The Surprising Power of Parking Management

Todd Litman and I discussed the surprising power of parking management to ease seemingly difficult problems (and not just parking problems).

You may know Todd Litman as an expert on Travel Demand Management or on multimodal transportation planning. But he also has profound insight and expertise on parking.

It was Todd (along with Donald Shoup) who inspired my own interest in parking. If your main acquaintance with parking reform is through Donald Shoup's ideas, then I think you will also relate well to Todd's approaches. They may even broaden your horizons a little.

Our discussion turned into a Parking 101 class. It's a primer on navigating contemporary urban parking policy debates.

Most of the specifics mentioned in our discussion are from North America. But the key ideas apply around the world.

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Highlights of our discussion included:
  • Old versus new parking policy paradigms
  • The high cost of parking, although we usually make the cost invisible. 
  • Huge benefits when cities or developers can refrain from over-providing parking.
  • Neighborhood pubs and restaurants as an indicator for sustainable communities and how 'old paradigm' parking policies make them impossible and encourage drinking and driving.
  • Contingency-based planning of parking as a way to ease fears over limited parking supply. 
  • Many ways to ease demand for parking and make do with fewer spaces. 
  • The almost magical power of parking management to make a difference, especially as part of a wider integrated strategy of complementary steps.
  • Downtowns are relatively easy. The front line in parking management is inner or middle-ring areas undergoing transitions and infill. 
  • The broad benefits of better parking management and ways to increase awareness of them. 
Seattle's International District has intensive on-street parking management.
(Image source: Google Streetview)

A New Parking Paradigm to replace the old one

I have a slightly different take on paradigms in parking.

But I still like Todd's easy-to-understand contrast between the conventional old ways of handling parking and the much better and wiser, new approach that he advocates.

The Old Paradigm assumed that parking problem refers to a shortage of parking at a particular time and location. That is a narrow definition of the problem!

And it assumed that the best solution is always to provide as much parking as possible and that parking should be as cheap as possible. It assumed that it was perfectly acceptable to subsidize parking - that the cost of parking should be born indirectly - through taxes or the cost of developing a building.

This might make some kind of sense in areas that are sprawled and automobile dependent, where land is cheap and most travel is by car. But it makes little sense wherever land values are high or wherever transport is multimodal.

So, by contrast, the New Paradigm emphasizes sharing of parking and efficient regulations and pricing of parking together with a number of other strategies to avoid devoting so many resources to subsidizing parking.

Expensive holes in the ground [4:14]

Talk of subsidies took us on to the cost of providing parking.

Todd reminds us that parking is a very expensive resource, especially in the most urban locations. In such places, a good rule of thumb is that a structured parking space costs more than the car it is going to serve. We often give away parking. We generally don't give away cars!

But most people are unaware of this cost.

One reason for this is that most people have never bought parking space as a separate item. We mostly pay for parking as part of buying a house or leasing office space and such like.

So part of Todd's New Paradigm is simply recognizing that parking in dense areas is very expensive and that subsidizing it is both economically inefficient and unfair. Inefficient because it encourages people to own more vehicles and to drive more than they would if they paid directly. And unfair because it forces people who don't drive to subsidize the parking costs of their neighbors.

Why you actually need less parking than you think [7:49]

Many people assume that plentiful parking is just good business and that it would keep being built even if cities abandoned parking requirements.

But Todd is more optimistic and pointed to various trends away from excessive parking provision.

Under many circumstances developers do provide far fewer parking spaces than zoning codes have required. Lenders have sometimes been cautious, but only until they become familiar with successful buildings with lower parking provision.

Todd argued that, in attractive and economically successful North American cities, the number of vehicles per capita is declining, particularly in walkable urban neighborhoods. In such places, even higher end apartments and townhouses tend to have just one vehicle per dwelling. And lower priced housing in such areas typically has between 0.2 and 0.4 vehicles per housing unit.

Parking demand can also be dampened significantly by various parking management strategies, such as unbundling the cost of parking, so that motorist pay directly, rather than indirectly, for the parking. Parking-lite apartment buildings are increasingly offering on-site car-sharing or public transport passes.

