Our Daily Bleg: Some Good Parking Solutions, Please

We like to give readers the chance to ask their own bleg — i.e., to use this blog to beg for ideas or information. Here’s an interesting one from a reader named Philip . I look forward to your input; you can send your own bleg suggestions here.

Many cities around the country have parking problems in their urban neighborhoods.

For example, the city of Baltimore is thousands of parking spaces short in its popular neighborhoods southeast of downtown. The result is that people park illegally, which leads to unsafe situations (e.g. blocking alleys or fire hydrants) and lots of parking tickets.

The city doesn’t really have a way to increase the space available for parking because, like many cities, the budget is tight and buying urban land to turn into parking lots is prohibitively expensive. The problem is only going to get worse, as many formerly run-down, empty homes are being renovated, and the new inhabitants bring cars with them.

What are some ways to fix the problem?

Reducing the need for car ownership is one possibility. Improved public transport would help this, but public transport is very expensive.

How about a tax on large cars? If all of the cars were smaller, more cars would fit in the same area. Or, even more drastic, how about a ban on SUVs and pick-up trucks? A limit of one car per household would also make a difference.

Lots of cities need ideas on how to tackle these problems. Maybe the Freakonomics.com readership could help.

Two quick things to add to Philip’s bleg: there’s a movement in the U.K. to base parking charges on the size of your car, even in your own driveway. Also, one big negative externality produced by scarce parking is congestion caused by cars circling for spots (to say nothing of the added pollution from these same cars).


Sharper

It seems like you've identified an issue (people parking illegally) and then jumped to other things you don't like (cars, especially big cars) and solutions that enact your personal preferences, but only indirectly do anything related to the problem you've identified.

Why don't you simply increase the average "cost" of parking illegally and then let private individuals sort out the most efficient ways to avoid that cost?

You can do things as simple as step up parking fines and enforcement, beyond the level of "most money coming into the city", which is where it is likely currently at, to "nobody wants to park illegally because they're sure to get caught and have to pay a fine". Sure, that'll cost the city a little parking revenue as people catch on, but the goal is less illegal parking, not more revenue, right?

You could also make a policy that the fire department is allowed to smash any cars parked in front of fire hydrants that they notice while driving around town. (http://funny-online-stuff.blogspot.com/2007/07/pic-dont-mess-with-fire-department.html). Don't even make them wait for an actual fire. People will then stop parking in front of fire hydrants.

If you want to be academic about it all, calculate the total externalities of parking illegally and impose them on the people who park illegally.

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PaulK

I do not believe that big cars really affect number of cars that can be parked in a meaningful way. Small cars in general are not small enough to make any real difference, and the cost of re-striping parking spaces (and moving meters) would be far too expensive to justify.
Congestion taxes on cars in central areas of cities (during certain times) can make a difference (locals get a permit for the small area they live in). But, if you use congestion taxing, you need to have outlying places to park and shuttles that run frequently enough. Of course, local businesses hate congestion taxing since it keeps customers out of the downtown.

DB

Philip, where do you live?

I live in Harbor East, where I park my car in my building's garage (which of course was a parking lot before it was built a couple years ago).

Still, I know the horror stories from friends of mine that live in Fells Point and Canton. I tend to never favor an outright ban of anything (such as "no more than one car per household") and while I understand the unpopularity of being asked to pay to park your own car in front of your own house, I feel that most people completely ignore the externalities of parking. (That is, every time you park in a space, you are taking away a space from another person.)

To me, one of the main problems is that there is too much free and cheap parking. Permits should be mandatory (and enforced!) and hourly parking should range in the dollars/hour, not quarters. Businesses can step up too: it is unbelievable that no one in Canton offers valet, unlike many places in Harbor East and fells. Even at upwards of $6/car, it is better than circling the block for 20 minutes!

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Raj Pandravada

I have always wondered why companies do not completely embrace the vast benefits of telecommuting. It could very well be the answer to most of the congestion and parking-related problems that heavily urbanized cities are facing in the US today.

Also, I don't think I agree with Philip when he says that public transportation is expensive. What public transportation is, in most cities in the US, is inadequate.

I also cringe at ideas that involve limiting people's freedom; restricting households to only one car is a spectacularly poor idea - what if the principals in the house work in different cities? So is an outright ban on SUVs - what happens when people have more than two kids? Restrict the number of children per household, perhaps. How illogically circular.

Currently, entry into congested parts of cities is free, but parking isn't, which, as pointed out by SJD, leads to people circling around for (possibly free) parking. My solution is to flip the problem on its head - a prohibitively large congestion charge, coupled with free parking.

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Maureen

This is a hard one to tackle, and I'm not sure that Baltimore is the best city to look to as a basis for a model. I (a Baltimorean) think that the biggest parking challenge here is a lack of useful public transportation. There have been many articles about Baltimore's nonsensical public transit system, so I won't go into that; however, given that there is no option to take a bus from my trendy neighborhood to another trendy neighborhood to hang amongst the hipsters, I need to drive. Neighborhoods with serious parking permit programs in Baltimore (Otterbein, Charles Village) still have serious parking problems.

To solve a parking problem, I think cities need to implement several complementary activities at once, to simultaneously increase push and pull factors influencing reduced car ownership. These may include improved public transit, taxes on car ownership for second and third vehicles, tax abatements for families with no cars, etc.

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Erika

How about carpooling?

With the dawn of Facebook and MySpace, meeting people in your community and/or company has never been easier or less threatening. Carpool groups on the social networking sites can be formed as easily.

