Monday, February 11, 2013

The Loch Ness Parking Space

Pictured above on the right is the Loch Ness Parking Space. I call it that because many people believe it is out there, and are searching for it... but it is a myth. Look at it though, isn't it great? It is in a beautiful downtown area, right in front of a great shop, and it is free! And no time limit! And it is empty, waiting for you to pull right in!

In reality, though, the parking space probably looks more like this... probably has a parking meter, which helps to discourage the shop's employees and other long-term visitors from parking there. It gives you a better chance of being able to park there, but you have to pay. Or, more likely... probably has a time limit too. Most cities do this as an extra repellant for employees, but it forces customers to leave early or risk an expensive ticket. Some cities just can't bare to meter the parking because they're afraid of driving away visitors, and they rely solely on time limits. Typically, though, the employees figure out how to evade the time limits, and customers who spend too much time downtown are hit with fines. If you thought asking them to pay 50 cents at the meter was unfortunate, 50 dollars for a citation will really upset your customers. Or...

...maybe there isn't a meter or a time limit! Awesome! Sadly, though, that probably means that the space is full, and your chances of parking there are slim to none. These aren't the only possibilities, though. There's one more...

...if the neighborhood is really unpleasant, and no one is interested in going there, then you can get away without meters or time limits and still manage to park wherever you'd like! There's always plenty of free and available curbside parking in a dead downtown!

Parking is a really difficult thing to manage, and there are always trade-offs. If you have success, you will have parking challenges. Having a parking problem is better than the alternative.

Parking meters don't necessarily drive people away, and by keeping some prime spaces available they can actually improve the downtown experience. This is especially true when prices are based on the market rate, as advocated by professor Donald Shoup of UCLA. Under his system, cities increase or decrease the price until each block is about 85% full on average. This leads to prime curbside spaces on the main drag being more expensive but available, and less desirable spaces on side streets or in garages being cheaper, luring long-term parkers and others hunting for a bargain. That way, the parking is well-used, but not jammed. 

Some cities have even used the meter revenue to fund public improvements and turn an area around. By better managing the parking system, cities can even cut down on traffic by reducing the number of people cruising around looking around for an empty curbside space that isn't there.

If the political will just isn't there in your town to meter the parking and charge the market rate for it, that is fine, but just be aware that the prime spaces will almost always be full, and be prepared for that reality. 

Art Buchwald was asked near the end of his life if he was afraid of death. His response: "Dying is easy; parking is hard."


  1. HAH! I love what you had on the last part it would be probably the thought of the month for me to have… I’ll take it “Dying is easy; parking is hard”… Two thumbs up! XOXO:D

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