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Once again, our esteemed leaders and the auto industry are trying to take us down the wrong path. Corn ethanol is a bad solution to our addiction to oil.

Take a look at Co-op America's page on the subject. Sign the petition to GM and Ford, and tell your local dealers to urge the company to do the right thing: make plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Also tell your congressional lawmakers to require more fuel-efficiency in future cars. Not in ten years.  Now.

Of course, a change to more fuel-efficient vehicles only goes partway to solving our climate and congestion issues. We spend an incredible amount of money on our roads and parking lots and the real solution is to get people out of their cars and reclaim some of that lost land. We shouldn't assume that vehicle use will just keep climbing.We need to take active steps to reverse that trend. One way to do this is to start charging for parking! Check out this neat little powerpoint presentation by Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking. If the powerpoint file interests you you might want to get the book. It's amazingly readable and often funny, especially considering that it is entirely about parking.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
madame_ugly
Jul. 31st, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)
Fascinating.

I was aware that ethanol was not the answer (despite what Willie Nelson would have you to believe--don't mislead us, Red Headed Stranger!) but the parking space thing is new to me.

My only question (after looking at the slide show, but not studying it at length) is how much it relies on an area having strong/well developed modes of public transit. I'm thinking about the area I live in, where the port authority is having a hell of time finding funding for buses. Jacking up the price of on-street parking is fine (and is happening around here--not for the good of the environment but to line the pockets of the city government--who's pockets are full of moths) but if there's poor public transportation choices then people are still going to drive (and pay more) to get where they want to go in a timely fashion.

Around here there's also the beef with the suburbanites who communte into the city. The roads connecting the two places are funded by the city, not the burbs. But just try to tell the burb-ites they'll be taxed more and hear the gnashing of teeth.
judith
Jul. 31st, 2007 05:07 pm (UTC)
I am so glad you asked!

When I was working for the city of Pismo Beach I borrowed the book (it's quite expensive and I haven't yet bought my own copy) and read it ravenously. The solutions are ingenious and often not expensive at all. One, for example, is to change the parking requirement in zoning to a maximum rather than a minimum. A really quick fix that could make an amazing difference. I should know. I was a parking nazi for years in my role as city planner.

I live in an area much like yours which is much like much of this country. Here are a couple of possibilities:

* When parking is not free people think twice about taking the car on quick trips. They are more likely to combine trips, be more economical with their time and money. So even in an area that does not have great mass transit this works.
* Parking should cost money in commercial centers as well. Interestingly, when parking is free and abundant in a shopping center, people tend to make several trips as compared to when they have to pay for parking - the total income to the businesses is the same, but the congestion is much worse with the free parking. So the business can do better by charging for parking - especially when the other businesses do also.
* Real estate costs do not factor in the cost of commuting when determining credit-worthiness. They should. The cost of the vehicle and maintenance and fuel can be significant. That's one way to even out the suburban commuter advantage.
* There are interesting ways that employers can help employees choose to leave the car at home. One way is to make them pay for the parking space. That is, if the employee does not bring a car, they get the money. A huge incentive, because parking spaces are incredibly expensive to create and maintain.

The book offers so many options that there is a solution for just about any question. Many of them require the will of the city government, which is a problem - but if more citizens are aware of the benefits they can press for changes. This is one reason I am so hyped on getting rid of free parking. I honestly believe that if many of the solutions were implemented there would be practically a revolution in how our cities work, and it would be so much for the better.

The book won many awards and got a lot of press in the planning world. Also got attention from publications like the SF Chronicle. But not enough other newspapers and mags reviewed it. I tried, when working for Pismo Beach, to get approval to bring the author (who works for UCLA) up to speak to the council. I wrote to him and he said he was willing, just would need to get a good date when he was available. But I couldn't get past first base because the director there (PB) didn't really want to shake anyone up. I did, but was willing to take it carefully. All I wanted was to give Shoup a chance to talk to the council and let them as him questions. I think if they saw the slide show and asked the questions they might start to think about parking differently.