Dampening parking needs also makes infill more financially feasible and less threatening for existing community members. Avoiding having to dig extremely expensive deep holes for 2 or 3 levels of underground parking is a huge saving, says Todd. A saving that will often rescue the business case for a building which would have been infeasible with excessive parking mandated.

And, of course, any success at easing parking demand helps to support many community's other strategic goals, such as reducing traffic congestion, accident risk and air pollution.

Is the city afraid to allow less parking? Try Contingency-Based parking planning. [13:47]

Despite all these benefits and promising trends, many cities still fear allowing less parking. They still worry about getting a parking mess in the streets and maybe spillover parking into neighboring parking lots.

One of Todd's favorite ways to ease such fears is called contingency-based planning, which means being ready with additional parking management strategies that can be deployed if a lack of parking really does turn out to cause problems.

Such strategies can include measures such as: sharing deals with a nearby place of worship; on-site car-sharing; starting to charge for the parking; or giving residents a free transit pass.

On-street Parking Management. Just get on with it! [16:25]

Of course, none of this will work well if the on-street parking remains poorly managed.

Todd sees this as the easy part! It is nothing new to clearly define the parking rules, set appropriate fees, and enforce both the rules and the fees. There is no need to fear spill over parking problems.

And good parking management usually reveals that, in most locations, there is really no overall parking shortage. The conflict is usually over just the most convenient parking spaces right in the commercial district or nearby. And solving that conflict is often just a matter of nudging the lower value parking, which is typically the commuters who want to park all day, to park somewhere that has fewer conflicts. That’s often 2 or 3 blocks away or in an off street parking facility.

Big dividends from parking management [22:30 or so]

Todd says that the potential savings and benefits from parking management are huge in most situations.

In a typical urban area, cost-effective and reasonable parking management strategies can reduce the number of parking spaces needed by 30 to 50%. And if it is integrated with improvements to alternative modes, such as bus or train, you’ll often get a 40 to 60% reduction. These are huge savings and they leverage reductions in traffic congestion and air pollution and accidents and consumer costs.

Several layers of wrongness with old-paradigm parking minimums for bars 

Todd reminds us that the highest parking requirements I typically imposed on restaurants and bars and pubs and taverns.

Here is an extreme example from Southern California:

Buffalo Wild Wings - Designed for drunk driving.
Joshua McCarty took this issue on in an article at Strong Towns
Of course, it is odd to be planning so much parking when we are also telling people not to drink and drive.

But Todd adds another twist by pointing to what this is doing to the location and style of development. Not only are we encouraging people to drink and drive, but we're making it almost impossible to create nice neighborhood pubs or restaurants within convenient walking distance of homes.

So Todd says neighborhood pubs are a good indicator of sustainability!

Downtowns are (relatively) easy. The real action is in inner areas in transition [29:14]

We discussed the question of where parking management and parking change is most contentious in North American cities.

Not city centers mostly. There is a well-established model for downtowns to do better. In fact, many downtown's never really embraced the old parking paradigm anyway. So many already have good parking regulations and efficient pricing and flexibility on how many parking spaces are going to be built in new buildings.

It's in the transitioning communities where the challenges are greatest and where it can be difficult to communicate that effective parking management and the New Paradigm can help.

More tips on helping people embrace parking change [32:14]

We ended by discussing more ideas for making New Paradigm parking change more attractive, easily grasped and less prone to rejection.

Todd emphasized that there is no rigid cookbook or manual here. It's not a technical challenge so much as a social challenge and about working with people.

Pilots and trials can help ease fears and give new initiatives the chance to prove themselves.

Also promising was engaging with community leaders of all kinds about their long-term goals and how parking approaches can be made more consistent with those goals.

Keep scrolling for a full transcript

About Todd Litman

Todd Litman is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. He has produced a huge volume of analysis on a wide range of transport and urban planning problems and solutions, including parking. Todd is author of the extremely useful 2006 book, Parking Management Best Practices.

Todd has a talent for making specialized and technical ideas accessible to a larger audience. He is a regular blogger at Planetizen and he also generously shares much of his work via the VTPI website, where you will find a wealth of parking policy information.


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Here is the YOUTUBE version

I would very much appreciate your feedback or comments below!


[Paul Barter] Welcome to Reinventing Parking, the podcast about parking policy for anyone who wants a better city and better urban transport.

