How We Think About Parking Spaces Is Ruining Our Cities

Parking spaces are the most incorrectly valued urban asset. Want to get more people onto public transit? Simple. Stop making it so incredibly cheap to park a vehicle.

There’s an extremely simple way for cities to generate more revenue, encourage more use of public transit, and cut congestion in the bargain: Raise the price of parking.


At the moment, many cities keep parking prices and penalties artificially low, and enforce “parking minimum” regulations that require developers to create new spots every time they put up a building. The result is less space for development (which means fewer tax receipts), more environmental and health problems (like asthma), and fewer people using trains and buses, according to a new study.

New research from the Drexel University School of Public Health looks at parking price data for 107 U.S. cities. In 2009, the average cost to park in a central business district was just $1 for two hours. Off-street commuter lots charged an average of $11 a day, with the price often falling at night. Average fines were from about $25 (say, for an expired meter) to roughly $50 for blocking a fire hydrant (which is not a lot for causing a potential emergency).

But here’s the thing. The research found cities that raised prices saw increased public transit use. Larger cities with higher costs saw a 2.3-fold increase in transit miles, after adjusting for gas prices and other variables.

The survey is the first time anyone has collected such data into one place, and the researchers hope it will provide more guidance to city officials when they make parking regulations.

“The zoning regulations and price distortions that induce high automobile use have serious consequences for urban environments,” writes Rachel Weinberger, one of the authors, in a press release. “They degrade air quality, imperil safety, and use a lot of land that could be used for parks, schools, stores, and other things. By understanding the role of parking and how parking rules are enforced, policymakers are more likely to improve everyone’s mobility.”

The Drexel study authors aren’t the only ones making the case for more expensive parking. Pat Garofalo, at the U.S. News and World Report, rounds up some other research here. Meanwhile, check out the graphic in the slide show above and below, which illustrates the point more colorfully. It was created by My Parking Sign, a sign supplier.


See the full graphic below:

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.