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.

For John Shults and Joy Morrow-Nulton, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more than just health threats and lockdown woes. For the two 95-year-olds, it also held something remarkable—another chance at romance.

Both Shults and Morrow-Nulton had been married twice and widowed twice, but they were determined to find love again. They met in May of 2019, brought together by Morrow-Nulton's 69-year-old son, John Morrow.

"She was cute, I'll tell you that," Shultz told the New York Times of their first meeting. "And she was smart and she had a delightful sense of humor. And she smiled at me."

Shultz asked her to lunch a few more times before it became crystal clear to Morrow-Nulton that he was on a mission to date her.

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For John Shults and Joy Morrow-Nulton, the COVID-19 pandemic brought more than just health threats and lockdown woes. For the two 95-year-olds, it also held something remarkable—another chance at romance.

Both Shults and Morrow-Nulton had been married twice and widowed twice, but they were determined to find love again. They met in May of 2019, brought together by Morrow-Nulton's 69-year-old son, John Morrow.

"She was cute, I'll tell you that," Shultz told the New York Times of their first meeting. "And she was smart and she had a delightful sense of humor. And she smiled at me."

Shultz asked her to lunch a few more times before it became crystal clear to Morrow-Nulton that he was on a mission to date her.

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True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."