Donald Shoup is one of my heroes. He’s the authority on parking: how it shapes cities, how it enables driving, and how cities can fix the problems that parking policies create. He has a legion of followers who proudly call themselves Shoupistas. Shoup is retiring from UCLA this year. The college is sending him off with a fundraiser retirement dinner atop parking structure number 32 on Saturday May 30. You can attend, and hobnob with Shoup himself, by donating to the Shoup Fellowship fund for future UCLA planning students.
Below is part one of my interview with Don Shoup. The interview took place at the UCLA Faculty Center on Friday, May 15, the day after UCLA’s Complete Streets Forum, where Professor Shoup had been impressed with a presentation on the soon-to-be phased out traffic congestion metric, Level of Service.
Joe Linton: For many years, as a cyclist and bicycle activist, I didn’t really think about parking. I thought “I don’t park – it’s not my issue.” But then Beth Steckler, my boss at Livable Places, recommended that I read The High Cost of Free Parking. I did, and it really opened my eyes. It’s one of the few books that has really changed the way I look at cities.
Don Shoup: I think that most people are not interested in parking itself. So I’ve tried to convince them that parking is important for what really interests them, which may be affordable housing or climate change or traffic congestion or fuel consumption or accidents or health or whatever.
And I think that’s why people are beginning to pay attention to parking – because they can see it’s really perhaps the easiest way to make improvements in what they’re concerned about.
Whatever the concern, I think the most politically feasible and most cost-effective way to advance their cause is often to fix parking.
I don’t expect many people to be interested in parking per se. Most academics have neglected parking because it has such a low status.
In universities, no matter how much we talk about justice and equality, there are strict status hierarchies. International affairs are the most overarching topic. And then national affairs are very important. State government that seems provincial. Local government is totally parochial. And then in local government, what’s the lowest status thing you could talk about? That would be parking.
So I’ve been a bottom feeder, but found a lot of food down there.
And there’s so much to see if you just look at it very carefully. I think if you look at anything carefully you will find that it’s fascinating.
I am happy to think that you and others are seeing the connection between what you’re interested in and parking – and Level of Service.
Most of us are not interested in measuring the Level of Service at intersections. Nevertheless, at the Complete Streets forum yesterday, Chris Ganson, from the California Office of Planning and Research, explained why inappropriate LOS measures prevent infill development and why it is the regulations instead encourage suburban low-density development.
Linton: I call it zombie engineering. Though it’s not just engineering, it’s also planning, design. There are so many practices and policies and rules that say we have to do the car stuff first and foremost, that they end up with a life of their own. You can get rid of Level of Service, and the next thing is going to be financing or something else. It just feels like a multi-tentacled monster — cut one off, and there are still a hundred more rules saying you have to accommodate car stuff first.
Shoup: Yes, that’s true. So long as the tentacles don’t regenerate, it is worth cutting them off.
I think part of the problem with zombie urban planning is that many people, including me, don’t have a strong visual understanding of the effects of something like Level of Service or parking requirements.
I was in Vancouver a couple weeks ago. I hadn’t been there for forty years. It was so fascinating to see it looking a bit like Hong Kong, except …well, far better-looking. There are a lot of new high rises downtown – condos, apartment buildings, and office buildings. They have very wide sidewalks and not that much traffic congestion and [on] almost every block there will be a high rise. And you like it without knowing exactly why. Read more…