Thursday, April 8, 2010

No such thing as free parking

One of the hot button issues in Langley is parking. People seem to think that we don’t have enough and that we should be giving people all day on-street parking. This is completely wrong. On-street parking should be around 30min to an hour depending on traffic volume, and should be metered. Now for some history:
The world's first installed parking meter was in Oklahoma City, on July 16, 1935. Mr. Magee had been appointed to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce traffic committee, and was assigned the task of solving the parking problems in downtown Oklahoma City. Apparently, folks who worked in the area were parking on downtown streets, staying all day, and leaving few spaces for shoppers and others who visited the central business district.

Magee's solution was to install parking meters, charge for the use of the parking spaces, and turn over those spaces that would otherwise have been filled by all day parkers. In addition, the parking meters would generate revenue for a growing city.

It must have worked, as the idea of metered parking eventually caught on worldwide. From that early beginning, the use of parking meters by municipalities, colleges and universities, and private parking facilities has increased to the point that today, in the United States alone, there are an estimated five million parking meters in use.
Doesn’t this sound like Langley? On-street parking should be for customer, not employees. In fact, we have too much parking in general:
There's just one problem: parking isn't free. In fact, according to Shoup, "the cost of all parking spaces in the U.S. exceeds the value of all cars and may even exceed the value of all roads." Parking costs billions of dollars a year.

Shoup is an economist, and it shows in the perspective he brings to bear. "[E]conomists do not define the demand for food as the peak quantity of food consumed at free buffets." Nevertheless, planners define the demand for parking as the peak quantity of spaces used when parking is free.

Developers simply pass the cost of "free" parking to property owners, who pass it to tenants, who pass it to all customers in the form of higher prices. "Off-street parking requirements encourage everyone to drive wherever they go because they know they can usually park free when they get there."
In the small town of Vernon, we had parking meters since the dawn of time. Even before places like Kelowna. Vernon’s downtown was also more dynamic than Kelowna’s. Besides metering on-street parking, Vernon did something that we should be doing in Langley. They built a mixed-use paid parkade (shops on the bottom, parking on the top) for longer-term parking. Paid parking is good for business as it promotes turn-over of parking and lowers the cost of doing business. Paid parking is good for the environment as it promotes more efficient trip planning, transit usages, and requires less land.

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