Parking demand will never go away while parking remains well-supplied

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.

Or,

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.

photo-9

A parking lot next to a parking structure in Utah’s most popular new suburb, Daybreak. If you build it, they will come.

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.

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5 comments

  1. Erik

    Now I really want a Twix. What say you, if instead of the standard size Twix, they gave away one bar instead of two? Heck, what if they gave away the fun-size version? It’s actually less fun than the standard or king size, but you know… it’s still good.

    How do you wean a heroin addict off of the drug that is so ruinous to their lives? Cold turkey is painful and they will relapse, but if you slowly start to remove the drug from their system in a controlled manner you are more likely to yield better results.

    Twix, heroin & parking – should be a book.

  2. Christopher West

    Getting rid of the supply of parking would not get rid of demand, it would create a shortage.
    Supply and demand are linked. They are the two components of price. Cutting supply would simply raise the price. For free parking, the price is how long you have to drive around to find a spot. Decreasing free parking would increase the amount of time people had to drive around.
    Maybe you could make parking to onerous that people gave up driving and started walking or biking. But now you’re just being a jerk.
    These are the kind of problems we run into with monopoly services like roads.

    • jimmycdii

      This post is an explanation of the concept of induced demand, which is generally thought to be a major factor in what causes parking demand in cities. (Giving parking away induces more and more demand for parking).

      • jimmycdii

        But you’re right about a supply cut raising prices; that’s the whole point. If parking costs more fewer people choose to buy it. It’s the same thing for, say, Rolex watches or other expensive goods. It’s not a right to have them. Making something “too onerous” isn’t being a jerk it’s just basic economics and that happens all the time. And in any case, right now we’re “being a jerk” to one transit demographic (any one who happens to not be using a car at any given moment) but subsidizing and prioritizing cars. If we’re going to be a jerk to anyone, I say lets do it to the most expensive, destructive kinds of transit users so as to deincentivize that behavior.

        I’m also not sure what you mean when you mention road monopolies. If you’re taking about govt subsidized roads, esp to the suburbs, I agree. We’re using tax dollars to skew the market and fund the worst kinds of development. I’d be happy if the market were really controlling road construction and the types of development it spurs, because that would be a big improvement over what we have now.

        I’d also be happy if the market controlled urban parking. The reality, however, is that most cities have crushing parking minimums and other restrictions that are more ideological/tradition driven than market driven. I think parking and driving is sufficiently damaging that the govt should get involved with eliminating it, and we probably disagree on that. But I’d settle for just having the government get out of the biz of manipulating the parking market.

    • Will

      Christopher West, your economic reasoning is flawed. You said, “Getting rid of the supply of parking would not get rid of demand, it would create a shortage.” This is not true. While a change in price does not shift or change what Economists call demand (the demand schedule), or the aggregation of a market’s willingness to pay for a good or service, it does in fact change the quantity demanded as James explained.

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