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What does parking have to do with our addiction to oil? Quite a bit, it seems, once you dig into the issue.  

Americans are said to love their cars, and along with that is a love, or really, an expectation of parking - whether that's free or cheap parking - it's a lot of parking.  And so we have policies in place that encourage parking. Take for example current federal tax policy allows commuters to deduct $240 a month from pre-tax income to pay for parking for your commute, but only $120 per month for using transit.

The parking issue is hot in Seattle where Mayor Mike McGinn proposed to let developers who are building housing within 1300 feet of transit decide how much parking to provide for residents. The Seattle Times was appalled - calling it "utopian" to think residents will drop the car.  Streetsblog notes that "[m]inimum parking requirements are, essentially, a tax on development meant to encourage driving."

Parking is a frequent issue among Sierra Club transportation activists, most recently in our own debate over the New York Times invitation to readers to respond to a letter posted by Randy Salzman on the need to change our car culture.

It so happens that Sierra Club's San Diego Chapter transportation chair Mike Bullock is a parking expert, so I asked him a few questions about how changing parking policies can help reduce driving and our addiction to oil.

How does so called "free" parking feed our addiction to oil?
Mike: Well, of course it's never free. It's very expensive to provide parking. And we pay those costs, as employees, as residents, and as consumers. The "addiction feeding" comes from hiding those costs and making them essentially mandatory. If we had the free choice to not drive, once in a while, and save some of the money we are losing because of "free" parking, we would in fact drive less.

We often think of parking spaces - surrounding big box stores, in our downtowns, or near housing - as free.  How much does it cost to build a parking spot?

Mike: In many locations, it comes down to the cost of land. An acre of land only parks around 120 cars. So, where an acre is worth $1.2 million, the cost of the land is $10,000 per space. Parking garages would seem to be a smart choice where land is expensive, because the cars are being stacked. However the construction is expensive and the higher up you go, the larger the steel members have to be.

Construction costs are typically between $20,000 and $40,000 per space. Of course the prettiest parking is underground, because it is invisible to the urban landscape. However this is the most expensive parking. Developers have told me that this parking is around $100,000 per space. So the simple answer is that parking costs a lot.

What are some ways parking could be addressed to help cut our addiction to oil?
Mike: Except where parking is being operated to provide a legitimate profit for investors, the best way would be to unbundle the cost of the parking. This means that the cost is made visible and optional. There are several ways to do this. I have written a paper that described one way and it is a way that would always work. Using this method, any bundled cost could be unbundled. To those that are losing money due to the parking, the system would feel like getting paid to not drive.

Are there some examples where pricing parking has cut driving?
Mike: My paper on parking has a table with 10 cases of locations where parking became priced. These cases are put into three groups: those having poor transit, those having fair transit, and those having good transit. The overall average decrease in driving was 23%. The smallest change was 15%. Obviously, I wish we had more data.

If you want to learn more about parking and unbundling parking you candownload Mike's short paper here (PDF).

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    Learn more about the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign.

    by Ann Mesnikoff on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 09:35:01 AM PDT

  •  Provide free parking for bikes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ann Mesnikoff, G2geek

    and scooters. I carpool with my husband, but often bike or take the bus to appointments or to run errands. It is annoying that retailers are required to provide parking based on square footage, but don't seem to care about letting people lock up their bicycles ore scooters.

    •  True (0+ / 0-)

      It is hard to find places with bike racks anymore. People are forced to lock their bikes to street signs or railings.

      Learn more about the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign.

      by Ann Mesnikoff on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 10:08:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ann - I followed your link on tax deductions (0+ / 0-)

        And it takes you to a good Sierra Club article but there is nothing in that article that discusses tax deductions. I am not a tax expert by any means but I always thought that commuting costs to your primary business location were never deductible for federal income tax purposes. It would be great to know if there is a deduction for either public transit or parking. Do you have an IRS code section on this?

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 10:28:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It works like a health care reimbursement account (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          VClib, Egalitare

          You are allowed to set aside a certain amount of money per month in pre-tax dollars that can then be used to pay for commuting (or mass transit) costs. But it has to be used expressly for that purpose.

          It's a way to reduce the effective cost of commuting.

          •  Right, Ernest. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Thanks Ernest for this clarification. VClib, here's the IRS document with more on the pre-tax commuter benefit. See pages 2 and 20 for more information:

            Learn more about the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign.

            by Ann Mesnikoff on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 11:02:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks Ernest (0+ / 0-)

            "let's talk about that"

            by VClib on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 11:52:33 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  expand that to telecommuting. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ann Mesnikoff

            That needs to be expanded to cover telecommuting or telework, which is ultimately the best answer to transportation-related ecological and economic costs for "office jobs" that involve using a computer and telephone all day and having occasional meetings with coworkers.  

