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Parking in L.A.: Too Cheap and Easy?

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I was recently annoyed to find another block of Hollywood's nightlife area (at Cahuenga between Sunset and Hollywood) barred from nighttime parking entirely, part of a long-continuing tightening of legal or affordable parking in that area that depends on a flow of humans for its economic health. But UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup argues raising the cost of parking is good for cities.

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The L.A. Times profiles the professor and his growing impact on civic thinking about parking.

When street parking is free or inexpensive -- as in many cities -- demand exceeds supply, and people spend time and fuel cruising for scarce spaces. Cheap street parking thus increases congestion by encouraging people to drive rather than walk, pedal or take public transit....

Shoup's 2005 book, "The High Cost of Free Parking," for many the de facto bible on the subject, posits a simple-sounding solution: Charge fair-market prices for curb parking. Use the meter revenue to pay for services and enhancements in the neighborhoods that generate it. Eliminate off-street parking requirements.

Cities are starting to listen. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Redwood City, Glendale, Ventura, Portland, Ore., and the District of Columbia are among those implementing or contemplating changes to hew more closely to Shoup's vision. In an informal poll last year on Planetizen, a planning-related website, Shoup placed 15th on a list of the Top 100 Urban Thinkers....

Shoup knows his conclusions rub against our first-thought desires as city dwellers. He knows the darkness that lies within those of us seeking easy, cheap parking:

Shoup depends on his bicycle for much of his mobility. He freely confesses, however, that when behind the wheel of his silver 1994 Infiniti J30, he often circles the block looking for a free parking space. "I don't like paying for parking," he says with a shrug. "But free parking is ultimately not beneficial."

Shoup thinks the L.A. area provides some experimental evidence for his theories:

In Shoup's view, Old Pasadena and Westwood Village illustrate the effects of different parking policies. In 1993, Old Pasadena installed $1-an-hour meters and began using the revenue to spruce things up. Many area employees who had parked on the street and moved their vehicles every two hours began to pay for parking in city structures, so that curb spaces were freed for customers. The shift helped transform the area from a blighted eyesore into a vibrant destination with shops and restaurants. Shoup doesn't take credit for Old Pasadena's change, but he often uses the area as Exhibit A in his talks.

That same year, Shoup said, merchants in Westwood petitioned the city to cut meter rates from $1 an hour to 50 cents. Curb parking was underpriced and overcrowded, and the meter money flowed into the city's general fund rather than back to the area. Today, Westwood Village residents and merchants bemoan the cracked, trash-strewn sidewalks, neglected landscaping and numerous vacancies.

At Streetsblog, Shoup defends his theories at length from attacks from free-market anti-urban planner Randall O'Toole.

The Huffington Post on some of the commuter confusion caused by recent changes in hours of enforcement and prices in the L.A. street parking scene.

Image taken by Flickr user compujeramey. Used under user Creative Commons license.

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