and the use of public transit, it greatly contributes to urban congestion. The environmental impacts of parking and the driving it promotes are often borne by local populations and not the trip-takers themselves.