New thinking on parking

Where we come to a stop affects how we get around.

Finding a parking spot can be one of the great drudgeries of urban life. But if circling the block is a mundane task it is one attracting a lot of original thinkers.

In cities across North America, parking has long been a contentious topic. Now it is becoming an interesting debate. One of the most influential thinkers is Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA. 

Toward the end of 2019, the Calgary Parking Authority brought Shoup to town. His talk offered some new policy directions for parking in North American cities. His suggested reforms are:

  • implement demand-based prices for curb parking at meters
  • use that money to improve neighbourhoods (not to general rev)
  • remove off-street parking requirements.

Shoup advocated these ideas in his 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking. In the intervening 15 years, parking meters have become an endangered species, but Shoup’s thinking remains fresh. It also remains inspirational; in 2018 he edited Parking and the City, a collection of work by 46 authors.

Shoup stresses that these reforms would have far-reaching effects, making cities more walkable. When revenue is dedicated to improving streetscapes in neighbourhoods that host the parking, people can see a direct benefit.  Removing parking requirements means housing becomes cheaper. It also lets developers and businesses decide how many parking spots to provide.

The supply and price of parking also affect how people choose to get around. Make it more expensive and more people will take transit or ride their bikes. This has an impact on congestion, air quality and urban design.

Of course, these proposals are also controversial. Opponents cite everything from freedom of choice to current difficulties finding parking. But parking reform has caught on in cities around the world. Amsterdam is removing more than 11,000 inner-city parking spots. Closer to home, Edmonton is working on removing mandatory minimums for on-site parking.

In Calgary, recent parking discussion has centred on changes to accommodate car-sharing services. But policies like the Downtown Parking Strategy are in line with some of Shoup’s thinking. 

It’s debatable whether Shoup has made parking “sexy,” as one article puts it. But it seems cities are pulling over and giving parking policy serious thought.

February 28th, 2020

Parking reform is becoming a hot-button issue around the world where advocates say current polices make cities more drivable and less walkable.