Free as in free pollution parking

Tyler Cowen cites Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking, which claims that “On average [in the U.S.] a new parking space has cost 17 percent more than a new car.” If I were lured by the temptation of urban policy I would certainly read this book.

I gather Shoup’s argument is that if zoning did not require minimum numbers of spaces and if market rates were charged for parking there would not be wasteful spaces built in uncongested areas and it would be possible to find parking in congested areas.

Shoup probably covers this, but one of the baneful effects of free or underpriced (e.g, cheap area parking permits in San Francisco) is opposition to dense development. Additional residents mean more competition for spaces, giving residents all the reason they need to go into mode, leaving a stunted cross between (vile place) and the wonderful Sanhattan it could be. (Of course there’s much more to story. I’d point to some Matt Smith columns and a feature published on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in San Francsico in the if its archive search weren’t so broken.)

Certain control freaks now want to swing from requiring a certain number of parking spaces to prohibiting more than a certain number of spaces. How about letting people build or not build however many spaces as they see fit? The problem is not under- or over-provision of private spaces, it is the underpricing of public spaces.

How about auctioning area parking permits — what politician doesn’t love a windfall? Existing permit holders could share in the windfall as power dictates. New residents would pay market prices. I’m sure Shoup has many more and better thought out proposals.

A related urban transport micro-rant: is an atrocity. No faster than buses and far more expensive, dangerous, space-wasting and inflexible, light rail serves only monument-building fantasies. If a real is infeasible just add or upgrade buses.


  • A complement or partial alternative to market prices for parking is to charge for road use as in central .
  • Anti-light rail articles.
  • Politically-controlled underpricing of water (especially for agricultural use, e.g., in California) and energy (primarily in oil exporting jurisdictions) doubtless cause far greater problems worldwide than underpriced parking.

6 Responses

  1. Gordon Mohr says:

    I want to live in Sanhattan.

  2. Gordon Mohr says:

    You could fix the number of parking permits at current levels — or make it some multiple of (linear curb space in region / average parked car allotment). Charge longer vehicles by linear curb feet they take up.

    This would give the parking jurisdiction an incentive to end wasteful squatting/underutilization of curb space — for example when neighboring driveways *could* use a single car’s width egress but use 2 or more widths instead. Reclaiming this curbspace for dynamic parking, rather than locking it up for a single driveway’s use, could increase the stock of parking spaces in the Richmond and Sunset by 25% or more, I suspect.

  3. […] I’ve been saying for awhile that San Francisco ought to be “Sanhattan” referencing of course Manhattan and the SF parochials who use Manhattanization as a pejorative. I finally searched for the term while writing about free parking and was slightly disappointed to find that an area of Santiago, Chile is already known as Sanhattan. Unless there has been an incredible amount of building since I visited that city in 1998 (loved it) I find it hard to justify the name. […]

  4. […] September 8 I heard about a Donald Shoup lecture at UC Berkeley via Boing Boing. I’ve previously mentioned Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. […]

  5. […] I have no opinion regarding the interplay of government entities here, but to call a mere 17 story building a monstrosity in the densest city in the U.S. outside New York is reveals a preference for Monterey by the (SF) Bay. […]

  6. […] written about Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking twice. Watch a five minute video illustrating […]

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