mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

If we have too many parking spots, why do I spend so much time driving around the block?

This one of those things I wanted to blog about while my blog was down. Marginal Revolutions links to this review of Dr Shoup's book claiming that parking is oversubsidized (pdf).

Now, Mad Anthony is a big fan of cars, and gets kind of annoyed when people suggest that people should drive less. To me, cars are the epitome of freedom - you can go where you want when you want, and play rap music as loudly as you want the whole time. To me, the savings - of money and of the environment - that come with public transportation are not worth the loss of available transportation. (And the New Orleans evacuations showed that sometimes, in an emergency, access to a car can literally be a lifesaver).

Shoup is one of those big fans of urbanization, while I tend to think that most people would rather have a plot of grass than a chinese takeout place in walking distance, would rather live near a Target than a museum. His claim is that without government regulations by planners that require stores and office buildings to have a certain amount of parking, they would have fewer spaces, which would make people drive less, which would mean more land for other stuff than parking. He feels that these requirements are essentially a subsidy to people with cars.

And there is probably some grain of truth to that. Most people would rather pay indirectly for stuff - through taxes or higher prices - than pay directly, especially for something like parking that feels like it should be free.

But I'm not sure I buy all his claims. I don't really agree that parking space requirements for developers is the only reason they build lots of parking. My guess is even without the requirements, they would build nearly as many spaces. Retailers and employers want lots of parking spaces, and are going to pick a location with lots of spaces over one with a shortage of spaces or charges for parking. And the reason is that consumers want lots of parking, and will choose a business with free and convinient parking over one that doesn't. I think even without the laws, places would have lots of parking, because customers want it - because there are many more people who prefer suburbs to those who prefer cities.

Shoub also sees the fact that many places have large amounts of empty parking spots even at peak times as a sign that parking spaces are oversupplied. I'm not sure. My guess would be that many developers use parking spaces as a use for land that they want to hold onto but don't want to develop yet. If demand comes, they will convert that space to another building, but in the mean time people will know they have plenty of parking. A shopping center near my parent's house did this years ago, turning a big chunk of their parking lot into a TGI Friday's. Paved land is easier to maintain than undeveloped land - you never need to mow the pavement.

Parking is odd - people often hate paying for it, but will incurr huge nonmonetary cost for it. At my college, where there are only a handful of curbside spots that are not time restricted (ie no parking 4-6) people will get their way early to snag those spots. And how many of us have circled the same block multiple times to get a spot? City dwellers like myself may also be used to not leaving the house or using their cars just to not lose a prime parking spot (I try not to leave the house after 4pm on a Sunday because there are only a few spots I can leave my car in on Monday morning and not get ticketed during street cleaning).

But I'm not convinced it's zoning laws that cause it to be supplied regularly, but rather good old supply and demand - customers demand lots of free, available parking, so retailers and developers supply it, and would even if the government didn't require it.


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