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Parking ‘Rock Star’ Advocates Radical Change in Parking Pricing


Donald Shoup speaks at Fordham’s Pope Auditorium.
Photo by Michael Dames

That Midtown parking spot you just spent 25 minutes circling the block to find may appear to be free, but it really isn’t. We all pay for it, said Donald Shoup, Ph.D. And that’s just not right.

“The cost of parking doesn’t disappear just because the driver doesn’t pay for it,” he told 150 people at a lecture on Dec. 10.

Shoup, the chairman of UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, and a “parking rock star” in urban planning circles, was invited to speak at the Lincoln Center campus’ Pope Auditorium by Fordham’s Urban Studies Program, Visual Arts Program and Transportation Alternatives.

He made the case that curbside parking in Manhattan is wildly under priced and completely irrational. In heavily trafficked business districts, for instance, Shoup noted that because parking meters are substantially cheaper than off-site lots, New York City is in effect encouraging citizens to cruise around looking for spots, thus spewing pollution and wasting fuel.

“I think we’ve created a great planning disaster,” he said.

Citing experiments in Redwood City and Old Pasadena, Calif., Shoup made the case that cities should substantially raise the price of curbside parking in business districts and direct the extra revenue into plants, trees, benches, lighting and sidewalk improvements in the area directly affected. When the perfect price is established, no area is ever more than 85 percent full, so parking spaces are always available, and the district becomes a destination unto itself.

In addition, he advocated re-examining zoning laws that govern the number of on-site parking spaces that buildings must have. “A friend of mine says zoning requires you to build a parking lot, and then it lets you build something else to finance it,” he said. “That is really how parking requirements operate in the United States.”

He has no delusions about how radical his ideas are to some, as 99 percent of all car trips in the United States begin and end at free parking spaces.

“Some people seem to think that charging for curb parking is un-American. I think that charging for curb parking is very American. I think it is very American to ask people to pay for what they use,” he said. “We’re not a nation of freeloaders, and when you do become freeloaders, you do a lot of damage.”

Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White, in introducing Shoup, said that his ideas about parking fit perfectly into his group’s push to make the Upper West Side an example of a truly liveable, “green” streets, in the same way that “green” buildings have become all the rage.

“A green street, especially in a high-demand area like the Manhattan Central Business District, is one that people should pay for the privilege of driving on, returning that revenue to the mass transit system,” he said.


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