How I went from loving free parking to hating it and why you might too.

I live in a city and I own a car, so parking is never far from my mind.

Will I get a space in front of the house? Is it worth driving downtown, or should I take the bus? Do I have to parallel park if I want to try that new Thai place? (If the answer to the latter is yes, we're ordering in.)

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.


Just a few months ago, if you'd have asked me about free parking, I wouldn't have had a strong opinion.

I'd probably shrug and say something to the effect of, "It's good, I guess."

And, on the surface, what's not to like? It's convenient. It's time-saving. It makes neighborhoods accessible and encourages travel.

Free parking is all of this and more. But, sadly, it's also not actually free.

GIF from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

My wife heard a report on the radio about the hidden costs of free parking and came home fired up. "You have to look into this," she said. So I did. And I couldn't believe what I found.

As it turns out, free parking costs drivers and non-drivers a substantial amount of money.

Listen close because I'm about to reveal some huge secrets, and I might change your mind about free parking while I'm at it. Here's what you need to know:

1. Land: They paved paradise and well ... it wasn't great.

In most U.S. cities, parking is the single biggest land use. Not parks. Not schools. Not small businesses. Nope, all that land is going to paved beds for sleeping cars.

In fact, nearly 200 square miles (or 14%) of incorporated land in Los Angeles County, California, is devoted to parking spaces. That's more than 18 million spaces or just over three for each automobile registered in the county. But Los Angeles isn't the only place where cars at rest have created a serious problem.

Overall, there are approximately eight parking spaces for each car in the U.S. according to a report published in 2010. That's wild! And while the number of local spaces per car depends on the community, many spaces actually go unused fairly often.

As more and more people move to cities (the United Nations estimates 66% of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2050), this is going to be a big problem because congestion, traffic, and space will be of the utmost importance.

So yeah, free parking is a terrible use of space and keeps communities from achieving the mixed-use buildings our urban future requires.

Photo by iStock.

2. Hate traffic? Free parking isn't helping.

When gas prices go up, people think twice about driving. They might start to carpool, consider taking the bus, or even ride their bikes. (Hats off to those brave commuters.)

But we don't treat parking like gasoline, which is kind of weird. Most destinations offer it for free, and when they don't, there's often street parking close by. This encourages drivers to circle their destinations, looking for free or reduced parking. An estimated 30% of cars driving in central business districts are actually looking for a place to park. It wastes time and gas and increases harmful emissions.

So, yeah, free parking is also messing with the environment. Still on the free parking train? Just wait.

3. Free parking is paid for by everyone, and people who don't drive essentially pay twice.

Many cities require new buildings to offer off-street parking. It gives these stores, restaurants, and businesses a larger footprint. And this leads to sprawl, which is a big challenge for anyone who doesn't drive or can't afford to drive. Don't believe me? Take a city bus across town.

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

Plus, the store or business has to foot the bill for the parking lot, and that fee is often passed on to their customers in higher priced goods or services. So when you buy your milk at the grocery store, you're paying for the privilege to park out front, even if you walked there.

Starting to hate free parking? Yep.

4.  If we're not thinking about parking, we're not thinking about the future.

As writer Emile Rusch of the Denver Post said, "The future of parking is no parking."

Hear me (and her) out: As populations move toward more urban centers, something else is moving with them — technology. Autonomous cars, an idea once relegated to a Jetsons-like pipe-dream, are making their way into our communities.  Luxury automaker Volvo recently announced it'll have autonomous cars on the road by 2021. And Uber is testing pilot models.

Uber is preparing for the autonomous vehicle revolution with pilot models of their self-driving cars. Photo by Angelo Merendino/AFP/Getty Images.

These self-driving cars will open up new opportunities for ride-sharing. Users could conceivably request a car; work, read, or relax on their commute; and have it drop them off at their destination. Just one shared autonomous vehicle could take as many as 11 cars off the road. It also frees up their parking spaces.

Photo by iStock.

Some cities are preparing for this not-so-distant future by building parking garages that can be converted to something else like retail or office space down the line. Others, well, aren't. Parking isn't even on their radar, and that's a big problem.

Soon, we could have empty parking spaces everywhere, costing us extra money and taking up valuable space in crowded urban areas. Building free parking lots just isn't a smart decision.

So what can we do? One solution is a concept you might be familiar with: surge pricing.

Smart parking meters and spaces charge drivers different prices based on demand. In this scenario, parking in a popular new shopping district would be more expensive than parking by an old strip mall. Street parking near a church might be four times more expensive Sunday mornings than Thursday nights. Demand pricing based on location or time of day forces drivers to think twice about how and when they travel to their destinations.

Photo by iStock.