Today I'm talking with Todd Litman, author of the extremely useful 2006 book, Parking Management Best Practices. In fact, it was Todd's parking work and writings (along with Donald Shoup's) that got me interested in parking about ten years ago now. Todd is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

In this episode of Reinventing Parking we cover many of the key essential issues for understanding parking in cities and why and how it needs to be managed.  Many of the specifics we mention are from North America but the key ideas apply all around the world, to cities rich or poor. Enjoy the interview.

Todd Litman, welcome to the Reinventing Parking podcast!

[Todd] Greetings Paul, I am glad to be here.

[Paul] So the reason I am interviewing you, Todd, is that you've written so much. You have written a book on the topic, you've written many blog posts on Planetizen. Your own website, the VTPI website has a lot of information about parking. And you are a very experienced parking consultant. And I'd like to pick your brains a little bit about how you attack this issue of parking.

You have been talking a lot about paradigms shifts in parking. In other words, a fundamental change in how people are thinking about how parking problems are defined and about how the solutions are evaluated.

And so, first up, can you explain a little bit more about the old paradigm in parking as you see it, and the main problems with that approach, and then we'll talk about what you call the new paradigm in a minute.

[Todd] Sure! So the old paradigm assumed that parking problem refers to a shortage of parking at a particular time and location. That's a very narrow definition of what the problem is. And it assumed that the best solution is always to provide as much parking as possible at every destination and that parking should be as cheap as possible, preferably free or relatively inexpensive.

And so, that paradigm, it assumed that it was perfectly acceptable to subsidize parking - that the cost of parking should be born indirectly through taxes, or the cost of developming a building. And that approach may have made some sense in areas that are sprawled and automobile dependent, where land is cheap and most travel is by car and where communities are unconcerned about traffic problems, such as traffic congestion, accidents and air pollution.

But if a community has high land values or it is multimodal, so people rely on a combination of modes or if it's trying to reduce total vehicle travel and encourage more compact infill development, then it becomes important to search for new solutions that result in more efficient management or efficient use of existing parking resources.

And so, this new paradigm emphasizes sharing and efficient regulations and pricing and encouraging alternative modes of transportation, where needed, and a number of other strategies so that they don't have to devote as many resources to subsidizing parking. And that we are treating people who don't drive with equal respect as people who do rely on automobile travel.

[Paul] So subsidizing something and seeing it as so vitally important that it is worthy of a subsidy ... There are things in our societies that governments see as important and we want to subsidize them, for good reasons. But the old paradigm seems to overestimate the social benefit of parking space and underestimate the costs and the negative side-effects. It seems to totally misjudge the value of parking, is it fair to say?

[Todd] Well certainly, that's part of it, is that parking is a very expensive resource ... in urban areas. So maybe in rural and suburban areas where land is cheap, it's reasonable to err on the side of oversupply. So, if you think you're going to need, let's say 50 parking spaces, you build 60, so that there is always plenty around. OK.

But as soon as you're in an urban area, where many activities occur close together, land is always valuable. And parking spaces are costly.

Most people have never bought parking space as a separate item. They pay for parking as part of, let's say buying a house, that comes with some parking spaces, or if you're a business you're paying for parking by buying buildings or leasing office space. And so most people are unfamiliar with the real cost of these things.

Paul, what do you think a typical urban parking space costs?

[Paul] People tend to systematically underestimate. And, even I, who basically knows the answer, I will probably underestimate. Let's say 20,000 or 30,000 dollars?

[Todd] A good rule of thumb is it costs more than the car that it is going to serve. Generally, a car costs less than a structured  parking space. And we give away parking. We don't give away cars! And yet it would be cheaper to give people a car and make them pay for the parking, rather than what we currently do.

So part of the new paradigm is very simply recognizing that in urban areas, any place where land is valuable, and you have to start building structured parking, that parking is very expensive and that subsidizing it is both economically inefficient and unfair.

Inefficient because it encourages people to own more vehicles and to drive more than they would if they paid directly.

And it's unfair because it forces people who don't drive to subsidize the parking costs of their neighbors.