Cities could offer free or reserved parking places to carpooling vehicles carrying X number of people or more.

If SUVs are carrying six people to work, they're much more efficient than six compact cars each carrying one person.

Also, if bike paths were better designed for bicycle commutes between suburban and urban areas (within a reasonable distance, of course), my hunch is that many more people would use them instead of driving.

Anne

One problem with urban housing, especially in cities like Baltimore, is that the majority of the residences were built at the turn of the (last) century. These make for beautiful brownstones with no space for garages or driveways. Thus, residents battle for street parking.

Perhaps, as these "formerly run-down, empty homes are being renovated," homeowners could get a tax incentive to build a garage into the new design. This would cost the local governments (i.e. ME, the local taxpayer) virtually nothing, create parking on the car owners' own property, and free up one more space for the rest of us.

Sara

Lower the cost of public transport while make parking spaces more expensive.

Dan

I live in Chicago and notice that a good 50% of the cars move less than once a week. These residential neighborhoods in Baltimore could make parking metered during the day. This would ensure that only commuters had cars. Anyone who just wanted the convienence would be forced to get a garage or deal with going out to their car every hour.

On a slightly different note, I live in Chicago and am always irritated when I think I have found a spot and it turns out to be the openning to someone's driveway. They are effectively claiming these street spots even when they aren't there. Does anyone now if they pay money for this? Is it illegal to park in front of them?

MG

A combination of making parking more expensive and public transport both cheap and convenient is the best incentive/disincentive combination (you need both: just making parking more expensive could harm poor people who need the parking for their jobs and have no alternative). If you make it an expensive pain in the neck to park, and an inexpensive breeze to ride the bus, then people will choose the latter.

Chris Riesgraf

What about a park and ride from an offsite location. Couple that with charging for parking would steer those with permanant parking needs to pay and those who want to visit to feel good about a free park and ride system. Advertising and local business could pay for a bus system.

mannyv

What about just zoning more parking lots and parking garages?

Is this for normal everyday parking in a residential area, or for more of a nightlife/restaurant area?

Public transit won't help with the latter. It may not help with the former, either - if public transit doesn't go where you need it to go, then you won't use it (a fact that public transit advocates seem to ignore).

Dan Bratone

I was faced with this problem in NYC when the garage I parked in every day for 2 years shut down. I realized there was no good way to find out information about a garage so I started a website to aggreage parking lot information as well as parking rates. We started with New York City and now have lot information in 30 US cities including Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Baltimore. We have the most comprehensive database of locations and rates. We will be adding send to cell and GPS features soon. If you need to find parking in a major US city, please try Spotasaurus.com. http://www.spotasaurus.com

dnm

... at what point will people realise that 2 kids does not instantly mean you need an SUV? You can comfortably fit 3 kids into the back of a regular sized car.

Man you Americans need to work on your sense of entitlement.

T-Bone

"Improved public transport would help this, but public transport is very expensive."

Public transport is very expensive compared to what? It certainly seems less expensive than buying a car for everyone who would use public transport. And you can also include the costs of gas, maintenance, space, congestion, insurance, pollution, and maybe even labor (you can relax and do what you want while taking public transport).

I think the major "cost" of public transport would time and convenience. Does the transport take you where you want to go quickly, and is the schedule convenient to meet your needs? And that's a situation where the bigger the push for public transport, the more accommodating and robust the service becomes.

whoanellie

In Chicago they also have neighborhood parking permits that are enforced overnight, so if you are visiting, you need to have a guest permit, (which you would get from whomever you are visiting). Its a hassle and makes me take the train.
I would like to take Anne's idea alter it: For every "remodeled" home , a fee is required by the city with is placed into a public parking fund specific to that area. The remodel would have a threshold dollar amount, say, any work done over $40k or something like that, so that teardowns and complete remodels are the target. The fee should be substantial enough to allow for future land acquisition.
Requiring/encouraging garages for new homes would eventually eleminate on-street parking and turn urban streets into one huge curb cut. And Dan, yes, it is illegal to block ingress/egress to someone's driveway. See Chicago Code: 9-64-100

Kyle

One solution could be tax incentives for neighborhood grocery stores and other businesses that encourage shopping close to home.

Giving these smaller businesses the ability to compete with big-boxes would encourage people to shop locally and ditch their vehicles.

If Sam's Grocery could sell for the same price as Wal-Mart, wouldn't you rather shop there?

power of positive thinking and doing

think positively of what would improve the situation- trains, bicycle paths, bicycle transporters, electric cars/buses that pick up and transport door to door- country store walking distance from house-

think interest- what would prompt you to get rid of your car (disincentive for owning)-- too high gas price (disincentive for driving), super high car tax per car (disincentive for using), trolley, boats (incentive for using other forms of public transport) - then acquire general knowledge re consequences of mass transit deaths and destruction, then find out where you fit into this scenario personally i.e., if you have a parent who has died from cancer you are a likely candidate etc etc- then move-- to the country if you cannot find a solution that keeps you living longer years and healthier. And that keeps our planet environment healthier-

Captain Cocktail

Magic Parking Beans is what you need. You just set one bean under each wheel and your car magically rises into the sky and floats off to a more spacious reserve out of sight. The beans are (of course) pollution free and remarkably good at anticipating when..and where you might once again desire access to your car.

Brian

Taxes are not the answer. We have too many taxes as it is and few if any have accomplished their intended purpose. The fact that there is no where to park is in and of itself all that is needed. If there are no spots, you cannot park. If there is anything valuable down there you will find a way to get there or the business will find a way to get you there. done and done.