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Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 09:08 am

Parking over time

Allow me to return briefly to the topic of metered street parking that I took up in September in "Parking smartly." A lot of people say to me, “We should have free parking, like Decatur.” A significant fraction of local opinion (usually from small towns) don’t think anyone should have to pay for parking, and resent being asked to, no matter how convenient. But free parking never worked. Forty-one years ago, when I wrote my first screed on that topic, downtown in those days was the shopping center of the city. Street parking didn’t matter when most shoppers came and went by streetcar. But downtown also was the city’s job center. when free parking the street places were taken up by office workers before shops opened, shoppers bitched because all the street parking spaces were in use.

The point of charging for street parking spaces is to ration a valuable public resource to maximize that public good. Which matters not a bit to people who do not believe in the public good. Complaining about charging for street parking is a manifestation of a familiar American dispute: do public spaces belong to everyone, share and share alike, or do they belong to no one, useable on a first-come first serve basis? 

For decades I argued that street parking should be more expensive, not less. I last did so in The mysteries of space and time (Jan. 5, 2012).Make street spaces free, undercharge for street space or underfine for overusing it, and the result is not more parking, only more parkers – more parkers, usually, than there are spaces,” I railed. “Free parking does not give everyone a chance to park,” I ranted. “It gives a few early arrivers a chance to park longer at the expense of their neighbors.” 

 All true, every word—about places other than Springfield. In Springfield free parking downtown might work today because people no longer do. 
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