Who's afraid of the spillover bogey?

No spillover please.
Is most parking policy based on fear of a phantom?

Spillover parking is nuisance parking that takes place outside a motorist's actual destination. And fear of Spillover Parking is central to all conventional parking policy.

But wait a minute. Is parking outside your destination automatically a nuisance or a problem?

Conventional parking policy assumes that spillover almost always IS a nuisance. But are we sure about that?

Someone must be pretty certain. After all, local governments all over the world enact costly regulations (minimum parking requirements) to make sure all premises have enough parking in the hope that no neighbouring business or resident need ever fear that horror-of-horrors, spillover parking.

What do parking reformers, such as parking management advocates or Shoupistas, think of spillover? Well, compared with supporters of conventional suburban parking policy, they are pretty relaxed about it. But still they mostly seem to talk about it as a problem (albeit one they are confident can be managed or minimised).

But is spillover really a problem in and of itself? Maybe parking reformers should stop saying "it is a problem but we can handle it" and instead say clearly that spillover is NOT the real problem at all. And maybe we should even proclaim that spillover can be a good thing!

Let me spell it out before you dismiss me as crazy.

Most previous parking policy conflates nuisance parking and spillover. But if you think about it for a moment, you will realise they are not necessarily the same thing at all. What does the ultimate destination of a vehicle's occupants have to do with whether their parking is a nuisance to others? Sure, there is often an overlap between the two categories but there is no necessary connection.

Most parking policy portrays spillover parking as an externality - like pollution - imposed by a development that does not have enough parking to meet its own demand.

But is pollution really a good analogy? Unlike the victims of a polluting factory, the neighbours of a development with a full parking lot are not helpless victims. We CAN prevent parking that we don't want. Or we could welcome it and price it (and maybe even profit from it). The same argument applies to spillover parking in the streets. It can be prevented with enforcement or it can be welcomed, managed and priced.

Spillover? Bring it on!
The spillover-as-pollution analogy rests on false assumptions. And the assumptions look even worse once you start thinking in terms of park-once neighbourhoods and stop assuming that parking and destinations have to have anything to do with each other.

In a park-once, shared-parking district, parking outside your destination is not a problem. And park-once, shared parking districts are, in many ways, a good thing that we should want more of.

So this is where we stand up and unashamedly say that spillover can be a good thing. We like park-once neighbourhoods but we can't have them without spillover! Spillover that is not a nuisance! Parking outside some of your destinations is the whole idea of a park-once district where motorists walk to various destinations after parking anywhere in the area. Park where? We don't care so long as it is legal and not a nuisance.


  1. Spillover is only a problem if motorists don't pay market rates for their parking. Otherwise they are perceived to be stealing parking from the intended users without contributing to the business or local community that provides the parking. Priced parking, with validation if required, overcomes the problem.

    I also struggle with the 'impact' of park and ride spillover parking on suburban streets near rail stations and busways. In lower density areas, home owners often claim moral rights to the length of kerb adjacent to their property. The alternatives are: (1) construct costly parking structures which have little turnover and preclude more active uses, or (2) accept lower public transport ridership and increased car use if potential users can't gain sufficient access to the station. What's the right approach here?

  2. @Matt Thanks for the comment.

    In theory, a rail station in a residential area should have nicely complementary timings for the parking demand of commuters versus residents (many residents' cars would be absent during the day when commuters use more spaces. But residents won't be happy unless they see some benefit to them in allowing the 'outsiders' to use 'their' streets. Charging performance-based fees (simple version - no need for a fancy SFPark-type implementation) and having a parking benefit district so the locals get something for their trouble (ala Shoup again) might do the trick?

    You might also like to look at my older posts on the issue: http://www.reinventingparking.org/search/label/park-and-ride

  3. Matt, I would argue that the 'spillover' of park and ride users into suburban streets is more a symptom of a dysfunctional public transport system that fails to provide adequate feeder services from residential areas beyond walking distances from stations.

    Thus I think there's a third way through the middle of your dichotomy, being to (3) provide frequent, co-ordinated feeder services to the linehaul network with an integrated ticketing system to provide an alternative to providing huge park and ride facilities. And add some demand management (a price on Park and Ride) while we're at it.

    Paul has kindly referred to my post on Transport Textbook previously that outlines some strategies (or lack thereof) that can influence Park and Ride usage.

  4. Thanks for the replies and the link to that excellent article. Recommended reading!

  5. I'm having a problem with angry residents about spillover from employees into residential zones. Using the street parking is an efficient use of resources (revenue, land use) but if residents are unhappy the council is unhappy. Pricing is unpopular, unfamiliar, and likely infeasible given the cost and the size (<50cars). So since it doesnt make sense in this one case, we dont pursue it. Then down the road we continue requiring 98% off-street parking. It is a vicious cycle.

    1. Interesting. Thank you. And sorry to be slow in answering you. I agree that most kinds of pricing would be infeasible in such a case.

      But it can be low cost to price only for commuter parking. No need to price for casual visitors. I am talking about selling day-time parking permits to the employees. So the area involved can be a 'permit zone'. Residents would also need permits. The employee permits for each specific area could be limited in number to limit the impact) and priced to avoid waiting lists (ie if a waiting list emerges then raise the price at the next review).

      What about people visiting the residents? If the area also has a 4-hour time limit (with permit holders exempted) then most residents' visitors and tradespeople would be OK, with maybe no need for special visitors permits.

      Do you think that would help your problem?


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