Now a lot of this subsidy, it's hidden. It's the result of zoning codes and other development policies that force property owners to pay for parking. It is not necessarily a government subsidy, although there are significant government subsidies to parking. But the majority of parking is parking that people pay for but they pay for it indirectly. They pay for it through their rents or as part of their employment benefits or they pay for it through taxes.

And so these hidden subsidies are very large. They are very distortive of how cities develop. They discourage affordable infill development. They encourage sprawl development. And they distort our travel patterns. They result in far more driving than what would occur if travelers had to pay directly for their parking spaces.

[Paul] I think many people will assume that these subsidies, these private sector subsidies for parking, are a voluntary matter. That it's a matter of businesses providing parking for their employees or for their clients or for their customers, because they see that as good business. To what extent do you think these subsidies are just good business or are they a matter of policy?

[Todd] Well certainly some developers and some businesses would provide some parking. And certainly, especially for wealthy people, if you're buying a million dollar condominium, the cost of one or two 50,000 dollar parking spaces seems reasonable. Even if you don't currently own a car, you say well, I might as well pay this extra 5% of my million dollar condo for a parking space to go with it.

But under many circumstances developers would provide far fewer parking spaces that what the zoning codes require. And in some cases the lender, so banks or other investment organizations are forcing developers to provide more parking without keeping track of the trends.

So what we've found when we actually do studies, especially in attractive and economically successful cities, like Vancouver and Seattle and San Francisco and New York, we're finding that the portion of households that are car-free is steadily increasing. And the number of vehicles per capita is declining, particularly in the walkable urban neighborhoods.

So in many communities, in the past you would have one to two parking spaces per apartment or townhouse. And now we find that for the higher end it's down to about one vehicle per apartment. And for the lower priced, that is for lower and middle income households - housing that serves lower and middle income households - that it's down to between 0.2 and 0.4 vehicles per housing unit.

And particularly if those developments have some of these parking management strategies, for example, that the motorist has to pay directly for the parking. So if the apartment has the parking bundled - if when you rent an apartment you get - you automatically get - a parking space with it then a lot of people they will own a car. But if the parking is unbundled - so instead of paying, let's say 2000 dollars a month for an apartment with a parking space, you pay 1800 dollars a month for the apartment and 200 dollars a month for each parking space  you want, an awful lot of people will say, no, I guess I don't want to have my own car there that much. I'll rather take the savings. And especially if the apartment buildings have on-site car-sharing or carsharing service nearby, we find large reductions in the number of parking spaces that households demand. So we know this is true.

There have been some really good studies looking at these trends. But many of the investor groups, that is the banks and the investment funds, they haven't heard it yet. And so one of the steps in developing the new paradigm is to show the funders, the bankers, the investors, that they can actually get better profits. They can either have lower prices or more attractive units by unbundling the parking - by reducing the total number of parking spaces they're including in the projects and unbundling the parking and incorporating some of these  strategies like car-sharing.

And by doing that, they're also helping to support community's strategic goals. So, as we encourage the residents of those apartments to own fewer cars and drive less, or in the case of a, let's say an office building, we're encouraging the commuters to use alternative forms of transportation, we're reducing traffic congestion and accident risk and air pollution in that community.

And similarly we're making the infill projects far more feasible. So, for example, with conventional parking requirements a developer might need to provide 100 parking spaces in an office that's designed to accommodate let's say 200 workers. And that requires going underground  - it requires digging a very deep hole 2 or 3 levels down to provide all that parking. And those holes are extremely expensive! And they can spoil the business case for that office building. Whereas if for 200 employees you only had to provide 40 or 50 parking spaces, and so you only have to go down maybe one level or two levels, that building becomes much more feasible. And so you can have more space in that downtown area.

So everybody can benefit. Even people who continue to drive. So even motorists benefit from these parking policy reforms that result in more efficient use of parking facilities and encourage people to shift modes to more space-efficient modes.

[Paul] Many of our listeners will be sympathetic to this idea of reducing the requirements for off street parking and not overdoing the off street parking. And many of them would have encountered people who then object, to say, well it's all very well assuming there will be less car ownership and less parking if we have less off street parking. But in reality it will just cause a mess in the streets and maybe spillover parking into neighboring parking lots. How do you deal with that?

