Let’s charge for street parking while ending parking minimums

Eric Jaffe argues in an article from the Atlantic Cities earlier this week that we should perhaps be paying, or paying more, for parking on residential streets.

DSCN9834

Residential street parking in Boston.

This is an idea that is gaining more and more traction here in Utah as we roll out permit programs in more neighborhoods. But for the idea in Jaffe’s article to work, or for the parking permit programs to be a real success, we first need to do one important thing: eliminate parking minimums.

Jaffe begins by pointing out that in general, it’s beneficial for a city to charge for parking:

There are lots of reasons to charge city drivers for street parking. Street space belongs to everyone, competition for spots causes congestion, underpriced parking encourages driving — the list goes on. As private car owners benefit from these curbside subsidies, it’s the public welfare that suffers.

He then argues that we don’t charge for residential parking — or we severely undercharge, which is the case in several Utah cities — because it’s seen by political leaders as “poison.”

That’s significant; it means we’re undercharging not for economic reasons, or because there’s some benefit to it, but rather because we can’t muster up the courage to do something that will have longterm rewards.

Jaffe’s entire article is worth a read because it discusses residents’ willingness to pay for residential parking.

But it’s worth mentioning that I’m not sure what would happen if this idea were implemented in our low-density, car-centric Utah neighborhoods. Despite complaints to the contrary, I’m unaware of any neighborhood in the state where residents face anything close to the parking pressures seen in New York City, which Jaffe uses as his example.

So, it’s reasonable to assume that residents of Utah would simply refuse to pay the full costs of street parking and would instead park on private property. In other words, without government subsidies and parking welfare, people might suddenly lose interest in street parking.

Street parking in high density Edinburgh.

Street parking in high density Edinburgh.

I think the problem with this idea is that in Utah we generally have parking minimums, while in larger and denser cities those regulations are sometimes either non-existent or exchanged for parking maximums.

As a result, if you have to pay to park on the street in Utah, you can always move down the street to a home with a huge garage and a six car driveway.

In other words, both demand and regulation have made parking scarce in New York City. In Utah, on the other hand, our regulations ensure that parking never becomes too scarce. Those regulations also mean that developers will likely keep adding parking; as we charge more for street parking, they may respond with bigger garages and driveways, reducing density and perpetuating car-centric design.

The solution is easy: eliminate parking minimums and let the market determine how much car storage developers include with new buildings. At the same time, end subsidies for parking in the form of free or cheap parking on residential streets.

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2 comments

  1. Jim Bacon

    Just remember, even in Utah, the cost of “free” parking is never free. It is simply absorbed into the price of housing, commercial centers, or government-built and -maintained infrastructure where it becomes invisible. Citizens still pay in the form of higher rents, leases or taxes — they just don’t see it. Citizens pay again because “free” parking means excess parking. Excess parking takes up physical space. That physical space increases the separation between dwellings and businesses, thereby reducing walkability.

    • jimmycdii

      agreed re: free parking. My feeling is that the gov’t shouldn’t be subsidizing any parking at all. However, the problem we’re confronting right now in Utah, in my opinion, is such a massive oversupply as a result of publicly funded parking that the entire market is going to be skewed. Every house is going to be more expensive, regardless of it’s parking, because it’s on a big, wide, parking-friendly street. And the house probably will include a lot of parking anyway, because parking minimums require it.

      That’s why I’m saying we need to end parking minimums. If we want the market to do its thing — and I do — we need to eliminate the rule that forced both private developers and the government to build all that parking in the first place. Right now, I can’t chose a house that’s cheaper as a result of less parking, because the rules don’t allow those houses to be built.

      Moreover, if we charge for residential street parking — which I favor — developers will just build more parking on private land and roll those costs into housing prices. So, to me the key is to end the regulations that are messing with the market.

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