Don Shoup: Parking Evangelist
by John Van Horn
It’s important when you are in the public eye not to take yourself too seriously. To Don Shoup’s credit, he has made that his credo. Anyone who calls himself “Shoup Dogg” has to have his head screwed on straight.
The essence of Don’s theories can be distilled quickly.
1. Set on-street parking rates so that about 15% of the spaces are always empty.
2. Return the money collected on-street to the neighborhoods from whence they came.
3. Do away with minimum parking requirements.
Those three little sentences tend to send parking consultants and urban planners into a tailspin. They are simplistic, we are told. There is little true research to back them up. They are politically impossible to put into practice.
Shoup heard all these objections and others, but soldiered on. Telling his story with a cute PowerPoint presentation to anyone who would listen, he met with mayors, city councils, planning boards, rotary clubs and parking professionals. He repeated his mantra over and over.
He used examples (Old Pasadena, CA) to help prove his points. He became an evangelist for change. And many in academia, and out, became his disciples. They are called Shoupistas.
Don’s book, “The High Cost of Free Parking,” became a hit. It reached the point that it was published in paperback, a few years back, by the American Planning Association’s Planners Press. So someone must be reading it. He tells me the hard cover was the largest seller the APA ever had, topping 10,000 copies.
Shoupistas and many in city government love his theories because they are simple, easy to understand, and make sense. Some in the parking business took affront because they felt that his theories were too simplistic and flew in the face of reality. And that’s where the debate was struck.
Don doesn’t couch his theories in terms of being “sustainable,” although I sometimes feel he is tempted. He told his story by quietly using unfailing logic:
“There’s a lot of urban space that is dedicated to parking, but is never used.”
“You don’t build a church for Easter and Christmas – why build parking for the day after Thanksgiving?”
“If you return the money collected to the neighborhood where the parking exists, you will have the political will to make other changes. Besides, it’s the right thing to do.”
“Parking minimums make no sense – so many spaces per nun at a convent, so many spaces per gallon of water at a swimming pool, etc.”
When Don isn’t preaching his gospel, he is learning from others. He will host people who he thinks know about parking for lunch at the UCLA Faculty center and then spend the time asking questions. Don knows he has to reach outside the academic Ivory Tower.
Do his theories work in the real world? The jury is still out. In many cases, the approach has been piecemeal. Raising on-street prices, but not quite enough to make any difference. It’s difficult for politicians to give up that cash flow into the general fund for quaint things such as street lighting, sidewalks and urban renewal.
And, of course, once urban planners have set the code as to the number of parking spaces per nun, it seems as if one is on the mountain with Moses, altering the Commandments.
Government change is glacial, and Don Shoup keeps at it. He has become a parking rock star. Whenever there is an article or a news story on TV, he is often the first one the reporters call. He always has a pithy quote handy.
Don Shoup may not be right on everything, but he has done what many academics forget to do: He has made us think. He has challenged the conventional wisdom. We have had to rethink and defend our premises.
As an industry, we wish him well in his retirement. But, somehow, I don’t think we have heard the last of the Shoup Dogg.