My “free Market” approach gets blasted


My “free Market” approach gets blasted

Woody over at Boomerang Systems takes umbrage with yours truly. I say that parking requirements should be removed, he says I’m smoking something funny. Read all his comments here

He says he has travelled to major cities world wide and the “free market” has caused developers to build complexes without enough parking and that has caused chaos in traffic and parking. I certainly agree that Manila has chaos, as does Mumbai, Delhi, Bangkok, or Mexico City ( I could add Sao Paulo, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Cairo, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver etc). I note that the last eight cities (except Houston) have strict parking requirements and frankly, the traffic seems equally hectic.

I don’t think it’s the lack of parking, although that might be an issue in some places.It is how parking in managed that is the difference. If parking on street is free or cheap, and parking in structures is more expensive, people will drive around looking for a free space rather than park in the garage. However if the pricing is set by the free market, at a rate that keeps about 1 space per block face open, on street pricing would be higher because it is more convenient and so people would quickly make the decision to park where they could afford it. Most would park in nearby lots and cruising is greatly reduced.

The problem in most cities is not the lack of parking, but the lack of parking controls and enforcement. Most of the traffic problems in these cities relate to similar issues. In fact the parking requirements in Seattle RESTRICT the number of spaces. The tallest building west of the Mississippi (Columbia Center) has only about 200 parking spaces. Why? The city wants to push people out of cars and in to public transportation. They use parking to help affect public policy.

Abu Dhabi is an example of a city where lack of on street regulations and enforcement made for chaos. Last year they instituted on street parking charges and controls and almost overnight the chaos was gone. Some did not like to walk a few blocks from the parking lots to their destination, but they would rather do that than pay more for on street parking. India has other issues and to get their arms around traffic means a huge enforcement effort.

Woody also takes (a fair) shot at my examples of silly parking zoning requirements. Fair enough. However simply looking at the square footage or number of bedrooms is not a solution either. If a facility is a medical office building (with its many visitors) it will need far more parking than a high rise insurance company with staff only and no visitors. It would seem that the developer could make those decisions more reasonably than a zoning board meeting years before the project was even considered. Requiring parking for apartments based on bedrooms is a similar issue. If it’s a place that caters to kids, then not as many spaces will be needed. By not requiring so much parking, the cost of building and the cost of rent goes down. People can then make the choice of reducing the number of vehicles they own (As in New York when many own no vehicles as there is no parking in their buildings) thus reducing the number of cars and the traffic. If they drive two cars, they can pay for extra parking, or live somewhere that has enough space.

The problem is more complex than just providing parking. Houston has garages on every corner but their traffic congestion is some of the worst in the country.

Companies like Woody’s provide an excellent service of being able to retrofit parking where it has become necessary. The free market has enabled him and his competitors to provide automated parking facilities for buildings where conventional parking facilities are not appropriate.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. With the excitement of IPI behind you, I want to finish our “dialog” on this topic. Please understand that I do not believe the imposition of strict parking requirements on new developments is a cure all.
    I completely agree with your position that municipal parking policies (i.e. pricing, time limits, and enforcement) are the number one cause of the parking madness in most major cities. While certainly unpopular with parkers and retailers alike, the rates for convenient on street parking meters should be much higher (or the time limits much shorter) than off-street parking garages. Of course, enforcement then has to have teeth or else the whole exercise is a waste of time. If unpaid parking tickets leads to points on your license, people will pay their tickets immediately.
    One need only look to Hoboken, New Jersey for an example of a city with horrible traffic caused by people circling around looking for cheap & convenient on-street parking while multi-level parking structures sit with lots of empty spaces because it costs $5.00 (or more) just to enter the place. Hoboken allegedly has a 5,000 parking space deficit, but I think it really has a deficit of people willing to pay $5.00 – $10.00 for parking when they know they can spend 15 minutes more hunting for on street parking that costs $1.00. I should know, I have done it myself.
    Having agreed with your tangental point of illogical on-street parking policies, I still think rolling back parking requirements for developers (which was the original point of this dialog) is a colossal mistake. Developers who find themselves with too many parking spaces should either hire an operator or install a pay-on-foot solution to recover the cost of these excess spaces. If government regulations prohibit the renting of unused spaces that were required as accessory parking to their development, then that is a good place to start with reform.

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