[Todd] One of the strategies I highly recommend is called contingency-based planning. And that means that rather than expecting planners and engineers to do the impossible, that is expecting them to predict how many parking spaces that new development could ever need over the course of its lifetime, we say OK you can build to the lower end of what you think is necessary, provided that you have a plan which identifies the additional parking management strategies that you would deploy if what you built turns out to be insufficient.

So let's say you're building an apartment building and it's got a hundred units. But it's located near downtown and so you think that you'll only need let's say 60 parking spaces for 100 unit apartment building. But the zoning code requires you to build 100 parking spaces.

You say, no, let's build 60 and here is what we'll do if 60 turns out to be insufficient. That might include that you make an arrangement with the nearby church to use their parking lot during peak periods. Or you might Implement on-site car-sharing to give residents better travel options. Or you might start charging for those parking spaces and unbundle the parking and charge a little bit more. Or you could give the residents a free transit pass. There are many things that you could do. And you can mix and match.  You can try a few different combinations of these strategies as long as they prevent overflow parking problems everybody is happy.

So I recommend that we as proponents of parking management we explain we showed how contingency-based planning can be applied to address the concerns that people may raise

[Paul] On the side of the municipality - the local government - are there things that the local government needs to be doing on its part of the bargain with the on-street parking in order for these off-street parking management approaches to be relevant?

Like, for example, suppose we unbundle parking in a residential building and with good intentions implement contingency planning. But if the on-street parking is free and unmanaged the expectation would be that many of the residents might say well I'm not paying for parking and just park in the street.

So what is it that the municipalities have to do to make sure this all works?  And how can we embolden them so that they can have the courage to do this even if it seems a little risky perhaps politically?

[Todd] The traditional solution was simply to force somebody to provide more free parking in order to avoid residents parking on the street - what we call spillover parking problems.

So the first step is for the municipal governments to clearly define the parking regulations and the fees and enforce them for any place you don't want that spill over parking problem.

For example, in a commercial district where you're afraid people who shop or work there will be parking on the residential streets nearby, the first step is to make sure that there is clear regulation and enforcement of those regulations on those nearby residential streets.

That's nothing new! That’s done all the time. So it's not a problem in any way to do that. It just might require the municipal government to do a little bit more - to devote a little more resources to enforcing the parking regulations -  although those will usually pay for themselves from the additional citation revenue. And pretty soon people will learn that they shouldn't park there on that residential street. So it's usually a temporary problem until people become accustomed to the new regulations.

The other thing is that cities should do everything they can to manage the on street parking. On-street parking is a great resource.  It's the most easily shared most convenient parking.

In most locations there's really no overall parking problem. The conflict is usually over the most convenient parking spaces so there are a few parking spaces that people are fighting over or are concerned about.  And those are often the on-street spaces right in the commercial district or in nearby residential areas.

So a municipal government does have to do everything they can to ensure that those prime parking spaces are managed for efficiency and prioritized so that they are really being used by the people who deserve them the most.

For example, in a commercial area the on-street parking space should be regulated and priced so that delivery vehicles and people running a quick errand and people with disabilities who are picking up or dropping off passengers -  so that those high priority uses can virtually always find an unoccupied parking space because you've got the regulation and the pricing system down - you've done it correctly.

And that means that the lower value uses, which is typically the commuters or somebody that is parking all day in an area - that they have the motivation and the information that they need in order to park somewhere that this fewer conflicts.  That’s often 2 or 3 blocks away or it might involve paying to use on off street parking lot.

And so, when you do it correctly with regulations and the pricing in place, you prioritize so that the most convenient spaces are regulated and priced to favor the high value uses. You're making sure that people - especially the motorists - when they arrive there they have the information they need to find to determine what their parking options are.

So for example if you're in a hurry you're dropping by a pharmacy or you're picking up your wife at the end of her work you want to make sure that you've got let's say the first 10 or 15 minutes of parking is free or it's relatively inexpensive to stop off and that there's always plenty of parking spaces.

And if you're commuting to work you know that if you drive an extra two or three blocks that there is a cheap parking space - a cheap full day parking space - and you'll say well that's where I'm going to park.

So in order for that to work you need maps or apps or signs that give people the information they need so that they can find the parking space that meets the needs for each particular strip.

