Parking and the Lizard Brain

“When it comes to parking, people’s mental activity drops to a lower level.”  Parking guru and recently retired professor from UCLA, Donald Shoup.


I thought it worthwhile to post this article and this story/radio piece about parking in LA and like all things urban, the counter-intuitive nature of how it really works.

The first article, written by Shoup, compares how Westwood Village and Old Town Pasadena have swapped order in the ‘cool and successful’ hierarchy.  Old Town Pasadena was suffering until they made parking more difficult and expensive whereas when Westwood Village was hopping, people complained about the price of the metered parking spaces.  The costs were reduced, making parking not easier to find, but harder.  People, particularly employees are often more likely to leave their car in a space for extended periods leading others to circle and circle and circle and eventually give up.  Over time, people gave up less because they just stopped going altogether.

Shoup writes, “What underpricing can do, however, and what it does do, is create a parking shortage that keeps potential customers away.  If it takes only five minutes to drive somewhere else, why spend fifteen cruising for parking?”

Catch that?  Making parking cheaper, easier, and more ubiquitous actually creates a parking shortage.  We’re creating an incentive in the market to drive in and park.  What does parking do, whether it’s full or empty?  It devalues place, people stop going, and decay begins.

What we should do instead: systematically reduce the proportion of parking in relation to jobs and residents.  See:

From 2002-2010, downtown Seattle saw their total parking increase from 45,994 to 52,891.  Quite an increase, but not nearly as much as Seattle added in terms of housing and jobs.  From 02-11, downtown Seattle added 30,000 (!!!!) new jobs and 3,200 new residents.  Downtown Seattle has nearly double the jobs of downtown Dallas (214k to 114k) in a similar sized land area.  It also has 4x the employed residents (19.7k vs 4.7k)

So while parking increased in the area, the net ratio of new jobs+housing to parking was 4.88 increasing the overall ratio (higher is better) from 4.37 jobs+units/space to 4.42.  Compare that to downtown Dallas of 2011 with 1.74 jobs+units per parking space.

According to this, the drive alone commuting rate into downtown Seattle has dropped to an all-time low of 34%.  Meanwhile, citywide over this time period driving commuting on the whole in Seattle dropped from 67.73% to 62.5%.

In other words, what you’re thinking about parking is wrong because you’re using your lizard brain.  If we’re proposing to add parking anywhere, 1) we have to market rate its pricing according to demand to ensure availability of spaces, while 2) off-setting the minimum parking requirements for the redevelopment of any parcel within 1/4-mile of the parking facility.