I wrote a ten-page synopsis of the book myself and sent it to several people in PB. NONE of them read it. I have been working on a shorter version, a more pithy article for a local newspaper, which I hope to get published. At least get the conversation started.
madame_ugly
Jul. 31st, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
Now I have to ask my wife what he knows about this. He's into topics like this (urban planning, environment, green-stuff). I bet he'll give me a look like "where have YOU been?".

I was interested in the book but when I saw the price I balked. But if the wife is interested as well, then it's more than worth the price. Or *lightbulb goes off over head* maybe the library. . .hmmm, I see what I'l be doing while eating my mashed potatos.
judith
Jul. 31st, 2007 06:16 pm (UTC)
Interestingly, a lot of planners are not on board yet. For years, as i said, I was a parking nazi. It is difficult to let go of a way of thinking that you've held for a long time, that seems basic and inviolable. So when I hyped this book among my fellow planners, who are a decent and intelligent bunch, they nodded but didn't really get it. They thought I was saying something that I wasn't.

I remember many years ago, when I was a lowly planning intern. I reviewed a business license for a tiny business that was sharing space in an office with another use. The parking tables said that another parking space would be required for this use. I agonized over it because I felt that on the ground it wouldn't matter. I brought the question to my supervisor. He was truly by-the-book in this case (although amazingly inventive and creative in other areas). He said they had to find the space, one way or another. We offered some options - use a space less than 300 feet from the business that is not required for another business - with an agreement, of course. But none of our options worked.

I think that I had to say no, you can't go in. I think at that time I was afraid to use my own creativity. Since that time I did become more creative and found ways to get around things like this, but in general I was adamant:

If a use requires X parking spaces the business owner must provide them.

I didnt even question the basic requirement - that we feed people's love affair with the automobile by offering free parking everywhere. I did not think of parking as a luxury but a necessity.And when businesses dared to charge for parking I was incensed! That meant people would likely go out in the neighborhood and park for free on the street, thereby taking spaces that should be freely available for the general public.

The flaws in my thinking are obvious to me now but still take some thinking by most people. The whole concept of free on-street parking, for example, needs to be revisited. Why are we taxpayers paying all that money for all that space to be used by people who are too cheap to pay for their own parking spaces? They will pay tons for their vehicles and gas but not a drop for parking. What the hell???

Another solution that I really like: neighborhood parking zones. In these zones the neighborhood holds the keys. You need a permit to park on that street. Temporary permits can be obtained - could be from a machine on a corner, for example. If a vehicle is parked without a permit the neighborhood nazis can turn it in. Most of the money for such a zone would go to the neighborhood that supports it -for new sidewalks, for instance, or landscaping, things that make the place nice. So there is an incentive for the neighborhood to embrace the zone. I think this option would be especially good near universities (I live in a university town).

There are meters that can be programmed to change the cost to park there on an hourly basis. So in times of high-use parking would be expensive but on other times it could even be free. Depends on the goal. And there are meters that take credit and debit cards (I keep waiting to see those in my town!). I am not sure how they determine when you are done but I'm sure it isn't that hard.

Anyway, what a great book. I don't know if most libraries have it but you can request it. It has held its value. I keep waiting for the price to drop or for it to come out in paperback but no.
madame_ugly
Jul. 31st, 2007 06:22 pm (UTC)
There are a lot of neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that have permit only parking (including the neighborhood I used to live in). I'm lucky my house has a garage!

I agree, it's rediculous that people will spend, spend, spend for a car (and fuel) but when faced with $12 a day parking they get crazed. I noticed a car sharing program is starting to take root here. I really hope it succeeds.
judith
Jul. 31st, 2007 06:38 pm (UTC)
There are neighborhood parking zones in this city, too, but the people who live there do not see any money from it. That's one of the main differences.

My daughter Elaine, who lives in Manhattan, uses Zip cars often when she and her husband need to buy furniture or make short trips around that don't lend themselves well to taxis. They love them. It saves them the cost of keeping and maintaining a car but they have one when they need it. I love that idea, too. I think it would be cool if our block, for example, had one we could take out when we needed. Obviously these work best in the high-density cities (a reason to love density) but I suspect they could work in more spread-out places as well. For example, the car could just be owned by a co-op.
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