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*Parking and the City*, edited by Donald Shoup

This is the definitive book on the economics of parking, here is one short summary bit by Shoup from his introduction:

Remove off-street parking requirements.  Developers and businesses can then decide how many parking spaces to provide for their customers.

Charge the right prices for on-street parking.  The right prices are the lowest prices that will leave one or two open spaces on each block, so there will be no parking shortages.  Prices will balance the demand and supply for on-street parking spaces.

Spend the parking revenue to improve public services on the metered streets.  If everybody sees their meter money at work, the new public services can make demand-based prices for on-street parking politically popular.

You can order the book here.  Here is my earlier NYT column on the economics of parking.

End Central Planning for Parking

Donald Shoup’s Letter in support of California’s AB 1401 which deregulates parking is a marvel; funny, incisive, economically informed. Brilliant.

California has been waiting for AB 1401 for a long time. In 2005, the American Planning Association published The High Cost of Free Parking, an 800-page book in which I argued that minimum parking requirements increase housing costs, subsidize cars, worsen traffic congestion, pollute the air and water, damage the economy, degrade urban design, encourage sprawl, reduce walkability, exclude poor people, and accelerate global warming. To my knowledge, no city planner has argued that minimum parking requirements do not cause these harmful effects. Instead, a flood of recent research has shown that minimum parking requirements do produce all these harmful results. We are poisoning our cities with too much parking.

Minimum parking requirements are almost an established religion in city planning. One shouldn’t criticize anyone else’s religion, of course, but I’m a protestant when it comes to parking requirements. City planning needs a reformation, and AB 1401 can help.

City planners are placed in a difficult position when asked to set parking requirements in zoning ordinances. They don’t know the demand for parking at every apartment building, art gallery, bowling alley, dance hall, fitness club, movie theater, pet store, tavern, zoo, or hundreds of other land uses. Planners also do not know how much the required parking spaces cost or how the parking requirements affect the cost of housing and everything else. Nevertheless, planners must set the parking requirements for every land use.

Planning for parking is an ad-hoc talent learned on the job and is more a political activity than a professional skill. Despite a lack of theory and data, planners have managed to set parking requirements for hundreds of land uses in thousands of cities—the Ten Thousand Commandments for off-street parking.

…Cities usually require or restrict parking without considering the middle ground of neither a minimum nor a maximum. This behavior recalls a Soviet maxim: “What is not required must be prohibited.” AB 1401, however, is something new. It does not require or restrict parking, and developers can provide all the parking they think demand justifies.

…Minimum parking requirements work against…transit investments. For example, Los Angeles is building the Purple Line under Wilshire Boulevard, which already boasts the city’s most frequent bus service. Nevertheless, along parts of Wilshire Boulevard the city requires at least 2.5 parking spaces for every dwelling unit, even for the smallest apartments. Twenty public transit lines serve the UCLA campus near Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, with 119 buses per hour arriving during the morning peak. Nevertheless, across the street from campus, Los Angeles requires 3.5 parking spaces for every apartment that contains more than four rooms.

California has expensive housing for people and free parking for cars.

Read the whole thing.

Shout It From the Rooftops: Parking is a Scarce Resource!

Donald Shoup, whose work on parking has been featured on MR on several occasions, is retiring. Patrick Siegman, “the first Shoupista”, has written an appreciation which includes this excellent quote from Shoup’s classic study, Cashing Out Employer-Paid Parking:

Minimum parking requirements in the planning profession are closely analogous to bloodletting in the medical profession. For over two thousand years doctors prescribed bloodletting to cure most diseases, and medical textbooks contained elaborate parking-requirement-like tables telling exactly how much blood should be let from exactly which part of the body, and when, for every disease…

One strong similarity between bloodletting and minimum parking requirements is the general public acquiescence to both practices without any scientific research on their effects…

Another similarity between bloodletting and minimum parking requirements is the harm caused by both practices. In the case of bloodletting, the problem was magnified because physicians didn’t clean their instruments before proceeding to the next patient. In the case of parking requirements, the problem is magnified when planners require far more parking than is demanded even when all parking is free. Recall here that Willson (1992) found that the number of parking spaces required by zoning ordinances was double the peak accumulation of cars parked at suburban office sites in Southern California.