[Paul] So I guess we can summarize the discussion so far in a way as: Don't make building more poking your first step. Manage what you've already got as the first step. And in all likelihood you'll be a fine that you don't need anymore. But if you do, then by all means build a bit more.

And one thing you mentioned just now which struck made was that the commuter who decides to park a little further away. That actually is something that people need to think about a lot more and be aware that it's almost like the magic sauce of parking management, isn't it? That those all-day people - because they take up valuable parking space all day - but we can more easily nudge them because they are parking all day they are more willing to walk 5 minutes out of their 8 hour or 9 hour a day.  Nudging the all-day parkers is a really powerful tool. And it's not just about getting people to shift to bikes or to walking or to public transport. Just simply getting the all-day parkers to park in a slightly more appropriate location achieves an enormous amount. People underestimate the power of parking management because they don't realize that.

[Todd]  Absolutely. It is difficult to change the paradigm. People are accustomed to particular practices.

But the potential savings and benefits are huge in most situations. In a typical urban area, if we apply just the most cost-effective, reasonable parking management strategies we can reduce the number of parking spaces needed by 30 to 50%. And if it's integrated with improvements to alternative modes - so if you simultaneously start to a charge efficient prices for parking and you greatly improve the bus or the train service to that area – you’ll often get a 40 to 60% reduction in the number of parking spaces that are needed. That's huge savings and it leverages reductions in traffic congestion and air pollution and accidents and consumer costs. So there are huge savings and benefits if we could do a better job.

[Paul] I'm imagining a jurisdiction where, politically, people are not interested in green transport or sustainable transport but they do have a parking problem in their denser areas. So what I'm hearing you saying is just parking management alone can achieve a certain amount but it would achieve even more if it was complemented by efforts to have a more multimodal transport system

[Todd] Exactly.  A comprehensive integrated planning system ensures that every decision - that each individual short-term decision - supports your strategic goals.

So if you use what you could call a traditional reductionist planning model - so you're addressing each problem individually - a planner or transportation agency can rationally solve parking problems in ways that exacerbate other problems! You expand your parking supply, even though that's going to stimulate more driving, so it increases traffic problems, and it's going to reduce your ability for infill for compact infill development.

Whereas comprehensive analysis - or you could say the new planning paradigm - it recognizes that all of these issues are connected. And so the planner and the decision-makers are looking for the win-win solutions - that is the solution to a parking problem that ALSO  helps achieve your traffic congestion reduction or your affordability or your efficient development goals. And so you're not saying you would never add more parking. But you would only add parking if you are sure it would be best overall, considering all of those goals.

Let me give you an interesting example. What type of land use development has the highest parking requirements? The highest parking ratio?

[Paul] Now I saw something on Twitter yesterday which totally blew me away – it shocked me.  I think it was somewhere in Southern California that requires 22 parking spaces for a thousand square feet (which is roughly 100 square meters) of restaurant I think it was.

[Todd] Exactly. OK the highest parking requirements I typically imposed on restaurants and bars and pubs and taverns.  On one hand we're telling people don't drink and drive. On the other hand we're assuming that most people who are going for a sociable evening of drinking are going to get there by driving their cars!

What does that do in terms of the location of development? Let's say you wanted to open up one of those really nice microbrewery pubs in your residential neighbourhood. What are going to be the constraints on microbrewery pub development in a typical American residential suburb? The parking requirements!

So not only are we encouraging people to drink and drive, but we're making it almost impossible to create those nice neighborhood pubs that are within convenient walking distance of most people's homes.

And yet when, say, the city council or the parking consultant reviews the parking requirements that are going to be imposed on bars and restaurants and pubs do they talk about this contradiction? Do they ask why are we creating parking requirements that contradict our goals for safer traffic and more infill development and increased affordability? Is there a discussion? In most cases there is none. There simply isn't the awareness of the concern that when you're developing your parking regulations that you should do everything you can to make them consistent with your other planning goals.

One of my definitions of a sustainable transportation system or a sustainable community is a neighborhood where there are convenient restaurants and pubs within walking distance of most houses. And of course that also reflects not just walking to the pub or walking to the restaurant.  But it also means you could probably walk to the local stores and your children could walk to schools and you've got that compact development.

