“Just because we don’t pay for parking, doesn’t mean the cost of parking goes away”
Last night, for a few hours at least, San Jose was the center of the livable streets universe.
Professor Donald Shoup, author of the book "The High Cost of Free Parking," came to San Jose to discuss an issue that is a major concern to downtown residents, workers, arts patrons, and any one else who comes to live and play in in the downtown area. With a crowd of over 300 attendees, some who came from as far as San Francisco and Oakland, the venue was SRO (standing room only).
Professor Shoup started his talk with these facts:
- American motor vehicles consume 1/8 of the world’s oil production.
- We import 2/3 of this oil.
- We pay for it with borrowed money.
- The U.S. has 18% more vehicles than licensed drivers.
- American drivers park free at the end of 99% of their vehicle trips.
Some of the many ways an oversupply of free parking effects North American cities are:
- Increases in housing costs.
- Impedes reuse of older buildings.
- Degrades urban design.
- Distorts urban form.
- Skews travel choices.
- Limits homeownership.
- Harms the environment.
To compete with shopping malls which have ample free parking, Professor Shoup believes that business districts should price on-street, or curb parking so that at any given time 85% of the spaces are occupied. With just enough spaces open, there will no longer be the need to "hunt" for a spot. "Most of the traffic congestion we see in urban or central business districts is due to people seeking a space," he states.
The key to making motorists and merchants accept the change in parking prices is to direct the revenue from the parking fees directly back into the business district, with money going to improved streetscapes, sidewalks, trees and grates, lighting, benches, and signage. Once merchants and customers see the improvements, many argue to have parking fee hours extended.
Three reforms to a city's parking policies were suggested:
- Charge the right price for curb parking.
- Return the meter revenue to the neighborhoods that generate it.
- Reduce or remove off-street parking requirements. Do not require additional parking when a building’s use changes
The lowest price that will leave one or two vacant spaces on each block (performance based parking).
Revenue return will make performance-based parking politically popular.
Freedom from parking requirements will allow for higher density and new uses of development.
As much as these are challenging times economically, it is refreshing to see that residents of the South Bay are open to new ideas about how to plan our cities to provide for other transportation modes such as walking, cycling, and public transit. It is also positively encouraging to see San Jose officials looking at new and different ways to accommodate the expected 40% growth in residents over the next 30 years. So for a brief moment last night it did feel like San Jose was the center of the livable streets universe.
Special thanks to the Michele Beasley of the Greenbelt Alliance and Henry Servin of San Jose's Department of Transportation.
Don't forget next months talk, "The Legacy of Livable Streets: Three decades later, what have we learned?" on March 22.