May 2013

It’s Official, I’m a Parking Groupie!

by Michele Reeves on May 9, 2013

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Yes, this is my autographed copy of the High Cost of Free Parking!

I had the pleasure of serving on a panel with one of my professional crushes, Donald Shoup, at Railvolution in LA late last year. Oh yes, it gets better. He actually sat next to me, too! I brought my book to the conference in the hopes that I would overcome my fear of being overwhelmingly dorky, and would work up the nerve to ask him to sign it. Which I did, and he so graciously assented.

Of course, as I handed it to him, a fierce internal debate was raging: should I explain why my copy looked so pristine and unread!?! You see, I pored over, and took copious notes from a library copy, and loved it so much, was impelled to buy my own. The book I handed over to the good doctor was so clearly recently purchased, I was very concerned that it didn’t look as worn as I thought it should for such a loved tome! Thankfully, I resisted the urge to blurt all this out in one long, run-on sentence.

What I did manage to say to Dr. Shoup, and it is absolutely true, is that this is one of the most well written books I have ever read. It was such a treat to be able to tell an author directly how much I appreciated his writing style, and the care he took to make it amazingly entertaining as well as amazingly informative!

The book is well known in the planning world, but I think many treat it like Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence — something that everyone wants to have read, but they are daunted by the size!

Well don’t be…daunted by its size, that is. The whole read is charming (I know, that sounds like a strange description for a 734 page book about parking), his chosen metaphors offer wonderful insights into the parking ecosystem, and the research is meticulous. It’s one of those volumes that, as you read it, you constantly quote it to hapless bystanders. Which, sad to say, was totally me during the entire duration of my first pass through this parking opus, snagging anyone nearby and asking,

“Hey, did you know…”

“…In 2002, the total subsidy for off-street parking was somewhere between $127 billion and $374 billion a year. If we also count the subsidy for free and underpriced curb parking, the total subsidy for parking would be far higher. In the same year, the federal government only spent $231 billion for Medicare and $349 billion for national defense.”

“…Every day, cruisers [looking for parking] within [the] 15-block [Westwood Village neighborhood] drove farther than the distance across the US. Over a year, their cruising creating 945,000 excess vehicle miles traveled — equivalent to 38 trips around the earth or two round trips to the moon.”

“…For a downtown concert hall, Los Angeles requires, as the minimum, 50 times more parking spaces than San Francisco allows at a maximum. These different priorities help explain the very different parking arrangements for Louise Davies Hall (home of the San Francisco Symphony) and Disney Hall (home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic). San Francisco built Louise Davies Hall with no parking garage, while Los Angeles completed Disney Hall’s 2,188-space $110 million parking garage three years before it had raised the $274 million needed to start building the 2,265-seat Disney Hall itself.”


…With the installation of the first parking meters in Oklahoma City, “cars pulled into metered spaces and moved out when their owners had finished their business, while in the unmetered zones, the old congestion remained. Magee’s idea of a coin-operated meter for the regulation of parking on city streets was proving itself, although at the time of installation most everyone had been skeptical of what the meters would accomplish. Within a few days other businesses were asking for meters on their streets, and within several months far more than the original 150 units had been installed.” (From Oklahoma Historian LeRoy Fischer)

Somehow, Dr. Shoup has managed to compose a book that is equally powerful to the geekiest of transportation engineers, and to the most enthusiastic of community volunteers.

I am going to leave you with a final passage…which are the opening few sentences to the book:

“Children first learn about free parking when they play Monopoly. The chance of landing on free parking is low, about the same as the chance of going to jail. Monopoly misleads its players on this score, however, because parking is free for 99 percent of all automobile trips in the US.”

Vintage Shoup! Now go out and get a copy and read it. Seriously.