A Dissent with Donald Shoup on Curb Parking Use
As a longstanding and vocal proponent of mandatory off-street parking supply and discouragement of curb parking, I have suppressed my strong disagreement with Donald Shoup, UCLA Professor of Urban Planning, until reading his “Free Parking or Free Markets” article [Footnote 1] in the Spring 2011 issue of Access magazine, a publication of the University of California Transportation Center (UCTC).
While l share his distaste for excessive zoning requirements, Shoup apparently fails to appreciate the public preference for convenient “next-to-store” retail parking, an adequate office and industrial site parking supply, and minimum residential street curb parking congestion. Also, why no consideration in his article of the problems produced by curb parking (congestion and accidents)?
First is the issue of over-supply. I have done about 700 traffic impact/site development projects in some 25 states. In only a few cases have local agencies demanded an excessive parking supply. The only one that readily comes to mind was an Iowa city asking for 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet for a community-size shopping center – more than twice the actual need.
Certainly Shoup and I can agree that something like this hinders development; adds costs to the public (since the developer is going to recoup his outlay); wastes natural resources; and increases water runoff and utility consumption (lighting).
The Institute of Transportation Engineers has developed extensive data on appropriate parking supply for various land uses [Footnote 2], a good part of which I have supplied.
Next is the “convenience” factor. It is true that customers and workers will readily accept a curb space directly in front of a store or office, but rather than seek a curb space a block or so away, they willingly will take one in an adjacent parking lot or (more reluctantly) a garage.
At the grocery store, for example, the lot with its shopping cart accessibility is clearly preferable to the curb. If street spaces are metered or time-regulated (as they generally should be), the off-street space is superior.
Finally, the “free” lot provided by the site owner, while ultimately paid for by the customer, is preferable to the parking meter, as is a commercial parking lot in a business district.
The Case Against Curb Parking
The available rights-of-way for streets in our cities is limited. Expansion is usually prohibitively expensive. To use precious available space for storage of vehicles, instead of movement of vehicles and pedestrians, is a wasteful and inefficient use of public resources.
Parking at the curb typically removes a traffic lane or narrows a sidewalk, or both. By causing unnecessary congestion and vehicular delay [Footnotes 3, 4], it increases pollution and fuel use.
Another significant adverse effect of curb parking is accidents – not only parked cars being hit, and sideswipes and rear-end collisions caused by lane changes to avoid a parked vehicle or street-side door opening, but also right-angle types due to sight obstructions blocking the view of drivers exiting from driveways and side streets.
In one year, the city of Chicago reported one-third of all surface street accidents were curb parking related. In Skokie, IL, a five-year study based on professional review of more than 12,000 accident reports found 18% traceable to curb parking [Footnote 5]. While Skokie had inherited a “tradition” of curb rather than off-street parking supply, in the 1950s and 1960s, an enlightened municipal government began pressuring all commercial and new residential development to provide adequate off-street parking.
While data from numerous other reports [Footnotes 6, 7, 8] could be cited, my remarks to then-Rep. Charles Farnsley, D-KY, as published in the Congressional Record back in 1966 [Footnote 9], that curb parking is a “disease” still remain germane.
My remarks to Farnsley 45 years ago included “10 Principles” that I stand by today:
• 1: The function of a major traffic route is to provide for safe and efficient movement, plus access to abutting property.
• 2: Curb parking is not a right vested with the abutting property owner, and he has no legal or moral claim to such usurping of the public way.
• 3: The cost of allowing curb parking, when measured in terms of congestion and accidents, is an unrealistic and unnecessary burden to place on the public.
• 4: The continued preservation of residential, business and industrial land uses is imperative to our economy.
• 5: Curb parking cannot often be prohibited until substitute spaces are provided off-street.
• 6: Leadership for development of such off-street parking must come from local governments.
• 7: The cost of providing these parking facilities should be borne by the benefitted property owners.
• 8: The location of parking facilities must be such as to minimize walking distance, which frequently implies wrecking older buildings near the center of each block of congested areas to build public lots or garages.
• 9: The development of such parking programs will frequently be fought by all affected owners, and powerful political pressures will be brought to bear to block the work.
• 10: Elected and appointed officials must exhibit both courage and farsightedness to conceive, execute and maintain the policy.
Some of the above Principles are endorsed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which in its “Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets” [Footnote 10] states:
“On-street parking generally decreases through-traffic capacity, impedes traffic flow and increases crash potential. Since the primary service of an arterial is the movement of vehicles, it is desirable to prohibit parking on urban arterial streets and rural arterial highway sections.’’
In my mind, the “ideal” retail development is the shopping center, where a group of stores minimize vehicular trips by consolidation of destinations. The common parking supply is more efficient than separate parking lots for each store.
Where offices, restaurants and movie theaters are included, the differing peak hours of such uses may fit into the lessor-demand period of the retail, which also reduces the total supply needs, as compared with use of individual parking lots.
For developed retail and office areas, such as Central Business Districts, the provision of separate, adequate off-street parking for each building is seldom appropriate, practical or sensible. Cities have recognized this by building parking lots and garages for consolidated service, often financed by assessment districts. While convenience is lost, supply is maintained.
Clearly, the answer to parking supply is not the curb – the most costly approach. While Shoup and I might appear to agree on placing a high cost on curb parking, my assessment is much higher than his, because it also considers congestion and accidents.
Paul C. Box is President of Paul C. Box and Associates. He does not answer email but can be faxed at 480 998 2568.
This is an edited version for print – the entire article, with footnotes included, can be found on line at www.parkingtoday.com. Click on Magazine and search articles.