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No Such Thing as Free Parking?

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There’s no question that Americans are utterly dependent upon cars. With 771 cars for every 1,000 people, gasoline consumption accounts for half of our country’s oil demand. We make 87 percent of all our trips by automobile, and less than two percent by public transit. Every year, we drive longer and longer distances, and waste millions of hours sitting in traffic congestion.

But if you ever get to your destination in America, you can be assured there will be plenty of parking. And ninety-nine percent of the time, it will be free. That’s a good thing, because every one of our cars spends about ninety-five percent of its life sitting in a parking space.

Imagine if you paid cold, hard cash for the full cost of every minute your car takes up space while you’re at work, out shopping, and on a neighborhood street. Sure, it makes sense to pay for the electricity, gas, and food we consume, but paying to use the land we consume for parking? Whoa!

Surprise, says transportation expert Donald Shoup, you already do. And so does everyone else in America, whether or not they even own a car.

illustration of a parking meterIn The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup (who teaches planning at UCLA) shows how the costs of “free” parking secretly work their way into every single dollar we circulate, from employee payrolls, to grocery bills, and even to mortgage payments. In his 750-page, meticulously researched book, Shoup argues that our unspoken national pact to provide plentiful free parking in every city is playing a key role in:

  • the rapid spread of low-density, single-use development;
  • the slow death of public transit;
  • the growing lack of affordable housing; and
  • the decline of many central business districts.

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