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Moving Beyond the Automobile: The Right Price for Parking

You might be shocked at how much traffic consists of drivers who have already arrived at their destination but find themselves cruising the streets, searching for an open parking spot. In some city neighborhoods, cruising makes up as much as 40 percent of all traffic. All this unnecessary traffic slows down buses, endangers cyclists and pedestrians, delays other motorists, and produces harmful emissions. The key to eliminating it is to get the price of parking right.

So what's the right price for curbside parking? According to UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, "the right price is the lowest price you can charge and still have one or two spaces available on each block." Depending on the demand for parking at a given location, the right price could be higher or lower than the static prices you see at traditional meters. You need a dynamic system that adjusts the price based on demand.

The city of San Francisco has been putting Shoup's ideas into practice on an unprecedented scale with its SFpark program, which is set to launch later this week. In addition to strategically adjusting curbside meter rates, SFpark sets prices in city garages to make them an attractive alternative to on-street spots, and distributes real-time information about parking availability to help drivers find open spaces. It is the most ambitious project in the United States to cut traffic and improve quality of life by getting the price of parking right.

Streetfilms would like to thank The Fund for the Environment & Urban Life for making this series possible.

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