Cheap Parking = Clogged Streets?

This strikes me as a convincing explanation for a big problem. Congestion would drop if prices on traffic meters and over-limit infractions rose. It’s simple, but a tough sell for local businesses in most places other than large cities (and perhaps there, too). I think back to when I lived in Bethlehem – business owners would have raised hell if meter rates went up.

What causes this astonishing waste? As is often the case, the prices are wrong. A national study of downtown parking found that the average price of curb parking is only 20 percent that of parking in a garage, giving drivers a strong incentive to cruise. As George Costanza once said on “Seinfeldâ€?: “My father never paid for parking, my mother, my brother, nobody. … It’s like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?â€?

Like George Costanza, drivers often compare parking at the curb to parking in a garage and decide that the price of garage parking is too high. 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. This increases the time costs (and therefore the congestion and pollution costs) of cruising.


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