So I think neighborhood pubs are a good indicator and a planning target for overall sustainability

[Paul] So this issue of context… In your parking consultancy work, if it's anything like my work, the downtown cases are in some ways the easiest. It's really a no-brainer that many of them are already doing pretty intensive parking management. They know what they have to do more or less. There are others that are not doing it and it's a no-brainer that they should. And the dividends from doing that would be enormous.

But some of the most difficult places … Well OK … really automobile dependent places don't even think about this and they're not even on the radar …  But it's the middle and inner city areas which are in some kind of transition that seem especially difficult. Places where people have perhaps been used to having free parking and treating parking as a public good that will just be there for them - but their neighborhoods are changing. Maybe there's infill development happening. Maybe there's some commercial development nearby so that there's more traffic and more parking pressure.  Those seem to be the places that are especially difficult, both in practical terms - because change is always challenging - and in political terms - because change is challenging (in a different way)! Can you reflect a little bit on the parking policies and how to make them politically feasible in say an inner or middle suburb that is undergoing some change - you know -  infill development and commercial development?

[Todd] Right. So that is our challenge! You are absolutely right. There is a tradition. Let’s say there is a clear model for downtowns to efficiently manage parking. In fact, many downtown's never fully embraced the conventional or the old paradigm. So in many downtowns you already have good parking regulations and efficient pricing and flexibility on how many parking spaces are going to be built in new buildings.

And you're absolutely right. It's in the transitioning communities where the challenge often occurs. And for those of us who are working as planning consultants the challenge is to communicate to decision-makers - including the local residents that may be concerned about this - that the innovative solutions really can make them better off overall.

Now I'm confident that that's true. I'm confident that efficient parking management can often benefit everybody:  the developers by reducing the cost of development; you're benefiting the local community by reducing traffic congestion; and you're benefiting people when they drive because you’re guaranteeing that they will be able to find a convenient parking space when they're in a hurry. All of these things are good. It's up to us to communicate with those communities the full range of benefits and to find ways to overcome their fears and objections

[Paul] One of the strengths of your work in both transportation and in parking is your emphasis on paradigms and mindsets and ways of thinking about these things. Parking is a very practical issue, and for many people it's below their radar. It only comes to their attention when changes are actually being implemented and then they might get upset.

To what extent do you think we need to change mindsets about parking and how people think about parking first? Or should we just practically get on with this parking management agenda and hope that, as people see that it works well, their mind sets will change? It's a chicken-and-egg question …

[Todd]  Sure. Well that's job security for planners Because every situation is unique, there is no rigid cookbook or manual for how you work with a particular community to manage parking more efficiently and overcome their objections. You just have to work with people.

In other words, it's not a technical challenge so much as a social challenge. It's about working with people - helping people in a community better understand the options that are available so the broader range of parking management solutions that are out there. And then communicating the benefits of applying these individual parking management solutions rather than the traditional solutions.

And of course there are often objections. Some of them are frivolous but some of them are quite legitimate. So you have to plan in such a way that you overcome the obstacles that may come up you have to anticipate and overcome them.

Often it’s things like suggesting a particular strategy should be implemented on a trial basis rather than suggesting that it's up an inflexible change. And sometimes it's about finding some leader - identifying the people within the community who understand the value of using these resources more efficiently and making the decisions more consistent with long-term goals. Every community has to deal with these problems in its own way. People like you and I can help them identify innovative solutions. But it's really about working with the people in that community and helping them work through the decision-making process that makes it so fun and interesting.

[Paul]  Well thank you Todd very much for your time and for being one of the first guests on the new Reinventing parking podcast thank you very much again

[Todd]  My pleasure Paul. Take care


  1. Very good discussion. Parking is gonna change. Parking Efficiency will be the ultimate goal. Off-Street Parkings are utilized by ave 60%. So Cities could abolish on-street parking (improving environment by less park search traffic) and need to improve Signage and Routing to carparks. Autonomous cars will reduce the need for parking spaces by over 60%. So we need to prepare now. Frank Beckmann, Germany,

  2. I like the discussion on car parking. Cities have gone far from the old parking system. Hopefully, street parking will be gone in a few years. I have yet to watch your video interview and would watch in a while.


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