Having read The High Cost Of Free Parking changes the way you read articles about parking. For instance, when you read an article like this, containing a quote like this:
On the campaign trail two years ago, Walsh pledged to look for ways to increase parking spots in city neighborhoods.
“We have to try to make parking more accessible,” Walsh told the Herald in September 2013. “I hear it every single day out on the campaign, the lack of parking. It’s an issue in every single neighborhood.”
, you realize that there’s a missing implicit word in there. The word is ‘free’. The newspaper — and maybe vintage-2013 Mayor Walsh — seem to assume that free on-street parking is a god-given right. Whereas if you admit the possibility of charging for parking, another solution leaps out: you can make parking accessible by charging for spaces. Some people will choose not to own cars. Some people will pay to put their cars in off-street parking. Then you’ll get your accessible parking.
I think vintage-2015 Mayor Walsh gets it. The article centers on residents’ anger over the city’s leasing parking spots to the likes of Zipcar. Mayor Walsh responds exactly as he should:
“The way that we’re doing this is to cut down actually on people having to own cars and driving cars and in the long run, it’ll actually save cars coming into the North End. People will be able to take a car and share community cars.”
There’s what you might call a “fallacy of simplicity” in people’s reactions to a lot of policies, including this one. The fallacy of simplicity says that if you want to achieve x, the way to do it is to do something whose immediate effect is x. Want to increase parking? Simple: dedicate more land to parking spaces. (Harder, and more likely to be correct: make it easier for people to live in a city without owning a car.) Want to cut the Federal budget deficit during a recession? Simple: cut spending. (Harder, and more likely to be correct: spend more money on public works, which pumps money into the economy, which gets business going, which restores a self-reinforcing economic boom.) Mayor Walsh isn’t subscribing to the fallacy of simplicity here. He’s aiming to reduce parking use by reducing demand, rather than increasing supply. That’s the right idea.
But if we’re going to look for simple solutions, how about not allowing every home to own unlimited parking permits?
Or to quote Lewis Mumford (from “Babel in Europe”), “The main issue is that the right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city.”