A final similarity between bloodletting and minimum parking requirements is that the practice of bloodletting gradually fell out of use, and minimum parking requirements in zoning ordinances are gradually being replaced by parking caps.

For much of his career, Shoup was a lonely voice shouting in the wilderness but he shouted reason and fact and his work has had increasing influence in recent years.

Addendum: Here is Tyler’s NYT column on Shoup’s work, Free Parking Comes at a Price.

The evolution of parking in Manhattan

Matt Yglesias and Ryan Avent can smile:

The Department of City Planning recently completed its most ambitious study of parking in Manhattan in three decades. The report found that the way cars are used in the city has changed since the early 1980s, when the Clean Air Act’s stricter codes limited the number of new parking lots. Developers were no longer required to provide parking in new developments, and special permission was needed to build large garages.

When the rules went into effect, 85 percent of off-street parking was taken by commuters. Now, depending on the neighborhood, up to 70 percent of those spaces are used by residents.

Over the last three decades, the number of off-street parking spots in Manhattan has fallen by one-fifth — to 102,000 from 127,000, according to the city study.

In the last six years alone, according to data compiled by Property Shark, 92 parking lots or garages have been sold and redeveloped. From the Avenue of the Americas, where a garage fell for a hotel, the Eventi, with rental apartments on top; to Varick Street, site of a condo-to-be, the humble lot has seen better days.

The longer story is here, and of course Manhattan has done fine over this same period of time.  Ryan’s eBook is here, I believe Matt’s is due out soon, I look forward to reading it.  Here is my earlier column on minimum parking requirements.  Here is Matt on Donald Shoup.

Paying for Parking

Parking is too cheap and the price is too sticky. As Tyler wrote in his NYT column:

If developers were allowed to face directly the high land costs of providing so much parking, the number of spaces would be a result of a careful economic calculation rather than a matter of satisfying a legal requirement. Parking would be scarcer, and more likely to have a price – or a higher one than it does now – and people would be more careful about when and where they drove.

The subsidies are largely invisible to drivers who park their cars – and thus free or cheap parking spaces feel like natural outcomes of the market, or perhaps even an entitlement. Yet the law is allocating this land rather than letting market prices adjudicate whether we need more parking, and whether that parking should be free. We end up overusing land for cars – and overusing cars too. You don’t have to hate sprawl,

Slowly things are beginning to change, however, as this excellent piece on parking in LA and parking scholar Donald Shoup describes:

Shoup is not opposed to all parking lots; he’s against cities requiring parking lots. “Would you require every home to come with a pool or every office to include a dining room because someone might want it?” asks Shoup. “Why not let developers build parking where the market demands it and charge its true value?”

…This spring the DOT plans to introduce an $18.5 million smart wireless meter system based on Shoup’s theories. Called ExpressPark, the 6,000-meter array will be installed on downtown streets and lots, along with sensors buried in the pavement of every parking spot to detect the presence of cars and price accordingly, from as little as 50 cents an hour to $6. Street parking, like pork bellies, will be open to market forces. As blocks fill, prices will rise; when occupancy drops, so will rates. In an area like downtown, ideal for Shoup’s progressive pricing, people will park based on how much they’re willing to pay versus how far they are willing to walk to a destination. In a trendy area like Melrose Avenue’s shopping district, where parking on side streets is forbidden to visitors, Shoup would open those residential blocks to market-priced meters, wooing home owners by guaranteeing that meter profits would be turned over to them in the form of property tax deductions. (That benefit could add up to thousands of dollars a year per household.)

Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood is already experimenting with a version of the system, and so are San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

In D.C. you can now pay many parking meters via cell-phone. I’ve used the system and it works well.

Here are previous MR posts on parking.

Parking fact of the day

Several studies have found that cruising for curb parking generates about 30 percent of the traffic in central business districts. In a recent survey conducted by Bruce Schaller in the SoHo district in Manhattan, 28 percent of drivers interviewed while they were stopped at traffic lights said they were searching for curb parking. A similar study conducted by Transportation Alternatives in the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn found that 45 percent of drivers were cruising.

…What causes this astonishing waste? As is often the case, the prices are wrong. A national study of downtown parking found that the average price of curb parking is only 20 percent that of parking in a garage, giving drivers a strong incentive to cruise.

