I readPaved ParadisebyHenry GrabaronMay 18th, 2024


The parking is probably one of the most influential forces to shape our urban lives and cities. Municipal parking policies not only subsidized drivers at the expense of everyone else, but also exacerbate traffic congestions, and reduce housing affordability.

Parking Crisis

Much like CAP theorem, you can only get two out of three benefits for the parking: availability, convenience, and free. The appetite for the free, available curb-side parking is bottomless, which leads the cities struggle to fight the “parking crisis”.

The author argued that we have a “parking oversupply” problem instead. By some estimates there are six parking space for every car, and the United States has built more three-gar garages then one-bedroom apartments. Notably:

  • In Silicon Valley, parking is 13% of the land — not including the curb.
  • By 1972, the Detroit City Planning Commission estimated the city dedicated 74% of its land to vehicle movement and storage.
  • The Iowa capital, Des Moise has almost 20 parking spaces per household.
  • Many American downtowns, such as Little Rock, Newport News, Buffalo, and Topeka, have more land devoted to parking than to buildings.

The perceived parking shortage is primary due to the curb parking being too cheap, — these spaces are constructed on some of the most expensive urban land, costing at least $5,000 a space, yet they are offered to drivers next for nothing. Consequently, curb parking spots are quickly occupied by local residents and commuters, deterring potential shoppers. This leads to lost revenue for merchants and a reduction in tax income for cities.

One study from 2017 found that U.S. drivers spent seventeen hours searching for parking every year on average; combined with double parking, backing in and pulling out, downtown street capacity is reduced about 30 - 50 percent, estimated by the traffic engineer Miller McKintock.

The parking scholar Todd Litman estimates it costs $4,400 to supply parking for each vehicle annually, with drivers directly covering just 20%. Another estimate pegs the annual cost of U.S. car storage between $189 and $554 billion, with drivers paying just $5 billion a year.


Surface parking can cost $5,000 a space, the median cost of a structured parking space exceeds $19,000. Parking requirement of an office build may increase project costs by as much as 45%. Berkeley’s Terner Center estimated the structured parking added $35945 construction cost of every single home in California. In CA, and AZ, the required garage increased affordable housing by 27 percent.

Thus, the parking requirements can be weaponized to sabotage affordable housing efforts, known as Not In My Backyard(NIMBY) tactics. In 2008, Ginger Hitzke bid for the Solana Beach Project to establish affordable housing for evicted residents. By 2011, she had to drop the number of homes from 18 to 10 to make a free public garage, which increased the cost per unit by nearly 50%, to $664,000 each. Although the project was approved by the city council in 2014, the neighboring Seascape Sur condo complex sued Hitzke and the city for violating parking restrictions. By 2020, Hitzke threw the towel, the project ended up constructing a fifty-three-space underground garage with a few apartments on top of it. Each housing unit cost $1.1 million, making it probably the most expensive affordable housing project in the country.

Local residents also use parking to effectively block the public access to maintain exclusivity. For instance, Greenwich residents can purchase a $40 permit for season-long beach access, while visitors must pay $40 a day, plus $9 per person in the car for beach parking.

Abuse and Corruption

The curb parking, as a public resource free to grab, is susceptive to exploitation. The New York City was plagued by the parking violation of diplomatic vehicles. A study found the number of parking violations per diplomat was strongly correlated to the level of national corruption. It was not until 2002, the U.S. Senate passed the Clinton-Schumer amendment to deduct the unpaid fines from U.S. aid, that the Parking violations plummeted.

City, state, and federal employees received approximately 100,000 on-street parking permits. The union of state troopers issued POLICE SURGEON placards to any doctor willing to pay $400 fee, which could be sold on the black market between $500 and $2600. In a 2011 study, one in four permits surveyed was fake.

In 2011, eleven NYPD officers were indicted on charges of fixing parking tickets for friends and family, a practice that the Bronx DA alleged had robbed the city of $1 million to $2 million. Prosecutors claimed the ticket fixing was so widespread they considered charging the union under the New York State racketeering law, as if the NYPD were an organized crime family rather than the law itself.


Parking operators are granted an oligopoly by default due to the limited choices available at a given location. In 2008, a Wall Street group led by Morgan Stanley saw an opportunity and offered the City of Chicago $1.156 billion to lease 36,000 curbside parking spaces for 75 years. At the time, the city was only making about $20 million a year from these spaces. Then-mayor Richard M. Daley, a proponent of privatization, endorsed the deal to address the budget shortfall left by the 2008 financial crisis. The aldermen were rushed to approve the deal.

The deal was since criticized foolish, short-sighted or worse It underscored that Chicago’s parking meters were grossly underpriced, failing to manage downtown traffic effectively. In 2016, Chicago earned $264 million from parking tickets, ten times more than from parking meter revenue. By 2023, investors in Chicago Parking Meters LLC had not only recouped their initial investment but also made an additional $500 million, with 60 years remaining on the lease.

The new world

In 2005, Donald Shoup, a UCLA economist published The High Cost of Free Parking, raising the awareness of “Street parking is theft”. His followers, the Shoupistas began advocating for policy changes in city halls.

  • In 2011, San Francisco implemented dynamic parking pricing through an initiative called SFpark. This system adjusts parking meter rates based on demand to ensure that 20 to 40 percent of curb spaces are consistently available for drivers.
  • California also abolished local parking requirements to encourage the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as a means to increase affordable housing.

The National Parking Association (NPA) estimates that parking is a $131 billion industry. Technological innovators are transforming the industry with advancements from companies such as Oobeo, Orbility, Survision, Meypar, Designa, etc.