Monday, September 19, 2011

Oh No, Street Parking Horror!

While I was just in California, lots of people within a few blocks of me were hit with parking tickets for violating the Seattle law that cars can't be parked on the same block for more than 72 consecutive hours. I've heard several possible justifications for this law, but none really resonate. Some people call in 72-hour complaints about ugly junker parked on their blocks; moving them to another block for a few days doesn't really solve this “problem”. Some people think this law is a good tool to use against people storing stolen cars on their streets; in that case, there's a much larger violation going on, and a known location for stolen cars ought to be ripe for a sting (unfortunately finding stolen cars is less lucrative than ticketing them for parking illegally)! Ultimately this law is never going to be widely followed, and is impossible to enforce consistently, so it's enforced inconsistently, sometimes as a result of petty personal disputes (or, perhaps, municipal money-finding expeditions).

It really comes down to a question of whether there's a parking shortage. If there's not a parking shortage in a neighborhood, having people move their cars every three days is just a nuisance. If there is a parking shortage, well, there should never be a parking shortage! As with most goods and services, there will only be a shortage of parking if its price is set too low. Rather than forcing people to move their cars all the time, why not just have people on high-demand blocks rent specific parking spaces monthly? If there aren't enough spaces in a neighborhood there aren't enough spaces — people will find that out one way or another when they go to park. But this way, they won't have to circle the block all the time looking for spaces. The city government, owning all these roads it doesn't have the money to maintain, should be charging the users, but it should do so consistently instead of with arbitrary parking tickets.


Nicholas Barnard said...

I'd worry that shifting our dense negiborhoods to requiring pay parking would disincentivize people to live in them, causing a reduction in folks living there. Beyond that, yeah I agree.

Al Dimond said...

People tend to make really irrational decisions concerning their time and money. The certainty of knowing where you're going to park, or not, is rationally worth the monthly cost of a reserved parking space for just about anyone that's employed (obligatory XKCD).

Irrationality aside, if the neighborhood already has a parking shortage then people are already paying for parking. They might be paying for private spaces, or they might be paying in time and tickets for street parking, but they're paying. Neighborhoods with real parking shortages aren't that common in Seattle, but I think the ones that do are like those in other cities: they're strong enough draws that they don't need free parking to make people want to live there (that's why there's so much demand for parking in the first place).

Nicholas Barnard said...

You presume people are rational about their cars in general and about parking specifically. They're not.

Americans have been conditioned to waste a huge amount of their time to find the cheapest parking. I know folks in King county who avoid coming into downtown because they don't want to pay for parking.

You're right that the neighborhoods which'd need this are already have strong draws and strong transit too, so that does ameliorate it somewhat.