Donald Shoup, Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA and one of the world's foremost parking experts is all about demand pricing. He suggests pricing parking spaces so that about 15% (or one or two spaces) are available on any given block. To keep business owners and residents happy, Shoup believes the revenue generated from the higher prices should stay in the neighborhood and go toward sidewalks, removing graffiti, and improving roads.

"Demand-based pricing is remarkable for how little planners need to know to do their job. They simply compare the actual parking occupancy with the desired parking occupancy and every few weeks they nudge prices up or down accordingly," Shoup said in an interview with Xerox. "Seeking the optimal occupancy becomes the new way to set prices, and it can replace intense, emotional, political choices with evidence-based decisions."

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Smart meters with demand pricing are already in use in San Francisco and Seattle, but taking them nationwide will be a costly endeavor.

Many other cities use smart meters for payment but haven't tapped into demand pricing.

Putting smart meters in place, changing zoning requirements, and building forward thinking cities around alternative forms of transit isn't easy or cheap.

But neither is progress. And come to think of it, neither is free parking.

Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

Courtesy of FIELDTRIP
True

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected diverse communities due largely in part to social factors such as inadequate access to housing, income, dietary options, education and employment — all of which have been shown to affect people's physical health.

Recognizing that inequity, Harlem-based chef JJ Johnson sought out to help his community maximize its health during the pandemic — one grain at a time.

Johnson manages FIELDTRIP, a health-focused restaurant that strives to bring people together through the celebration of rice, a grain found in cuisines of countless cultures.

"It was very important for me to show the world that places like Harlem want access to more health-conscious foods," Johnson said. "The people who live in Harlem should have the option to eat fresh, locally farmed and delicious food that other communities have access to."

Lack of education and access to those healthy food options is a primary driver of why 31% of adults in Harlem are struggling with obesity — the highest rate of any neighborhood in New York City and 7% higher than the average adult obesity rate across the five boroughs.

Obesity increases risk for heart disease or diabetes, which in turn leaves Harlem's residents — who are 76% Black or LatinX — at heightened risk for complications with COVID-19.

Keep Reading Show less

Eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are feeling the weight of it growing heavier and heavier. We miss normal life. We miss our friends. We miss travel. We miss not having to mentally measure six feet everywhere we go.

Maybe that's what was on Edmund O'Leary's mind when he tweeted on Friday. Or maybe he had some personal issues or challenges he was dealing with. After all, it's not like people didn't struggle pre-COVID. Now, we just have the added stress of a pandemic on top of our normal mental and emotional upheavals.

Whatever it was, Edmund decided to reach out to Twitter and share what he was feeling.

"I am not ok," he wrote. "Feeling rock bottom. Please take a few seconds to say hello if you see this tweet. Thank you."

O'Leary didn't have a huge Twitter following, but somehow his tweet started getting around quickly. Response after response started flowing in from all over the world, even from some famous folks. Thousands of people seemed to resonate with Edmund's sweet and honest call for help and rallied to send him support and good cheer.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

The subject of late-term abortions has been brought up repeatedly during this election season, with President Trump making the outrageous claim that Democrats are in favor of executing babies.

This message grossly misrepresents what late-term abortion actually is, as well as what pro-choice advocates are actually "in favor of." No one is in favor of someone having a specific medical procedure—that would require being involved in someone's individual medical care—but rather they are in favor of keeping the government out of decisions about specific medical procedures.

Pete Buttigieg, who has become a media surrogate for the Biden campaign—and quite an effective one at that—addressed this issue in a Fox News town hall when he was on the campaign trail himself. When Chris Wallace asked him directly about late-term abortions, Buttigieg answered Wallace's questions is the best way possible.

"Do you believe, at any point in pregnancy, whether it's at six weeks or eight weeks or 24 weeks or whenever, that there should be any limit on a woman's right to have an abortion?" Wallace asked.

Keep Reading Show less

When it comes to the topic of race, we all have questions. And sometimes, it honestly can be embarrassing to ask perfectly well-intentioned questions lest someone accuse you of being ignorant, or worse, racist, for simply admitting you don't know the answer.

America has a complicated history with race. For as long as we've been a country, our culture, politics and commerce have been structured in a way to deny our nation's past crimes, minimize the structural and systemic racism that still exists and make the entire discussion one that most people would rather simply not have.

For example, have you ever wondered what's really behind the term Black Pride? Is it an uplifting phrase for the Black community or a divisive term? Most people instinctively put the term "White Pride" in a negative context. Is there such a thing as non-racist, racial pride for white people? And while we're at it, what about Asian people, Native Americans, and so on?

Yes, a lot of people raise these questions with bad intent. But if you've ever genuinely wanted an answer, either for yourself or so that you best know how to handle the question when talking to someone with racist views, writer/director Michael McWhorter put together a short, simple and irrefutable video clip explaining why "White Pride" isn't a real thing, why "Black Pride" is and all the little details in between.


Keep Reading Show less