Parking Transformed by Outside Forces


Parking Transformed by Outside Forces

It has been my approach to write columns about the expansion of the parking industry. I’ve focused on the ways parking affects lives in every setting from small towns to big cities, airports, universities, parks, concert halls, schools, malls and so forth.

It’s January and a new decade, and we’re all a little shell shocked anyway, so I’m thinking I will shake things up a little and ask: what if the industry is shrinking? 

I don’t mean there is less technology or fewer cars and drivers. I don’t mean people are going to stop parking. I don’t think autonomous cars are going to make parking defunct or drive parking operators into extinction. I’m not saying scooters are going to end the reign of the commute or rideshare services are going to kill the idea of car ownership.

It’s just that I read an article that suggested changes in parking behavior and the need for more residential and office space has created a growing market for underused lots and garages – but especially lots.

The trend is most pronounced in urban areas where people are moving in increasing numbers. Besides that, other widely understood influences are creating a parking surplus in some larger cities.

Big cities, especially those with tons of parking, but not enough housing, are going to flip that equation. There are lots of people who want to live a downtown kind of life – they want to gentrify and sip coffee in the town square and ride their bicycles to the corner grocery store. They want to twirl their ironic mustaches, tip their fedoras, flip half-dollar coins and eat their avocado toast with a side of green juice and indie rock. (I’m just talking about the hipsters now, but lots of different kinds of people love a good old-fashioned downtown).

A large portion of the parking lots sold during the last three years are going to become residential buildings, apartment complexes, and small housing tracts. 

I asked myself what this would mean for me – the daily driver, the weekend day-tripper, the mom-chauffeur and occasional vacationer. What it means for me is that parking becomes more expensive, but also more valuable. 

I might use more public transportation when it’s available, or work in a few rideshare trips. I might carpool more, walk more, bike more or just stay home. But when I do go someplace and need to go in my car, the parking at the other end will be a much more important factor. 

No doubt, I will be more easily persuaded that the cost of parking has a higher priority in my budget. My ability to park with ease will have a greater influence on my enjoyment of the activity and become easier cost to justify given its scarcity.

It always seemed like this transformation was going to come from inside the industry. That one of these days everyone in the parking, including retailers and municipalities, would agree to charge for parking without exception. Now I’m wondering if the change will come from somewhere else: the housing industry.

I’ve been a literate bystander in the parking industry for many years now, so even though the product I offer – the bystander’s perspective – is peripheral to parking, it’s fresh even when it’s naïve.

I’ve read the arguments for charging more for parking in order to deliver more of the end cost to the actual user. I’ve read about how less parking would help the environment. I’ve read about how parking as a commodity is unbelievably cheap.

There’s always somebody giving it away for free who spoils things for everyone else. That’s going to be harder to do when there aren’t so many spots sitting empty.

God forbid we all end up living in a place as congested as New York City or San Francisco, but this scenario won’t necessarily play out to that extreme. A few lots here and there in Denver, Atlanta or Boston could instigate the transformation of parking from freebie to hot commodity. Higher competition for parking in urban areas could signal a transition that changes something we all think should be cheap to something more of us consider a luxury.

A few parking lots will become housing and for every 10 residences built and 200 spaces lost, some other, more mathematical, super-smart parking industry person will have to conjure up how this will justify raising the prices in nearby parking lots and garages. I really can’t be expected to come up with that equation – I’m a writer. 

Less parking means parking costs more, everybody knows that. So, a little shrinkage could be a positive. We will see how it turns out. In the meantime, Happy 2020.

Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick
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