16 April, 2008

San Francisco: leading the way in parking policy

Via Greg Mankiw, this report:

As SFpark is envisioned, parking rates would be adjusted based on time of day, day of week and duration of stay. People would be able to pay not just with coins, but with credit cards, prepaid debit cards and even by cell phone. If a meter is set to expire, a text message could be sent to the driver. More time could be purchased remotely.

People also would be able to check parking availability before arriving at their destination via the Internet, handheld devices such as BlackBerrys, or cell phone. Sensors would be embedded in the asphalt to keep track of when a parking spot is empty....


higgy said...

Spencer, you're obsessed with urban parking. (Remember your idea for the lights above the parking spots?)

But really, while I LOVE the idea of being able to check parking spot availability online before heading downtown - this seems like an extremely expensive venture for what seems like a possibly limited improvement. I realize that (to some extent) it's just an experiment, but for other cities to implement it, I'm guessing that certain modifications will have to be made.

Why not mandate that new large-scale buildings *must* build an underground parking garage to support their traffic? I believe that most 200-300 space parking garages cost between $1-2 million. Part of the problem is urban development, and lack of planning with regards to street layouts and traffic levels.

spencer said...

Well, leave it to San Francisco to try an extremely expensive venture for what seems like a possibly limited improvement.

But seriously, these are large costs. If 20,000 people spend 15 minutes searching for parking every day, that's 5,000 hours of lost time. At $20 per hour (probably close to the median hourly wage for drivers in a SF), this adds up to a loss of $36,500,000 per year. This is probably an underestimate. Now how expensive is implementing this system?

More important than the gee-whiz technological features of this plan is that it properly prices parking. There are a fixed number of parking spots (at any given time). As the price of parking rises, fewer people will decide to drive and opt for public transportation, biking, or what have you. The idea is to set the price at the level where the number of people demanding parking is equal to the number of available spots.

The price would be change over the course of a day--higher on Saturday night, for example--and if it were calibrated properly, no one who chose to drive ought to have a problem finding a spot. Philadelphia already largely uses this pricing system, if only because there is so little street parking that it has become profitable to run for-pay parking lots on nearly every block of the city.

I don't think the answer is for the city to build more parking garages or mandate that buildings put them in. Rather, let's spend those resources on better and denser public transportation so driving is no longer a necessity.

Just because a large building goes up does not mean there will be more traffic. For example, D.C. built a new baseball stadium that opened this spring but did not build an equivalent amount of parking. Was there a massive parking crunch on opening day? No, people simply took buses and the metro (and attendance did not fall).

Parking needs to be thought of as a scarce good that has negative spillover effects. It's scarce because land in cities is valuable and it has negative spillover effects because more parking encourages driving, which leads to more congestion and more pollution.

Elliot said...

Yay urbanism! Debaser: making transit policy debates sexy.

higgy said...

I agree completely that we should focus funding and resources on improving and promoting public transportation. There needs to be a major overhaul in mass urban transportation (and its image) in this country, and building more parking garages won't help that.

But regardless of how successful such a campaign would be, there will always be a sizable percentage of people who will drive to work, school, or wherever they need to go. It's why carpooling hasn't taken off (yet - although with rising fuel prices, this may change). People like their space, privacy, cars, and independence.

As for parking's scarcity and negative spillover effects - I hadn't thought of that. Right on.