Tom Vanderbilt had an interesting post yesterday on his How We Drive blog about how the perception of parking availability may differ from the actual parking available to drivers:
…I was thinking back to Donald Shoup’s reply to a question I had posed to him, which itself was related to Brian Pijanowski’s study of parking-lot sprawl in Indiana. Despite a huge and quantifiable overabundance of parking in the county he studied, he was interested to note that people still complained “there wasn’t enough parking.”
I asked Shoup, who of course from the groves of academe has helped ignite a quiet but fomenting revolution in parking policy, to what extent this question of perception in the parking equation had been studied or quantified — keeping in mind that perception is a crucial, if often under-appreciated part of the traffic/planning nexus (e.g., commute times, etc.). One part of Shoup’s answer stuck with me: He talked of studying a parking garage in West Hollywood. On the bottom floors, there were cars, and in the empty spaces, plenty of oil stains to indicate past users. On the upper floors, he noted, it looked as if the spaces had never been graced by a single car. And yet the word from drivers was that there was ‘nowhere to park.’ But the problem, Shoup noted, is that drivers’ perception parking supply is informed by the parking spaces they can actually see. Call it “parking availability bias” (ode to Tversky and Kahneman). And the spaces that are most easily seen, of course, are curb spaces, hence the importance of rational market pricing policies to ensure turnover and vacancy. A few empty spaces (15%) can go a long way.
This got me thinking about the places where “there is nowhere to park” in Columbus. The first place that comes to mind is the Short North, where new parking garages are periodically discussed as a way to ease a supposed parking crunch. But is is really hard to park in the Short North or is it just an example of parking availability bias? I suspect the latter, mostly because I have never really had trouble parking in the Short North. There are several lots (Columbusite has a great map here), meters on High Street, and an abundance of free on-street parking in the surrounding neighborhoods.
I think this last point is where the bias comes in. People drive down High Street to their destination, but find no open spaces within sight distance and get frustrated that there is nowhere to park. My advice is to circle around and check the side streets. Even parking as far away as Neil Avenue seems completely reasonable to me. After a few years of living in Chicago, I have found myself instinctively trained to take the first available on-street space I find within a half mile of my destination. Then I start walking to the destination and realize that I could have parked about 3/8 of a mile closer because I’m in Columbus and parking just isn’t that big a problem.
Nevertheless, this parking availability bias illustrates the importance of street level parking for business districts, proper pricing of meters to ensure a few spaces are available at all times, and the futility of building 8-story parking garages where the top floors will never be used because nobody wants to drive around in circles that many times. As Mr. Vanderbilt suggests, we should look into technology that can guide drivers to the open parking spaces in lots and garages. This is not uncommon, especially in Europe. If we did a better job of parking management, maybe the city could have saved itself $30 Million on new parking garages downtown.
Edit: If you haven’t read the book How We Drive, it’s a great read, even for non-engineers. The book is a highly researched, well written, and fascinating account of the relationships between driving, traffic engineering, and human psychology. I strongly recommend it.