Managing a City’s Parking – Like Herding Cows on a Farm?


Managing a City’s Parking – Like Herding Cows on a Farm?

Maybe a car parked in the middle of an open grassy field …
Modern parking now has better ways to operate, especially with the clever technologies and discovery of the theory of how to operate a city’s parking: Its main role is to benefit selected daily activities of the city.  This means organizing parking to serve retailers, commercial operations, leisure seekers and commuters, allowing, of course, for community access. That is shopping, meetings, the gym or park, workers and the disabled, cycling, motorbikes, trucks, etc.
Parking isn’t free and hasn’t been free for many years.  It should not go back to being free in any form unless the lack of occupancy determines that it should be free, but mostly it should be priced to allow just the right amount of cars parking in just the right amount of carparks. 
If it’s too cheap, we get issues with circulation, cruising, double-parking, property damage and rage incidents. If it’s too expensive, then we get vast stretches of streets where no one will park at all.  
This is demonstrated in many cities today where there’s a single abstract price for parking in a casual carpark across the city. This has created a badly lopsided nature to parking in the city.
This type of structural weakness is the single most damaging act that parking can do. It impedes economic activity at a time when the city, and its rate payers, should expect a parking activity to be facilitating economic activity and community access.

Of Cows…
And Cars
At a conference, I used an analogy that seemed to work when trying to describe how a city’s parking should be organized:
 If we have a farm, say, that is divided and fenced into 10 paddocks, we have all our cows at one end of the farm, the grass is all gone, and all that’s left is just the mud created by the overcrowding and a lack of an ability to manage the consumption of that grass. 
At the other end of the farm, we have overgrown grass that has now gone to seed and is not very palatable.  There is not a cow to be seen here (exaggerating to make the point). In fact, the gates and other equipment are starting to be mothballed through lack of use.
If you were a farmer who ran your farm that way, you would have the bank and the SPCA knocking on your door. This management style has been acceptable in parking in the past, but not now. Unfortunately, many cities still “farm” their parking this way today. Let’s continue the analogy …
To find a solution on the farm, we would relocate the cows around the property to eat the grass down evenly.  Each paddock would be monitored to check the amount of grass being eaten, just in case a particularly hungry group of cows ate the grass faster than before.
We would monitor the seasons so we could manage the farm more closely when the grass stopped growing in winter; or in the summer, we could get some of our repairs and maintenance out of the way while there was plenty of grass.
In fact, if we were really good, we could increase the number of cows on the farm in summer or cut hay with the extra grass.  We would have to reduce the number of cows in winter as the feed became short.
Farmers have to micromanage the cows around the farm, and having a more efficiently run farm would improve profitability and allow us to increase productivity. That means running more cows per paddock.
Increasing productivity, in parking terms, means increasing our occupancy rates to ensure that more cars are being parked in the same number of carparks. Sound familiar?
On the farm, the paddocks allow us to manage the cows more efficiently by tailoring the number to fit the grass growth in each paddock. In fact, we are putting just the right amount of cows in to suit the characteristics of the paddock, its growth, its water supply, its share of sunlight and its quality of fencing. Dividing the farm into paddocks allows us to manage the farm for better productivity and efficiency. It just makes sense.
Dividing the city into parking zones that reflect the characteristics of that zone also just makes sense. All we have to do is to divide the city into zones of the right shape and size to affect the parking load creator in that zone. 
It could fit around the retail zone, the commercial zone, the education zone, the park zone or whatever other zone you have.  Then we monitor the grass growth – oops – I mean occupancy in each zone and we use price to move the cars (cows) around.
If the grass is tastier in the paddock next door, without a gate the cows would wander in and eat everything and trample the grass until it’s all destroyed. Price acts like the gate, stopping cars from sitting in one area, cruising, double-parking and causing congestion.
Just as a gate can be opened or closed to let a certain number of cows into the paddock to eat just the right amount of grass, the parking price also should be able to go up and down to control the number of cars in a zone to take up just the right amount of carpark spaces.
Gates and monitoring grass growth allow us to make better decisions on how we relocate cows around the farm for better efficiencies. Prices and monitoring occupancies allow us to make better decisions on how we relocate cars around the city for better parking efficiencies.

Kevin Warwood is a Consultant, Parking Operations Designer, and writer based in New Zealand. He can be reached at


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Kevin Warwood
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