Free Parking? It's an Expensive Proposition

Once you start using a bike to get around, you see cities in an entirely new way.

David Byrne, in his forthcoming book Bicycle Diaries uses his bike trips on a folding Montague bike in cities around the globe as a jumping-off point for musings on cities' architecture, street life, and life in general.

Eventually, it seems cities' ever-growing infrastructure of highways, streets, and parking structures limit our ability to enjoy their charms.

While cars can give us a great feeling of freedom when we are in them on open road, they are also a yoke around the average driver's neck as they stand idle and cost money for a great deal of the day.

As Seth Zeren notes at a post yesterday on WorldChanging, a Prius and a Hummer have the same environmental impact for the 95% of the time they both are parked.

Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, shows how urban planning in U.S. cities. -- in which new development is contingent on creating new parking (and planning for parking's peak times) -- has meant lots of parking spaces standing empty a lot of the time.

Zeren describes a recent New Haven, Connecticut parking garage project, in which constructing each space averaged $25,000, with mortgage $40,000, or about $1,600 per space per year. When charging for parking, developers can rarely recoup the total value of the space. And then there is the amount cities lose when offering free or reduced-cost parking to some employees.

Shoup in his book has calculated that 98% of the parking Americans do is at "free parking" spaces - and the resulting subsidy costs for parking runs in the hundreds of billions.

The result: too much parking can damage downtowns making them ultimately less people-friendly.

Vauban, Germany's low-car, child-friendly streets are providing a different model - getting a parking space can run upward of US$40,000 -- but for this to be applied to American cities first it would seem we need to collectively agree that we've given over too much of our cities to private cars.

That can be an upward battle. Merchants are afraid not enough parking will kill their businesses. Portland, with its bike corrals, and Copenhagen with city-center car-free but bus- and bike-friendly streets, have shown otherwise.

But observe for yourself how much of your city is given over to the deadbeat life of parked cars by taking a bike ride today.

For more articles by Graham Hill click here.

For more articles by Graham Hill click here.