Here is more, from Donald Shoup.

Do minimum parking requirements matter?

W. Bowman Cutter, Sofia F. Franco, and Autumn DeWoody have a new paper titled "Do Minimum Parking Requirements Force Developers to Provide More Parking than Privately Optimal?" The abstract is this:

Minimum parking requirements are the norm for urban and suburban development in the United States (Davidson and Dolnick (2002)). The justification for parking space requirements is that overflow parking will occupy nearby street or off-street parking. Shoup (1999) and Willson (1995) provides cases where there is reason to believe that parking space requirements have forced parcel developers to place more parking than they would in the absence of parking requirements. If the effect of parking minimums is to significantly increase the land area devoted to parking, then the increase in impervious surfaces would likely cause water quality degradation, increased flooding, and decreased groundwater recharge. However, to our knowledge the existing literature does not test the effect of parking minimums on the amount of lot space devoted to parking beyond a few case studies. This paper tests the hypothesis that parking space requirements cause an oversupply of parking by examining the implicit marginal value of land allocated to parking spaces. This is an indirect test of the effects of parking requirements that is similar to Glaeser and Gyourko (2003). A simple theoretical model shows that the marginal value of additional parking to the sale price should be equal to the cost of land plus the cost of parking construction. We estimate the marginal values of parking and lot area with spatial methods using a large data set from the Los Angeles area non-residential property sales and find that for most of the property types the marginal value of parking is significantly below that of the parcel area. This evidence supports the contention that minimum parking requirements significantly increase the amount of parcel area devoted to parking.

The paper is here.  Here is a related paper, or here.

The economics of free parking

Here is my latest NYT column, for the ideas I am indebted to pointers from Daniel Klein, Matt Yglesias, and of course Donald Shoup.

Here is the bottom line:

If developers were allowed to face directly the high land costs of providing so much parking, the number of spaces would be a result of a careful economic calculation rather than a matter of satisfying a legal requirement. Parking would be scarcer, and more likely to have a price – or a higher one than it does now – and people would be more careful about when and where they drove.

The subsidies are largely invisible to drivers who park their cars – and thus free or cheap parking spaces feel like natural outcomes of the market, or perhaps even an entitlement. Yet the law is allocating this land rather than letting market prices adjudicate whether we need more parking, and whether that parking should be free. We end up overusing land for cars – and overusing cars too. You don’t have to hate sprawl, or automobiles, to want to stop subsidizing that way of life.

Here are a few quotations from the article:

“Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars.”


As Professor Shoup puts it: “Who pays for free parking? Everyone but the motorist.”


If we don’t give away cars, why give away parking spaces?

What are the biggest problems with the idea?  First, the danger of spillover parking means that a lot of parking has to be properly priced all at once.  If the local K-Mart has a smaller lot, you don't want the customers flooding a neighborhood street and simply shifting the problem.  The proper correction requires a coordinated pricing and enforcement effort, not only to succeed, but also to be sufficiently popular with homeowners.  Fortunately, most of the coordination can be done at the level of the individual town or city.

Second, we don't yet know how many more spaces would be priced in the absence of legal minimum parking requirements, and how many fewer car trips there would be, especially if we are holding the quantity and quality of mass transit constant.  The employer still may wish to subsidize appearance at the workplace.  Alternatively, "parking fees as lump sum tax" is fine by me and it bears an odd but pleasant connection to Georgist ideas.  Another possibility is that a lot of parking is shifted to satellite lots, combined with small buses or shuttles; Tysons Corner Mall already does this at Christmas or consider any number of airports.  That still would improve land use (and welfare), but it remains an open question how much congestion and emissions would get better.

Mark Thoma discusses some distributional issues.  I would note that less land for parking should lower other real estate and retail prices, even if more poor people end up taking the bus.  And the very poorest Americans often don't have cars at all.

Parking fact of the day

On average [in the U.S.] a new parking space has cost 17 percent more than a new car.  Drivers may not realize it, but many parking spaces cost more than the cars parked in them, especially because cars depreciate in value much faster than parking spaces do…the parking supply is worth more than the vehicle stock.

That is from Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking, a detailed, economically insightful, data-rich, and lengthy, impassioned plea for charging people for parking spaces.  Here is Dan Klein’s excellent review of the book.