            The idea of having to spend a couple of hours a day moving your body back and forth in order to sit at a desk and use a computer and telephone is just nuts: like digging a hole in the morning and filling it up again at night.  

            You can sit at a desk and use a computer and telephone at home equally as well as in an office.  With teleconference software or various inexpensive or free applications, you can have meetings.  There's no need to transport a physical body back and forth to do any of that.

            If the "commuter deduction" is allocated to telecommuting, it can also save an employer about 200 square feet of office space rental and maintenance costs per employee, which has a significant multiplier effect and shows up on the bottom line.

            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 01:32:10 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I love this idea! (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Learn more about the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign.

              by Ann Mesnikoff on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 01:47:40 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  I wonder (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              My employer passively encourages telecommuting by offering to pay for a computer, phone, scanner/printer/fax, and Internet service for your home office.  They'll even do an ergonomic evaluation of your home office if requested.

              Does anyone know if that is common for companies that permit telecommuting?

              •  that's actually really really good. (0+ / 0-)

                I've been promoting telecommuting since 1998 when I developed th office telephone system feature that enables even the smallest companies to turn their telecommuters' home office landlines or cellphones into "extensions" of the main office system.  

                What I've seen for the most part is: companies will provide technical support to their employees, to get their computers and telephones working, and supply them with laptops.  But scanner/printer/fax, and subsidized internet: nope, haven't seen a whole lot of that.  And ergonomic evaluation: I've never seen that.  So your employer is going way above & beyond the call of duty on this one and deserves serious good PR for it.

                Mind if I ask in the most general sort of way, what industry or general field of business your employer is engaged in?  

                "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                by G2geek on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 07:48:11 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  It's an engineering and management consulting firm (0+ / 0-)

                  I'd rather not get too specific, as it would be pretty easy for someone to figure out which one, and, by the comments I've made over the years, who I am. I prefer anonymity.

                  It seemed like a pretty good deal to me, too, and I'm considering it to cut down on commuting costs (time and money). Plus, not having to pay for Internet for the house is an added bonus.

    •  It depends on location (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      white blitz

      The City of Portland, Oregon (link to pdf of the relevant part of the City Code) requires parking for bikes at a wide range of sites, including:

      Apartments and Condos
      Retail stores
      Entertainment venues
      Manufacturing facilities
      Governmental buildings
      Even commercial parking lots are required to provide bike parking.

      If you click on the pdf link above, go to page 266-21 through 266-29 for the specific requirements.

  •  Fascinating parking experiment in San Francisco (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ann Mesnikoff

    I work in the neighborhood mentioned, and it works.

    I'm a big supporter of SFPark and Dr. Shoup from UCLA.

    "Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed." -- Vaclav Havel

    by greendem on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 09:59:01 AM PDT

    •  Wow (0+ / 0-)

      Now that's an interesting idea. Feel like sharing more of your thoughts on that experiment in your neighborhood? Do you also think it makes people drive less?

      Learn more about the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign.

      by Ann Mesnikoff on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 10:09:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is one of the best served transit (0+ / 0-)

        neighborhoods west of the Mississippi.

        There really is no reason to drive into the Financial District of San Francisco.

        But, shops who want customers to be able to pick up things and drive off should be big supporters of this.

        Streets once crowded with folks trolling for a parking space can now find an open spot on the block where they need to go. Pop-in-pop-out. It is also much safer to walk across the street, and transit runs much smoother now that it's not stuck in traffic.

        "Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed." -- Vaclav Havel

        by greendem on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 02:02:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I'm fast becoming a advocate... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JamieG from Md

    ...of "encouraging" commuters to park outside of any central business district. To my way of thinking, you must extend such "encouragement" to shoppers and casual diners. Part of the bargain must be mass transit that functions conveniently for late night diners and performance attendees. If I expect elderly citizens to (essentially) abandon their cars a couple of miles short of their show or dining destination, I better make getting to and from that car very easy and far less expensive than the prevailing parking rates.

    When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Egalitare on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 11:13:21 AM PDT

  •  The fellow from Sierra Club underestimates costs (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greendem, Egalitare

    If he just relies on property values. Parking lots have to be paved, painted, meters or a billing device installed and maintained, patrolled for security and payment monitoring, and insured.

    In some communities (again, like Portland, OR) pavement such as that in parking lots is viewed as a source of contamination to storm water, so storm water treatment and/or passive bioswales (vegetated infiltration areas) have to be constructed, and maintained to meet code.

    All that represents ongoing costs in addition to the capital tied up in the real estate.

  •  Here at West Virginia University I heard the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greendem, Egalitare

    cost for each space was about $50,000 several years ago. Land isn't very expensive in Morgantown, either. Think about that when you are looking at your student loans.

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