Parking Causes Driving


Parking Causes Driving

A paper presented at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in Washington DC this week concludes that as parking availability either at the destination or the origin of a trip increases, so does driving. You can read about it here. Of course if you followed  you would already know all this.

It seems that if people are forced to park on street and live in an area where there is a lot of business parking, they tend not to drive because they will lose their parking space. Likewise if there is parking available at work, they tend to drive rather than take other means of transport.

It seems to me that there was a book written about all this a few years ago. Don Shoup call your office.

I don’t see that this is something that requires a world class study. It seems that thoughtful people won’t drive their cars where there is no place to park it (or its too expensive) and they also won’t move their car if they are afraid they will lose their space when they return.

The author of the article referenced above said her family does not drive anywhere on Friday or Saturday because they will lose the space on street near their apartment, because those nights drivers visiting nearby clubs and restaurants take the spaces. The article I quoted in an earlier blog about driving in China noted that one driver commented that he always returned home before 4 PM because the complex where he lived had only 200 spaces for 900 apartments and those filled quickly after five.

Parking availability does affect our actions.

How does this affect policy. If the goal is to cut driving trips to the central city, then the logical approach would be to reduce the amount of available parking.

However, it is also important to replace those reduced trips with something (carpools, buses, rapid transit, Uber, transporters). And that’s not cheap. If one can’t get to work, or to shopping, or to the museum, or to restaurants or clubs, then guess what, those attractions will move to where the people live and the downtown will be decimated.

My favorite law, the law of unintended consequences, kicks in and the very thing you were trying to accomplish, a livable downtown, ceases to exist.

When you attempt to alter behavior beware. You may get what you ask for.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

2 Responses

  1. The easiest way to reduce driving is one that you will most likely never see happen, quit expanding the road system. We continually add lanes to reduce congestion, implement TDM systems to move cars to less crowded roads, redesign intersections and entrances/exits to decrease backups and basically do whatever we can to make it easier to drive almost anywhere. Then we get all worked up because now that we’ve significantly increased the capacity of our roads/intersections/exits/bridges and the number of cars heading to wherever it is they are going there isn’t anywhere for all of them to park. Since no coordinated planning was done on the front end we typically declare a “crisis” and start building more parking.

    If we would stop expanding the road system and instead spend that money on making the repairs necessary to our existing infrastructure (failing bridges, collapsing overpasses, crumbling roads, etc), and invest in alternative transportation (transit, bike lanes, sidewalks, etc) then maybe, over time the public mind set and attitude towards how we get around would change.

    I doubt that will happen, there’s too much money involved in road building, land sales and new commercial development. The die was cast in 1954 when Congress changed the rules on depreciation. In an attempt to assist the private sector in rebuilding our post WWII industrial infrastructure they inadvertently created the loophole that eventually resulted in the decline of our urban centers and the sprawling suburbia of the automobile reliant world in which we live;

    This is a perfect example of your reference to the law of “unintended consequences”.

  2. >> it is also important to replace those reduced trips with something (carpools, buses, rapid transit, Uber, transporters). And that’s not cheap.

    I agree with the first part, but car pools, buses (per passenger) Uber, biking and, especially, walking ARE cheap relative to creating parking and encouraging driving. What’s more, taken together they can have major positive impacts on congestion, pollution, urban development patterns, and the livability of urban areas.

    Also, it’s not just parking availability. People who study parking, like Shoup’s sometime co-author Michael Manville and others, believe mass transit will never be successful until driving and parking are rationally priced: “Resting our hopes on a transit comeback distracts from our real transportation problem, which can be summarized in four words: Driving is too cheap. Drivers impose costs on society — in delay, in pollution, in carbon, in wear and tear on our roads — that they don’t pay for. As a result, many of us drive more than we otherwise would. Ending this underpriced driving — through higher fuel taxes, parking and congestion charges and insurance premiums based on miles driven — is a central challenge for local, state and federal transportation officials.” Washington Post, 3/20/14

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