We need clearer thinking on key parking policy alternatives. Here is help.


Parking policy can be confusing.

North American parking experts Todd Litman and Donald Shoup both urge a shift away from the standard practice of relying on minimum parking requirements set at cautiously high levels. Therefore, many folks assume that their respective 'new paradigms’ are similar. In reality, most of their central suggestions and their key assumptions are strikingly different! (as explained below)

There are many similar cases of confusion over parking policy options around the world. Parking policy debate is too often muddled!

We need a clearer picture of the key municipal parking policy alternatives and of the different reform agendas

To begin, consider the diagram below and focus first on the two questions in red at the top and on the right.

These define three paradigms (three of the four boxes at the 'back' of the diagram): Conventional Site-Focused; Area Management; and Responsive.

Then a third question, along the top-left diagonal, defines further sub-categories along a third dimension: attitudes to parking supply.

This might seem puzzling at first but I argue that this scheme captures most parking policy diversity. Even more importantly, it also captures the thinking behind such diversity.

Some examples:

Parking policy in classic auto-oriented suburbia (with conventional site-focused and seeking to ensure plentiful supply)
contrasts with that of Downtown Santa Monica near LA (with area management and roughly matching supply to demand)
City of London skyline
and contrasts even more with policy in central London (area management with supply deliberately limited)
Seattle - Chinatown gate 11
or Seattle's Chinatown (similar to Santa Monica except with more effort to foster responsiveness in prices, demand and supply)
or Japan's cities (on paper, seemingly site-focused, but in actual practice amazingly responsive, with much parking on a commercial basis with market prices and supply responding to demand via price signals).

Regular readers might remember my earlier efforts to explain these issues.

I claimed that conventional suburban parking policy has several rivals, not just one.

I highlighted the contrasting assumptions of these different approaches, which 'frame' parking itself in different ways. I searched for useful analogies to get this message across.

I talked about three flavours of parking policy. And I claimed that we can get three main paradigms of parking policy from two key questions.

I have now developed these ideas much further in a new paper:

“A Parking Policy Typology for Clearer Thinking on Parking Reform” in the International Journal of Urban Studies, 2014.   
here is the journal's page for the properly formatted and copy-edited final version of the paper (paywalled sorry):  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/12265934.2014.927740.  

Here is a more detailed version of the graphic above

It sums up the new way to categorize parking policy approaches that I propose in the paper. This version also portrays three parking reform agendas and provides more detail on the policies associated with specific positions in the scheme.

As mentioned above, the three key questions are in red. The two questions at top and right define three main paradigms (shown in red-brown all-caps). They are: the conventional site focused, area management and responsive approaches.  And each main paradigm has different varieties depending on the attitude to parking supply (which is the third dimension in the typology).

Reform thrusts

The scheme suggests three key thrusts of parking reform (blue arrows) along each dimension (and usually in the direction indicated for those of us who are seeking to ease the grip of car dependence and car dependent assumptions in planning).

This brings us back to the contrast between Litman and Shoup.

Most of Todd Litman's parking policy suggestions involve two of these thrusts:
  1. reforms to shift backwards along the supply-attitudes dimension by reducing oversupply (or to even limit supply) while improving management so modest supply causes few problems;
  2. reforms to shift leftwards from the site-focused approaches towards an emphasis on shared and public parking, which requires better on-street management but also opens up many more parking management policy opportunities. 
Donald Shoup and the Shoupistas focus especially on:
  • fostering market responsiveness (upwards on the diagram), by abolishing parking requirements (deregulating supply) and by having demand-responsive pricing, while also improving management and sweetening the deal for relevant stakeholders to make this politically feasible. 

Specific positions on the diagram explained in more detail

The small black writing in the detailed diagram provides brief explanations of the parking policies that correspond to each position in the scheme.  You will probably need to click the image and enlarge to read them.

  • Parking policies in the suburbs of most automobile dependent metro areas, with their reliance on excessive parking minimums, are at the extreme front and lower right on the diagram.
  • Places taking steps to slightly moderate the level of their parking minimums (right-sizing the requirements) are a little further back along the supply-attitudes dimension but still in the conventional site-focused lower-right section.
  • A district that allows fees-in-lieu of required parking (pdf) but which still aims to ensure plentiful public parking that is free-of-charge is still at the extreme front of the supply-attitudes dimension but this time at the lower left position. Despite plentiful free parking supply, this is a case of area management, with an emphasis on public and shared parking.
  • Many town centres adopt the approach above, focusing more on public rather than private on-site parking, but with a little less emphasis on plentiful supply. This often spurs them to start pricing and managing their parking more aggressively. Downtown Santa Monica is an example. On the diagram, it sits a little further back along the supply-attitudes dimension and still within the lower-left area management section.
  • Busy districts that actively restrict parking supply, such as central London, central Seoul, central San Francisco or central Sydney, are at the back and left on the diagram. As shown, such places vary in the extent to which they enable market responsiveness.
  • The Shoupista approach emphasises market responsiveness and is in the upper left section, as is my Adaptive Parking agenda and the interesting case of Japanese cities. Seattle's Chinatown is an example of a place that has been trying parts of the Shoupista agenda.

If any of this intrigues or puzzles you, then please click through to the paper for details.

Please share if it seems useful! 

And feel free to ask questions or give your views on this in the comments.


  1. was this article free to download?

    1. Yes, it was free at the time of writing but has since gone behind a pay wall. Sorry!

      But I can send you a pre-print if you get in touch (see the authors link at the top of the article to find contact details).


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