The Newton Police Department does not have up-to-date transportation planning views. First, we had the Police Chief making the case that managing through-traffic congestion in West Newton is more important than cyclist safety. Now, the PD is waiving parking enforcement over the holiday season. Between 12/18 and 1/2, the po-po will not be writing any tickets for meter violations. Park for as long as you want.

Not a good idea. Ever since UCLA economics professor Donald Shoup wrote The High Cost of Free Parking, urbanists have understood that underpriced parking is not good for people who want to actually purchase things from the stores the parking is intended to support. And, what’s not good for the shopper is disastrous for the shopkeeper.

The real impediment to shopping is not meters, it’s the inability to find a space near enough to the place you want to shop. Free parking next to stores gets used by employees and low-motivation shoppers at the expense of folks ready to buy, but less interested in walking a long distance than in paying a buck or two for a short stay. 

Here’s what happens when, instead of lowering the already below-market parking rates, you raise them, with rates varying according to time of day and proximity to desirable locations. Properly set, a market-based rate will ensure a small, but regular supply of open spots. Somebody ready to shop and willing to pay a modest parking fee will be near guaranteed to find one near their favorite boutique. Those who are a bit more price-conscious regarding parking will avoid the closest spots and walk a modest distance. (More on that in a future post.) Employees will find parking furthest away. (Recognizing that parking should not be optimized for employees is not anti-worker. It’s pro-worker to make sure that the establishments they labor in have customers.)

What we want — and variable, market-rate parking delivers — is a regular supply of parking at rates shoppers are willing to pay.

“Wait,” I can hear you screaming into your computer screen, “village centers have to compete with malls, strip malls, and big box stores, all of which offer free parking!” (Now, pause, take a deep breath, and wipe down the display.) True enough. But, offering free parking in village centers that just gets eaten up by low-value parkers isn’t going to solve that problem.

If the argument is that the cost of parking is so high that folks are actually avoiding village centers for free-parking malls and the like, then even the modest rates are too high for non-prime spots. We want our village center parking at close to capacity across the various zones of desirability. The problem is that free parking is a waste for the prime spots that matter to store-owners’ success.

If the police really wanted to do village merchants a favor, they would modify the seasonal program to be consistent with the lessons of Professor Shoup: enforce meters for the prime spots and declare a meter holiday for the rest. 







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