Imagine you had something people want, like Twix bars, which are delicious. Then, imagine you decided to stand on a street corner every day and give them away for free. Which of the following two scenarios seems like the most probable outcome:
1. People come and get the Twix bars, but eventually realize that fruits and vegetables are more healthy and stop showing up. Demand wanes as people have their fill and pretty soon you’re giving out fewer and fewer Twix bars.
2. People realize they can get free Twix bars and start showing up in increasing numbers. They tell their friends, who in turn tell their friends, and pretty soon you’re giving away more and more Twix bars everyday. Eventually this becomes a major strain on your finances.
I suspect the second outcome is more likely. In fact, I’ve seen people giving away food in the park by my house and that’s exactly what happens.
Now, substitute “Twix bars” with “parking.” Parking, of course, isn’t delicious and pleasurable to consume, but people do think it is nessecary and tend to feel great displeasure when it isn’t available. In other words, we have an appetite for parking.
On Friday, I wrote about two fast food restaurants — one in Vancouver and one in Salt Lake — and noted that the one near my house in Utah has vastly more parking. I see that extra parking as a problem; it has negative environmental and economic consequences, besides just being ugly and a waste of space that could house people or production.
Oddly, however, the prevailing attitude apparently is just to hope and wait for us to need less of this kind of parking. In the best case scenario, strategies include offering something different, like public transit or bike share, that I completely support. That’s what’s going on in Utah right now; we’re adding all sorts of great, progressive infrastructure, but we’re not really making any dent in parking.
This will never work. Demand for parking will never go away as long as it remains well-supplied.
Imagine, for example, if while you were giving away Twix bars someone showed up and started giving away tomatoes. People would surely show up to claim those tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean fewer people would want candy.
There is one obvious solution to this problem: cut supply. If you want people to eat fewer Twix bars, give fewer of them away for free. The same goes with parking; if you want fewer people to use it, get rid of it. With a smaller supply demand will adjust accordingly. And as major cities all over the world demonstrate, a lower supply and demand for parking doesn’t mean a lower demand for a city’s commercial and cultural offerings.