Chicago Takes a Peek at a 'Shoupista' Solution
May, 2006A recent Chicago Tribune column, headlined "Parking lots full despite traffic woes," noted that
construction on city freeways was expected to cause chaos but hadn't. That column is excerpted below. The adjacent letter to the Tribune was sent to PT by its author, Chicago parking consultant John W. Hammerschlag. - Editor.
From the Chicago Tribune:
Fears that traffic jams from the Dan Ryan Expressway reconstruction would spread to virtually every other Chicago-area highway did not scare away many commuters who park downtown.
That by itself is somewhat scary, suggesting that even with tens of thousands more vehicles expected to converge on downtown in the years ahead, it will be enormously difficult to alter the historical patterns of how people travel to work.
Half of the lanes on the Ryan (Interstate 90/94) were shut down ... but business remained steady at the approximately 200 parking garages and lots in the downtown, according to the Parking Industry Labor Management Council.
"I don't see any effect from the Ryan project on our daily parking," said Michael Prussian, chairman of the council, which promotes the parking industry in the city.
"An insignificant number of our monthly parking customers, 0.2 percent of the total, canceled their parking and specifically cited the Ryan as the reason," added Prussian, who also is president of General Parking Corp.
But just when you thought downtown needed the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge some of the traffic, even more cars are on their way. About 40,000 to 60,000 additional vehicles will be driven to work downtown by 2020, according to a separate study of growth and development trends conducted for the parking council.
Opinions differ about what to do.
"It is time for a new consensus that is based on the realization that we will never get Americans out of their cars," Robert Atkinson, vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute, wrote last year in a paper titled "The Politics of Gridlock."
Most of the downtown parking facilities owned by the city and the Chicago Park District are east of Michigan Avenue and require at least a short walk to office buildings. Many of the private garages and lots, on the other hand, are located close to or under the CTA's Loop elevated tracks. By 10 a.m. on weekdays, "parking full" signs are out in front of many garages.
"It does not seem that the high cost of parking is deterring people from driving downtown," said Peter Skosey, vice president of external relations at the Metropolitan Planning Council.
"But you aren't going to get people to switch to transit by making driving less attractive," Skosey said. "We need more frequent service and clean new stations. It is key to helping the central business district continue to grow, to add office space and to compete for business against other cities."
An urban planning professor who is an expert on parking offers a controversial solution to help fund transit improvements. Parking meter fees in the downtown should be increased to match the rates at parking garages and lots, said Donald Shoup of the University of California Los Angeles.
"The only under-priced parking I saw when I visited Chicago was the curb parking," said Shoup, who has researched the impact of inexpensive or free parking on a range of issues, including traffic flow, the environment, municipal finances and housing costs.
The cheaper meter rate gives the false impression of a parking shortage, Shoup said. It encourages drivers to cruise the downtown in search of an open meter space, adding to traffic congestion and wasting fuel.
In his book, "The High Cost of Free Parking," Shoup argues that on-street parking rates should be increased to match market prices, resulting in an 85 percent occupancy rate. He said drivers should be required to feed the meters 24 hours per day. Most important, cities should dedicate the revenue to making transportation improvements in the areas where the money is collected, instead of putting it in the general fund.
"I think Michigan Avenue is one of the most splendid streets I have ever seen, but you don't have to walk too far to see places with ragged edges," Shoup said. "The city under-prices street parking for political reasons. Why should Chicago practically give away downtown parking when it is a source of increased revenue that can be used to clean up alleys and fix up neighborhoods?"
The Metropolitan Planning Council is working with City Hall to begin a study to test Shoup's concepts, Skosey said.
The proposal focuses on creating a parking improvement district on the 53rd Street business district in Hyde Park. Parking revenue collected in Hyde Park would be used to upgrade street amenities and to beautify transit stations in the neighborhood, he said.
"Use the extra parking revenue to improve transportation where the parking is located," Skosey said.
Letter to the Tribune:
The Dan Ryan construction has had almost no impact on our parking facilities. That being said, it's still very early. I would expect that we will see some impact by summertime as the construction is still new to many drivers.
On a different note, the [headline on] your article, "Parking lots full despite traffic woes," is a misperception and largely inaccurate. Almost all parking facilities in the Loop do not fill to capacity. Even those at the prime locations (including our self-parks at 201 West Madison and Washington Franklin) have available space on most days.
And I can tell you, based on frequent personal observation, that many of the facilities within three to five blocks of those referenced above have substantial vacancy at almost all times! Again, that being said, there are certain days in the year when I would expect that all parking spaces in the city will be filled because of seasonal demands.
Many people remember those few highly congested days or have parked in the best-located parking facilities and extrapolate incorrectly that all parking lots are always full.
And while it may be self-serving, Professor Donald Shoup is right on target, and I would take his views one step further: Curb parking is the most easily accessed and convenient parking in the city. It should be viewed as "premium" (like the seats behind the Cubs dugout at Wrigley Field) parking and priced even higher than garage parking, as it would encourage most casual parkers to utilize private facilities and leave the best parking spaces for the short term in-and-out users who desire/require speed and convenience in their daily urban transactions.
These curb stalls, if appropriately priced, would reduce traffic congestion, turn over rapidly and generate millions of additional dollars for the city - as well as create additional jobs for parking enforcement, which would further increase revenues.
John W. Hammerschlag
Hammerschlag & Co.