Did You Know?

About one-third of all work trips in Chicago are comprised of people biking, walking, or riding public transit.

The Revenue is Under our Cars, people.

Parking prices are getting jacked up tomorrow. And, if the summer’s gas prices were any indication, we can expect that once people feel the pinch in their wallets, they will explore other modes of transportation.

The Revenue is under our Cars: Part 1

By Arline Welty

Parking prices are getting jacked up tomorrow.

And, if the summer’s gas prices were any indication, we can expect that once people feel the pinch in their wallets, they will explore other modes of transportation. Americans drove far less this summer – about $100 billion fewer miles from November 2007 to November 2008 according to AAA. And, not coincidentally, the number of traffic fatalities sharply fell by about 10 percent in 2008.

And while there has been some criticism of the city’s decision to lease its parking meters for 75 years to a private company, it starts an important discussion on the true cost of parking.

Our vision for the region is one with 50 percent fewer crashes and where half of all trips are made by walking, biking and transit. With the support of our members, we are a powerhouse when it comes to enabling communities to experiment with walking, biking and transit. But if we want to see total success, we must also build support around policy that reduces driving accessibility.

There is no such thing as a free lunch and there is no such thing as free parking.

Free parking encourages more driving, which results in congestion and more crashes, according to Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor at University of California Los Angeles and the author of
The High Cost of Free Parking.

In fact, the cost of parking – from the space value to the resulting cost of crashes – is unfairly absorbed by those who lack the available income to drive or choose not to drive. Shoup suggests that charging fair-market prices for parking would reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled, and would increase carpool trips, off-peak travel, and trips by bicycling, walking and transit.

Most planners and politicians follow one golden rule – four car parking spaces per 1,000 feet. As a result, there is abundant under-priced parking. In Chicagoland, that translates into 78 percent of Chicagoland commuters driving to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Ninety-five percent of them then park for free.

The reason so many people drive to work and park for free is that is that it is enormously subsidized, even though parking spaces cost $10,000-$30,000 each to build. These spaces, when provided for free, are bundled into higher rents for the businesses, which raise prices on goods.

If drivers were charged a price closer to the parking spots’ market price, they would drive less and explore other transportation options – a scenario not unlike what happened this summer.

And then we should direct that revenue toward improving public services and amenities. Instead of the parking meter revenue going to the government’s general operating funds, increased revenues would go to expanding transportation options – repairing sidewalks, improving transit service, and installing more bike lanes.

One argument that routinely pops up against this kind of pricing is that it is unfair to underserved communities and people on fixed income. However, this raises the broader issue of access to affordable transportation. In the second half of this story in the next issue of ModeShift, we will discuss the barriers to equitable transportation and how we can all work to overcome them.

Calls to LAZ Parking, who is operating the parking lease and to the City of Chicago were not returned. We would be eager to have a conversation with representatives to discuss the new parking

It is important to note that the recent parking meter price increase may not be based on the market value of those spaces.

It is also important to note that there is no guarantee that the transaction’s $1.2 billion will be directed toward expanding transportation options for all Chicago residents.

Traffic is getting worse and the number of crashes are directly linked to vehicle miles traveled. Our air is getting dirtier. Oil is running out; and cities need money. This is the time to evaluate the remaining non-leased parking with regard to sustainable, revenue-generating uses that encourage bicycling, walking and transit and reduce crashes. As Shoup puts it, the revenue is under our cars.