I’ve long adapted Proudhon’s formula – “property is theft” – to parking, namely, by saying that non-free parking is theft. Of course, this is just a joke on my part, though I do tend to patronize businesses that have free parking. Now comes someone writing in the latest Economist about how “free” parking isn’t really free, that it is paid for in various ways that we can’t see, that it is bad for the environment and the poor, etc., but mostly that it makes downtown areas unsightly.
The author believes that city streets should be for driving and walking and not parking. This is a strange and rather elitist view. People who park on the street do so because they don’t have other places to park (like a garage, whether private or public), so this view punishes the relatively poor for not being able to afford off-street parking.
Let me discuss some of the silly remarks in this article:
• “Washington, DC, had a parking garage in 1907, before Ford produced its first Model T.” The author finds this appalling, but it was probably converted from a place to store carriages, or else a barn. Presumably, horse-drawn vehicles were parked on the street before cars came along (and in fact there are some remnants in our town of places to tie up the horses), so it’s not as though cars are the beginning of this problem. Plus, horses took up as much space by themselves as cars do today, so in a way, things have improved.
• “Water companies are not obliged to supply all the water that people would use if it were free....” True enough, but lots of public places (here in American, anyway) provide water for free at drinking fountains. Plus, the existence of parking meters shows that cities do charge for parking.
• “The harm caused begins with the obvious fact that parking takes up a lot of room.” What harm? The main harm mentioned is aesthetic, but of course even a parking lot can be made more pleasant by planting some trees around its edges or even within it.
• “In 1990, 73% of Americans got to work by driving alone.... In 2014, after a much ballyhooed urban revival and many expensive tram and rapid-bus projects, 76% drove.” Stop digging! Heh.
• “Free parking is not, of course, really free.” The author claims that the costs of providing free parking by restaurants, for example, will drive up the cost of meals. This is silly. For those restaurants in a dense downtown area, land is scarce and therefore expensive, so parking is not likely to be free. In the suburbs where land is cheaper, restaurants can easily provide free parking. Not much is affected, I would think. For someone who doesn’t care that parking will be more expensive for the poor when cars are banned from parking on the streets, this is a specious argument.
• “Whether in America or Asia, oceans of free parking might delay a transport revolution.” The author is thinking of driverless cars that will not be owned by the people who use them. One could commute to work and not have to park the car anywhere because it will then take someone else to work or to school, etc. During slack times, the cars could be parked out of sight in some suburban “industrial estate.” Accordingly, any given car will be used more often instead of just sitting around in a parking spot, plus our cities will be more beautiful.
Dream on. As the existence of rush hour shows, lots of people want to get to work or home from work at about the same time. There will need to be just as many cars as we now have, and most of them will be idle most of the time. Plus, consider one of these mostly-idle cars. Say that it takes someone into the city center to work, and it then heads out to the suburbs to park, but then it must head back into the city center to pick people up from work and bring them home. This is a lot of unnecessary driving just for the sake of beauty. Plus, some people will get tired of not having a car ready and waiting for them when they want it, so they will simply own one (and thus have to park it somewhere in the city center). Or worse, people will buy motorcycles that they will be able to park anywhere for free because they take up so much less space. (The author complains that in Amsterdam, the residents think they can leave their bikes anywhere for free.) Let me also point out how many people – taxi drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers, etc. – will be forced into unemployment by this “revolution.”
• “Much of the area now allocated to cars in city centres could be turned into homes, offices, or parks.” I’m betting not much of that area will be turned into parks because they don’t bring in any revenue for the city. Anyway, some of that area is now inconveniently located because it’s on the street. That is, if we ban parking on the street, the area that gets freed up is area on the street next to the curb. What can one do with that except add another lane for traffic?
• “Much of inner London, for example, is covered with residents’ parking zones.... Kensington and Chelsea charges between £80 ($100) and £219 a year for the right to park anywhere in the borough....” That is cheap. When we rented an apartment in York, England, a few summers ago, the parking permit that came with the place and which allowed us to park in a public lot in back of the building cost at least £1,000. The landlady was concerned, for obvious reasons, that we not lose it. Incidentally, that lot had several spaces allocated for electric cars; the landlady said they were never used. What a waste.
Enough. It’s getting late. The author sees Tokyo as a dream city because there is so little public parking in the dense areas of the city, but from pictures, it doesn’t look particularly pleasant to me. It just looks ridiculously crowded.