Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Perils of Parking

Lately, I've become increasingly interested in urban planning -- another missed opportunity for me, it seems -- so maybe none of this is as interesting to you as it is me. But, surely you've been stuck in downtown traffic and have fumed, 'Where the hell are all these people going!?! MOVE!!' If so, check out this astonishingly interesting Op-Ed in today's New York Times about the relationship between traffic congestion in cities and the search for a cheap curbside parking space. (As for me, I'm always content to take the first parking spot I find -- no matter if it results in a half-mile walk. It's not that I'm a responsible person, it's just that I'm not the model of patience.)

[A] surprising amount of traffic isn’t caused by people who are on their way somewhere. Rather, it is caused by those who have already arrived. Streets are clogged, in part, by drivers searching for a place to park.

[. . .]

When my students and I studied cruising for parking in a 15-block business district in Los Angeles, we found the average cruising time was 3.3 minutes, and the average cruising distance half a mile (about 2.5 times around the block). This may not sound like much, but with 470 parking meters in the district, and a turnover rate for curb parking of 17 cars per space per day, 8,000 cars park at the curb each weekday. Even a small amount of cruising time for each car adds up to a lot of traffic.

Over the course of a year, the search for curb parking in this 15-block district created about 950,000 excess vehicle miles of travel — equivalent to 38 trips around the earth, or four trips to the moon. And here’s another inconvenient truth about underpriced curb parking: cruising those 950,000 miles wastes 47,000 gallons of gas and produces 730 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. If all this happens in one small business district, imagine the cumulative effect of all cruising in the United States.

The writer's solution may seem unpalatable to some: increase the cost of curbside parking. But, all in all, I think his thinking is spot-on. We've accommodated the all-consuming culture of the car for far too long. This is but a token gesture in the right direction.