This Month at My Real Job: Parking

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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18 Responses

  1. anon says:

    Great essay. And indeed an issue upon which “environmentalists, conservative localists, and libertarian free-marketers” can agree. It will be interesting (okay, likely hilarious) to see O’Toole’s response.

    Jason, I know you can’t admit it, but O’Toole must be a real embarrassment to yourself and the many other honest, not-bought-and-for, writers who work at CATO.Report

  2. Pat Cahalan says:

    I highly recommend “The High Cost of Free Parking”, myself.Report

  3. ThatPirateGuy says:

    Somewhere Matthew Ygliaus is smiling as his ears burn.Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    My town, ever the province of gladhanders and wishful thinkers, won the rights to a gambling boat. It produces a buttload of tax revenue. The casino got a huge parking deck across from the boat and surrounding parking.

    Grove Street, once the hub of commerce, had experimented with the open air mall, as had State Street in Chicago, removing the cars. The businesses all died. The calipers of progress spanned over west to Randall Road, which became a vast congooberation of strip mall paradises off I-90.

    Meanwhile, back on Grove Street, much talk of restocking the dead aquarium of the car-free mall was bandied about. When the cars returned, the downtown parking deck proved inadequate to the task at hand, designed as it was for the foot traffic which never came to the open air mall.

    A rooty-poot collection of hideous condominiums, (squatting over their own parking spaces) sprang up on the only remaining parking spaces which might have served the patrons of the hopeful chi-chi restaurants which opened along Grove. These resemble nothing so much as a long term storage lot with a few rooms erected over every garage door. In the process, they killed the town’s microbrewery, the largest restaurant in town, a beautifully recycled movie theater from the 1920s. My daughters’ wedding receptions were held there. I’d been brought in as a consultant when the place was in trouble, years before, and I’d helped them make many improvements. I urged them to think through their parking problem back then. I even got the city to approve an entrance from the parking garage next door. They didn’t take that part of my advice. Well, they’re gone now.

    I cannot think of a single business which survived all these ignorant transformations. There’s always a few hopeful souls who think they’ll make a difference. I was one. Now I don’t care. All those city council meetings and planning commissions I attended, all those graphs and traffic data spreadsheets, it didn’t make much difference in the long haul. Without a vision, the people perish but their businesses fail first, like so many dead fish in an aquarium.

    When I lived in Old Town, a car was an impediment. The city now has paid parking under the old parking lots in Lincoln Park and most people don’t own one. But downtown Chicago has working public transportation.

    The suburbs were designed around the car, especially in places where it’s cold for four months a year. We will come to terms with the car, no matter what form it takes in the future. The parking meter is not always the answer: look at Los Angeles along Vermont to see where that goes. At some point, the merchant will move out to where his customers live. Cities must first support their residents and the businesses they frequent. Putting the business first is madness: businesses come and go. They seldom own their properties, they lease.Report

    • Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

      > We will come to terms with the car, no matter what
      > form it takes in the future.

      I’m not so sure that’s true. Its power is largely an artifact of the environment we created to accommodate it.

      > The parking meter is not always the answer: look at
      > Los Angeles along Vermont to see where that goes.

      Yeah, this I’ll agree with, for sure. It depends on what problem you’re actually trying to solve.Report

      • lukas in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        I’m not so sure that’s true. Its power is largely an artifact of the environment we created to accommodate it.

        Some manifestation of The Car has some power all over the world, in wildly varying environments.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to lukas says:

          Well, if you give the Car enough leeway in that definition, maybe it does have power, but not everywhere. Some cities manage quite well without making much accommodation for them, Prague is one such city. London is pricing cars out of its demesne but the M25 is a nightmare.

          Where urban planners have not cracked down on the car, as in Beijing, it’s just horrid. Tokyo thinks it can manage its way out of the problem, but I think they’ll eventually start cracking down. Thing is, the Car has power, not only for mere transportation but as a status symbol. The commuter hates his commute but loves his Car: it’s a paradox we haven’t quite overcome yet.

          As Pat points out, we’ve become prisoners of the environment we created for this Car. Elsewhere I’ve said I work with refugees, this is a huge obstacle, most of them have never driven a car. They feel horrible in these suburbs, they walk to the main road and find nobody walking there, for there are no sidewalks. It’s a huge impediment for the poor: no car, no job.

