Donald Shoup, parking’s one and only rock star, is retiring from UCLA this year. Tomorrow, the college is sending him off with a fundraiser retirement dinner atop parking structure number 32. You can attend, and hobnob with Shoup himself, by donating to the Shoup Fellowship fund for future UCLA planning students.
Below is part two of my big exit interview with Don Shoup. Part one is here. 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 car congestion metric, Level of Service.
Joe Linton: Many progressives want people to do the right thing for the right reason. If you look at New York City and how healthy people are, it’s because they walk. They’re not healthier because they’re choosing some healthy option. They’re healthy because the neighborhood around them was built for walking. I think you’ve managed to avoid that pitfall.
Don Shoup: When it comes to public policy, doing the right thing is more important than doing it for the right reason. The best way to get people to do what’s right collectively is to make it the best thing for them to do individually. You have to give individuals a personal incentive to do what’s right for society.
When it comes to parking, you have to figure out how to stop giving everyone incentives to do what’s wrong for society. Removing subsidies for parking is one of the best ways to convince people to walk, bike, or ride the bus rather than drive solo.
For example, employer-paid parking is an invitation to drive to work alone. Parking cash out is a policy that makes it individually rational to consider all the alternatives to driving to work alone. I studied employers who began to offer commuters the option to choose the cash value of free parking rather than the parking itself. At these firms, 17 percent of the solo drivers shifted to carpooling, biking, walking, or riding the bus to work.
For many people, the only reason to do anything is that it’s best for them individually. And I think that’s why planners have to be more realistic about devising policies so the stakeholders will say, “I see what you mean – that’ll help me.” I think expecting people to do the right thing for the right reason leads to a lot of failure in public policy.
Most people who ride a bike do so because they enjoy it and want the exercise, not because it’s a sacrifice for humanity. But many people don’t mind driving or even like to drive, and parking subsidies increase the incentive to drive.
In my retirement, I want to live the way hobbits did; they spent all their time visiting all their friends who lived within a half a day’s walk. And if you are lucky, you can live almost that way in L.A. I live near campus and usually don’t leave Westwood. When I do go to other places like West Hollywood, Culver City, or Pasadena, I see there’s a whole other ecosystem going on in each neighborhood. There are a lot of little villages and you can have a wonderful life without traveling far from them. I’ve even seen real estate ads for houses saying “Park on Friday, walk all weekend.”
Because of traffic congestion I think more people are leading their lives in their own villages. But I do think we can greatly reduce traffic congestion. I’m a big fan of congestion pricing – which I think is the only thing that will reduce congestion.
Linton: Where do you see congestion pricing taking hold in Los Angeles?
Shoup: It already has taken hold – the High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes on the Harbor Freeway. Solo drivers can use the ExpressLanes if they pay. The tolls adjust up and down to prevent the lanes from getting congested.
Linton: What’s interesting to me is that it was working really well as we were emerging from the down economy – the speeds were actually averaging above the speed limit – which they were proud of – those scofflaw motorists. This year and late last year, as the economy has picked up, they’re increasingly closing those lanes. They’re too packed.
Shoup: Yes. It’s because there is a cap on the congestion toll – $1.40 per mile. They now run up against that cap often. The price cap was politically necessary to begin with but there’s no reason to have a cap now, especially because the toll revenue provides many amenities on and alongside the freeway. Better lighting, better bus stops, and more frequent bus service.
Linton: Bike-share, too
Shoup: That’s right. So what’s the objection to raising the tolls now? The ExpressLane tolls provide about $2.3 million a month to run the extra bus service, bike-sharing, better bus stops, and things like that. If that’s what the tolls are providing, what’s the problem with raising the price for solo drivers when the freeway gets congested?
Linton: Where else do you think L.A. can expand congestion pricing? Additional freeway lanes? Other applications?
Shoup: They didn’t need to add lanes to the El Monte Busway and the Harbor Freeway for congestion pricing. I think we should convert more HOV lanes to HOT lanes. On the 405, we just spent a billion dollars to put in one new HOV lane. It took five years of construction with nightmarish traffic – and just think of the carbon emissions that created. It would be more sensible to convert one free lane to a HOT lane.
After the Level of Service talk [at the prior day’s Complete Streets forum] a consultant from Orange County asked “if they don’t use Level of Service metrics, how will they know where to build new freeways, new capacity?” I said if you have a congested freeway, you could try converting free lanes into HOT lanes rather than build more free lanes. I think Orange County made a bad choice in expanding freeways and keeping them free.
If we manage freeways better – the lanes that we have – we wouldn’t need any more. And they would provide revenue.
We ought to have signs on the bike stands, in the buses, and at bus stops saying “paid for by the ExpressLanes revenue.” People will see the toll revenue at work. The revenue goes to specific places for specific things. If we didn’t have the congestion tolls, we wouldn’t have these bicycles, this bus, this new street furniture, or something like that.
Variable parking prices are like congestion tolls, except instead of aiming for the right speed on the road you aim for the right occupancy rate for on-street parking –one or two open spaces on every block. It’s a lot easier to charge for parking than it is to charge congestion tolls. But most cities have the same price for curb parking all day long, or no price at all.
Linton: Have cities done a good job of adopting your recommendation to use parking meter revenue for improvements on metered blocks?
Shoup: Pasadena is a great example of using parking meter revenue to improve an area. You are probably too young to remember what Colorado Boulevard in Old Pasadena was like before the parking meters. It used to be a skid row.
There were wonderful buildings in terrible condition. Much of it had been urban renewed. The city tore out three blocks of Old Pasadena on Colorado Boulevard for an enclosed mall. Look at it from the air. What we think of as Old Pasadena is only what’s left of Old Pasadena – before freeways and redevelopment removed most of it.
Most of the buildings were empty above the ground floor. The rest of them were pawn shops, porn theaters, and tattoo parlors – there’s nothing wrong with that but it shouldn’t be your only land use. The city wanted to put in parking meters. The merchants said “no way – it’ll chase away the few customers we have – down to this enclosed mall you subsidized.” They argued for a couple of years. Finally the city said “if we put in the parking meters, we’ll spend all of the revenue for added public services on the metered streets. We’ll rebuild all the sidewalks and clean up the alleys.” The merchants said “why didn’t you tell us that before? Let’s run the meters until midnight. Let’s run ‘em on Sunday.” They were so excited when they knew they would get the revenue instead of going into the city general fund.
Linton: Revenue return is just one of the three main parking reforms that you recommend for cities. Explain those.
Shoup: I recommend three basic policies: Read more…