We’ve all been there. We’re running late for a meeting, or an interview, and we’ve somehow navigated the frenzied, congested dystopia that is modern city driving, only to find … there’s no parking. We’ve put a man on the moon and split the atom and somehow managed to cram a zillion songs into our phones, but parking, still, is a mess.
So we drive and we drive and there’s still no parking, and now it’s five-minutes till that really important thing we need to do, but the light turned red, and that space ahead just opened up but the asshole in front of you just turned on his blinker, and BOOM. You just popped a blood vessel and probably lost that job. And that guy with the blinker and the cozy curbside space is probably just going to get a latte at Starbucks or something.
This is a scenario that Boston-resident Lisa Blumenthal voted to avoid, when she paid half a million dollars this week at auction for a pair of parking spaces. The cushy spaces, located behind Commonwealth Avenue, and just a few steps away from the high-end Newbury Shops, had been seized by the IRS from a man who owed $600,000 in back taxes; bidding began at $42,000, and had jumped up into the triple digits within seconds. Within minutes they had passed the half-million mark, nearly double the median price for a single-family Boston home.
“It was a little more heated than I thought it would have been,” said Blumenthal, who owns a $5.8 million single-family home on the street. She says she’ll use the spaces for herself, and for clients.
Approximately 95% of a car’s life is spent parked. And according to some experts, there are 6 to eight parking spaces in America, per car. Many of these take the form of sprawling asphalt wastelands scattered throughout Middle America, the lowest notch on the evolutionary chain of places to put your car. They are big, ugly, inefficient, and are usually dictated by outdated urban planning regulations that require an arbitrary x-number of parking spaces, per business, per city (one space per ten nuns, if you were building a nunnery).
Which still leaves many city drivers to wonder, as they’re red-faced and white-knuckled and late … where the f*** are the spaces??
As urban communities have developed in past years, with low-income inner-city housing blocks being bought up by luxury apartments and office complexes, bringing in more cars and more rage. INRIX, a Seattle-based provider of traffic and navigation services, ranks Boston the eighth most congested city in the country. The city’s bloated streets carry an estimated 4.7 million cars, or about 634 per 1000 residents.
This has led to an explosion in city car-sharing services in recent years, including ZipCar and Car2Go. Each has developed their own solutions to the great headache epidemic that is parking (ZipCar purchases designated spaces for their vehicles, while Car2Go covers the cost of meters for most of their drivers). Others have taken to services that let them rent out the use of their own vehicle, making a little extra cash of that 95% vehicular dead time.
David Shoup, a professor or urban planning at the UCLA, and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, says that most of us are just doing it wrong. According to surveys conducted in city streets (surveys administered, not surprisingly, to drivers stopped at red lights), up to 30% of the traffic in central business districts is from people who are already where they need to be. They just can’t find a space to park.
In one 15-block business district in Los Angeles, Shoup and his students determined that the average cruising time to find parking was a little over three minutes, or half a mile. Over the course of a year, parking-related cruising in that same 15-block area exceeds 950,000 excess miles, or 47,000 gallons of gas, or 730 tons of greenhouse carbon dioxide.
As he explains, much of the problem is free parking — the hunt for which ends up costing us considerably in wasted gas, wasted miles, interviews missed, lattes spilled, and middle fingers flipped. “Drivers often compare parking at the curb to parking in a garage and decide that the price of garage parking is too high,” he explains. “But the truth is that the price of curb parking is too low. Underpriced curb spaces are like rent-controlled apartments: hard to find and, once you do, crazy to give up.”
Shoup recommends continually adjusting the prices for metered curbside spaces to hit an 85% occupancy rate — too low, and there are no spaces, too high, and nobody parks. He says that estimating a market rate can help bring in extra income to a city, and ensure at least a couple free spots per street, all throughout the day.
Though that still leaves some, like Blumenthal, reaching deep into their pocketbooks for the sweet sweet taste of parking freedom. And a little extra time for Starbucks.