Posted Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011, at 9:35 AM
One of the most-important and least-recognized thinkers of our time is Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking. It's an excellent book, but the ideas are actually extremely simple and there are basically two of them. One is that governments should not force real estate developers, store owners, and other businessmen to build more parking than their own calculation of what the market balance of supply and demand is. The other is that governments shouldn't underprice street parking in a way that leads to Soviet-style shortages of available spaces and elaborate rationing rules about how long you're allowed to stay in a given spot. People ought to be confident that if they drive someplace, there will almost certainly be a street parking spot available and in exchange be asked to pay a perhaps hefty fee to use it at a high-demand time.
LA Magazine has a very nice profile of Shoup out that explains his ideas and also looks at cities around the country who are moving toward adopting watered-down versions of them. "Municipal parking regulations" does not sound like an earth-shattering subject, but the implications for the environment, for public health, and for the economic vibrancy of the country are actually quite large. Land is generally plentiful in the United States but it's very scarce and extremely expensive in a smallish number of disproportionately important areas. Misallocating that value space with ill-conceived decades-old parking regulations is a huge squandering of potentially productive resources.