Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The High Cost of Free Parking

For one reason or another, as a junior at a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, surrounded by maple forests and brooks and family farms, I became interested in the topic of minimum off-street parking requirements in zoning bylaws. (Hey, at least it wasn't art history). As a result, I wound up reading every paper published by an obscure UCLA planning professor named Donald Shoup, who argued that such requirements -- restaurants must provide 1 space per 300 square feet and another for every employee, barbers must provide 2 spaces per barber, etc. -- were not only illogical, but a hidden subsidy that encouraged driving and drove up the cost of land.

(I thought I put together one hell of a convincing argument about an unnoticed trend in what was jokingly called "downtown" Williamstown, by the way, but I got a C+ on the project.)

Five years later, I am still a nerd, but Shoup is something of a celebrity in planning circles. He has published a book called "The High Cost of Free Parking," and today was the keynote speaker at a forum held by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Planners and council members from all over the Bay Area were there. Shoup tore them all a new one, saying their work in the field was "astrology" and "sorcery" falsely masquerading as expertise. Put simply, his argument is that demand for a free good is always infinite, so no such formula can ever be accurate.

More details on this topic at some other, less boring time. But man was I proud of myself.

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