The usually thoughtful Kevin Drum wandered into a debate he's not ready for, arguing with Matthew Yglesias over parking regulations. Yglesias is a resident of Washington, D.C., who, like me, generally believes government intervention has the burden of proof but willingly admits it has its place. Kevin Drum is a a liberal California suburbanite and an engineer at heart. But the biggest difference is that Yglesias has read Donald Shoup and Drum hasn't. Drum's argument lacks a scientific foundation.
Requirements in cities and suburbs vary, but here in the burbs the general idea behind parking regulations is to make businesses pay for their own externalities instead of fobbing them off on other people...
Now, if your goal is simply to reduce the amount of parking so that it's a pain in the ass and people will drive less, that's fine. It's a pretty roundabout way of doing it, but whatever. But if your goal is to match parking spaces to cars, then it's simply not true that property owners are the best judges of how much parking is needed. Like profit maximizers anywhere, they'll do their best to provide as little parking as possible and instead try to free ride on the parking that other people have already created and paid for.
If I live in the suburbs and "own" the parking space in front of my house, do I have to park a car there or can I use this resource for something I really want? Can I build a shed there, for instance? Could I transfer this resource to someone else, say the business on the corner, in exchange for something I want? Why does the city insist that I can only use this for cars, my cars, when I have a perfectly good driveway? Is that the largest possible benefit of this resource? Is it the best possible use of that space from the point of view of either the city or myself?
There are two kinds of people in this world*-- those who've read Donald Shoup's writings and come away convinced that parking should pay for itself and those who haven't read Shoup. Seriously, I'm still waiting to find a coherent argument against Shoup's thinking by someone who's read him. American communities have devoted huge resources to parking without a thorough cost benefits analysis. Shoup breaks new ground by examining the issue in both a theoretical and scientific manner.
I really hate to be rude about this, but we Shoupistas basically think the other side is just uninformed (or greedily defending a middle-class entitlement that promotes the destruction of the planet). To us, the un-read are like global warming deniers. So, please read Shoup. If you do and can come up with thoughtful critiques, I'll honestly be happier than I am now. I don't enjoy calling the other side in an argument "uninformed", but what else fits?
If Drum had read The High Cost of Free Parking's chapter concerning how most cities arrive at their minimum parking space regulations, he wouldn't have argued what he did above. If you're going to defend civil engineers' regulations, you should be ready to explain how they arrived at their numbers. When they set the miniumum number of spaces mandated for a barber shop, do the parking estimators actually go visit a reasonable sample size of local barbershops in various neighborhoods and count the free parking spots typically used? No, according to Shoup (.pdf), they usually consult the book Parking Generation by the Instutute of Transportation Engineers. The book does not suggest parking minimums, by the way; it simply contains data. But here's Shoup on what it measures:
Because parking is free for 99 percent of all automobile trips in the United States, parking must be free at most of the ITE survey sites. Parking generation rates therefore typically measure the peak demand for parking observed in a few surveys conducted at suburban sites that offer ample free parking and lack public transit.
And even if the data were localized and representative, political machinations come into play. These regulations are made operable by politicians and until recently officials were likely to hear only one type of complaint. A home owner or an existing business complained about customers of a newer and/or successful business parking in a space that the folks with seniority considered their own, even though all curbside parking spaces are owned by the city, available first-come, first-serve to all. (And when the government gives away valuable resources free of charge, first-come, first serve, what happens to that resource?)
Until recently, few stood up and complained that this middle-class entitlement of municipally-provided parking spaces had a downside beyond the revenue costs (which can be enormous and inhibiting for development). Because of parking regulations, our neighborhoods are less densely-populated and contain fewer amenities we can walk to. That's an expensive externality in my opinion, although it's probably dwarfed by the externalities associated with America's dependence on gasoline-powered automobiles-- foreign trade deficits, Middle East wars to protect our supply of oil and all that environmental harm.
So, read Shoup. Once you have, I predict you'll agree that Shoup's description of a world with market-priced parking is the right goal. And then you can help us with the heavy-lifting-- transitioning from this imperfect world to Shoup's utopia, pulling the appropriate political levers without coming off like the cultists we are.
(*There are two kinds of people in this world-- those who divide people into two groups and those who don't.)