NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 30, 2007

A surprising amount of traffic isn't caused by people who are on their way somewhere. Rather, it is caused by those who have already arrived.  Streets are clogged, in part, by drivers searching for a place to park, says Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at the University of California.

According to research by Shoup and his students:

  • Cruising for parking in a 15-block business district in Los Angeles, resulted in the average cruising time was 3.3 minutes, and the average cruising distance half a mile (about 2.5 times around the block).
  • This may not sound like much, but with 470 parking meters in the district, and a turnover rate for curb parking of 17 cars per space per day, 8,000 cars park at the curb each weekday.
  • Over the course of a year, the search for curb parking in this 15-block district created about 950,000 excess vehicle miles of travel — equivalent to 38 trips around the earth, or four trips to the moon.

What causes this astonishing waste?  Drivers often compare parking at the curb to parking in a garage and decide that the price of garage parking is too high. But the truth is that the price of curb parking is too low, says Shoup.  Underpriced curb spaces are like rent-controlled apartments: hard to find and, once you do, crazy to give up.  This increases the time costs -- and therefore the congestion -- of cruising.

To prevent shortages, some cities have begun to adjust their meter rates, varying by location and the time of day.  They can adjust the price of curb parking in response to demand to keep roughly one out of every eight spaces vacant throughout the day.  With the right combination, right-priced curb parking can eliminate cruising.

Source: Donald Shoup, "Gone Parkin,'" New York Times, March 29, 2007.

For text:


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues