Everybody understands that we often have to pay for parking. But what if we had to pay far more dearly? What if the city acted like, say, Donald Trump with an East River condo and charged all the market could bear for that strip of curb space alongside a boutique or hot restaurant? Well, according to advocates of “market-rate curb pricing,” several good things would happen. First, it would no longer be so hard to find that curbside parking space. Priced at the right level, a space or two would always be open, even if it came at a high price.
Second, traffic itself would be substantially reduced, because an amazing amount of traffic, up to 45 percent in some neighborhoods, comes from people looking for a parking space. All those searchers slow down everyone else.
The preeminent advocate is UCLA planner Donald Shoup, who wrote a 752-page tome called The High Cost of Free Parking. Really—752 pages, with quotes from Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, the scientist Richard Feynman, and others seldom cited in planning literature. The book not only describes what market-rate parking is but also maps out political strategies for achieving it. The new revenues, Shoup says, should be plowed into improving the public sphere.
To those who argue that market-pricing tips the urban balance even further in favor of the rich, Shoup maintains that it would benefit far more people than it harms. The current policy, he says, encourages people to drive around in circles, a socially and environmentally wasteful activity that costs us all and ends up rewarding “only the lucky few who find a space.”