A Fly in the Shoup, Continued…


A Fly in the Shoup, Continued…

And then we have to go in and clean up the mess.

We had a lot of discussions at this year’s Temecula Parking Group about cities and the many issues they have dealing with technology and rules and regulations. Parking Pros are often put in difficult positions by academics who have a tendency to generalize simple solutions to complex problems.

Don Shoup has spent nearly two decades as an evangelist for his three point solution to parking problems in cities:

  • Set rates so there is a 15% vacancy on every block face
  • Do away with parking minimums
  • Return the money from parking fees to the area from which it came

He has written tomes backing up these three simple solutions. That’s not the problem. When he takes his evangelism on the road, he takes it to politicians who have a tendency to love simple solutions to complex problems.

These are the same politicians who have stood in the door when those tasked with solving parking issues have brought suggestion after suggestion to solve a problem. There are always difficulties when you begin to attack a problem with political favorable solutions.

Let’s take one example.

The City of Los Angeles began a “Great Streets” program. Its political popular goal was to provide ‘safe’ bike lanes and additional crossings on long blocks. What happened was that the program ended up taking one driving lane from each direction and reducing the on street parking by a few spaces on each block. It also added cross walks in the middle of blocks thus creating traffic slowing in the area.

The Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in and suddenly traffic which was flowing well on the “Great Street” now was at a standstill during rush hours. Wiley drivers found alternate routes through nearby neighborhoods causing congestion on residential streets. The reduced parking meant local merchants had fewer customers. And the bicycle lanes went unused (somebody forgot to survey the area to determine just how many bikers actually used and needed the fancy bike lanes.)

It was politically popular, but no one asked the hard questions.

When the Shoup roadshow moves into town, the elected officials glom onto the professor’s solutions and then filter suggestions made by those in charge of parking through a Shoupista lens. OK – set variable rates so you charge enough to keep spaces open.

Can you ever charge enough? In popular areas, price is seldom an object. As one person leaves a space, another is right there ready to take it. Even if you can set the rates high enough, how do you communicate that rate to a driver to get them to park quickly off street? I see a space, I park, I get out and approach the meter, I find it costs $7.50 an hour. Now what? Do I move to find a cheaper space, or just suck it up and pay?

Higher rates may not be popular with the local merchants, but if you plow the revenue back into the local neighborhoods, then they may buy in. However those politicians may not want to give up that revenue that was so conveniently flowing into the general fund. Can you get by with only two legs of Shoup’s three legged stool?

The idea of no parking minimums means that there isn’t enough parking in an area so people would simply take rapid transit, or a bus, or uber. No wait, the train and bus service is inadequate and more of both need to be laid on. Who is going to pay for that?

In the meantime Uber/Lyft is wreaking havoc with traffic and curb space. Folks who don’t want to pay for parking at such high rates, are taking cars that don’t park at all and are causing congestion at a rate unheard of.

Suddenly the mayor, who bought into a simple solution to the city’s parking problems, is looking at the upcoming election and yelling at the parking department to fix the problems.

In a state of panic, the parking pros call consultants and utter one strangled word: “HELP!”

What I heard time and again around the table in Temecula was that one size doesn’t fit all. All parking is local and whereas an academic approach may work in a general case, it seldom works in a specific one.

A parking department may put variable pricing in place but neglect to put the enforcement required to make it work in place. They may purchase technology to help solve that problem but didn’t realize that the high-tech equipment actually caused another. They may install multi space meters which work great, but didn’t realize that on some small blocks, single space meters work better. They may be depending on pay by cell apps but find out that only about 5% of their parkers actually use them.

“We are called in and have to clean up the unintended consequences of a simplistic solution,” I heard time and again.

The idea was to get traffic looking for parking off the street. Shoup tells us that 30% of all traffic is looking for parking. Let’s get those 30% off the street and voila, congestion, pollution, and parking solved. That number is important. What if it’s 10%, or 50%. If it’s 10, getting them off the streets won’t help much. If it’s 50% getting 30% won’t help much either. One could hold the position that ALL traffic in the central city is either looking for parking or leaving. When I asked him about the origin or that number, he wondered what all the concern was about. “After all,” he said, “It’s only a number in a book.”

That pretty much says it all doesn’t it.


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John Van Horn

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