          There are a few signs of hope out there. Work at home schemes seem to be catching on with the advent of fatter data pipes. I was driving through a little town in Arizona, stopped at a gas station / grocery store and struck up a conversation with the owner. As is the case in most of these little towns, he was also involved in town government. I told him there was plenty of money available to get a fat fiber pipe put into his little burg. It would bring in cable television and data, and the first industry he should think about was a call center located close to the phone switch he’d also need to put in to put everyone over VOIP. I stayed in touch with him, he parlayed that suggestion into a very nice operation. It’s also led to a minor influx of techies who like the foothills west of Mesa: it’s cooler up there. It’s possible to turn a dying little mining town into a schweet little burg worth living in, but it takes a little vision and a few phone calls and filling in the grant paperwork to get there.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

            … east of Mesa.Report

          • lukas in reply to BlaiseP says:

            How is having efficient public transport incompatible with the Car? The huge parking lots surrounding many of Prague’s more suburban metro stations are a nod to the staying power of the Car.

            You can fight the Car, you can create substitutes, but you cannot make it go away entirely without radical changes in the way people live their lives (and the way our economy functions).

            I think many commuters may not hate their commute as much as they say they do: for many, it’s the only time in a working day that they have for themselves. It certainly is not a complete waste of time, especially as we have made our cars more accommodating to commuters’ needs.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to lukas says:

              You’ve made my point rather better than I have. It’s a matter of common sense, mostly. As Jason points out via Shoup, Parking requirements create winners and losers: people win in their role as drivers, and they lose in their many other roles.

              Prague’s system is a model of how such things might be done in cities created in the world of horse and carriage, before the Car. Cities and suburbs which arose after the advent of the Car must arrive at different solutions. The worst possible outcome is a city such as Houston with ever-widening highways and parallel access roads: it’s by far the least-livable city I’ve ever seen in the USA, though Los Angeles comes close and Lagos Nigeria is the worst instance in the entire world.

              St Louis, Missouri has done quite well with its Metrolink system. I never drove to the airport. I never drove to work. It was well-planned and so convenient I could barely keep the battery charged in my car.Report

              • lukas in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Not convenient enough to make you get rid of your car altogether, though.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to lukas says:

                I didn’t have a car in Chicago for several years. Didn’t need one. My wife kept racking up parking tickets so I sold it. We never missed it.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to lukas says:

                The point from a free market standpoint is most emphatically not that everyone should be induced to give up their car. It’s that all related externalities will be priced into the ownership and use of the car. If it’s still worthwhile to you, then drive that extra mile. But not a single mile more!

                I take a great private pleasure, for example, in the fact that I published this issue while telecommuting. Nearly all of my job can be done just as well at home, because I really just require (a) an Internet connection (b) a library and (c) possibly a phone line, though this could easily be replaced by (a).

                My work needs a car less and less with every passing day. Indeed, since I left school I haven’t even owned one. Not worth it to me, even under our current, parking-subsidized, car-friendly public policies.Report

              • Sam MacDonald in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                It would be helpful, I think, if advocates on one side or the other of this dispute were a little more consistent. Car people continually rail about taxes for transit while advocating for more free roads. Transit people continually rail against free parking while advocating for more subways. Both claim to be advocating for the REAL market-based, externality-busting system.

                Are there many folks out there who simultaneously rallying agians free parking, free busing, free light rail, government-built airports, etc?

                I am not even sure if that could work. I hope it could. But I dunno.

                In the meantime, it seems like the real argument is based on socialism for me, but not for thee you greedy rent seekers!Report

              • lukas in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I completely agree, but I think it’s a fantasy to think that cars will go away (or be significantly less dominant) once we price in all the externalities.

                In most of Europe, for example, car transport is taxed so heavily that all externalities have likely been priced in. Congestion is still a major problem facing European metropolises.Report

  5. Matty says:

    Is mandated free parking common over there?

    I’ve lived in a few different parts of the UK and while you can park at the roadside without paying in most rural or suburban areas I’m not aware of any regulations requiring it. In the cities streets seem to be almost always metered or have strict restrictions like residents only or no more than 30 minutes.

    To think all this time I’ve been complaining about high parking charges and they were actually doing me some good.Report