Notes on Parking

There’s an empty lot on a major road near my house, and developers are proposing to put in first-floor retail and three floors of apartments. Total of 5 units of housing. City zoning requires 1 parking space for each unit of housing, so they will devote about 50% of this centrally-located real estate to the construction of a surface-level parking lot.

This is dumb. It’s so obviously dumb that even Slate and Buzzfeed agree about it.

But cities move slowly to change dumb rules, and neighbors really do not like it when people bring cars into their neighborhoods and compete with them for street parking.

So I had an idea: How do we get people to stop bringing more cars into the city, without angering current residents who are worried about being able to find an on-street parking space?

We could charge more for a first-time parking permit. Renewals would remain the same, but bringing a new car into the city would cost extra. In particular, it would dissuade students from bringing their cars from home when they come to the city for a year or four. Several people at a recent community development meeting complained that suburban students come to Cambridge, park their suburb-sized SUVs, and then never use them. This seems like an ideal place to nudge people with a small price increase. If it’s an extra $50 to bring the truck, they might not do it at all.

The beauty of this is that it unites two key stakeholders on the issue. The new urbanists are in favor because it reduces average car ownership and car usage. Current residents don’t care about that, but they would love to have it be easier to find parking. And they get that, because OTHER people don’t bring cars to the neighborhood.

Similarly, we could increase cost of getting a second street-parking permit for any given home. So your first car costs $50 a year, your second costs $100, and so on. Sure, roommates would have to figure out who gets Permit 1 and who gets Permit 2, but I imagine there’s some math that could make that work out.

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