Cities Lose $1000 Or More Per Year For Every Parking Space They Have

Written by Boston Biker on Apr 07

I have been rambling on for years about how parking spaces are basically the worst thing you can put into a city (other than I guess the cars in them), but finally someone went and proved me right with math.


A pair of forthcoming studies by Garrick and several of his UConn colleagues examine the economic and sociological impacts of parking trends in six U.S. cities from 1960 to 2000. They conclude that some car-centric cities forfeit more than a thousand dollars per parking space per year in potential municipal revenues by using land for parking rather than more lucrative alternatives. The researchers also found that minimum parking requirements inhibit development and exacerbate traffic by placing incentives on car use rather than on walking and cycling.

The studies chronicle changes in Arlington, Va., Berkeley, Calif., and Cambridge, Mass.—all of which showed only modest growth in parking over the past 40 years—and Hartford, Conn., Lowell, Mass., and New Haven, Conn., where parking spaces were added with great zeal over that span.


Parking-centric cities also sacrifice income. In all six cities studied by UConn’s researchers, land devoted to buildings provides at least 88 percent of tax revenue and sometimes as much as 97 percent; parking contributes very little. In other words, cities that turn themselves into car lots relinquish tax money in the bargain.

Hartford loses an estimated $1,200 annually per parking space, a subsidy of more than $50 million per year, according to Garrick. The city is no anomaly: “We pick on Hartford because it’s our state capital.” Cities such as Cambridge, where parking is kept in check and more heavily taxed, don’t lose money. (read more here)

Hindsight is of course 20/20, but lets go over a little recap of what happened to many cities since the 60’s. Build big highways into the city, allowing people to commute from the burbs, whoops there goes your tax base, then you build lots of parking lots so those people have some place to stash their cars when arrive from 20-10+ miles away, roads get torn up without the tax base to pay for them, and whoops lost tax revenue because empty concrete doesn’t make much tax revenue. Then what are you left with? A city that is a traffic jam twice a day, a parking lot during the work day, and a ghost town at night and on weekends. You also have lots of ugly highways and overpasses that make it impossible for the people left to enjoy the city…in short building cities for cars is a nightmare.

I am uplifted by the fact that there has been a big trend in tearing down overpasses, making it more expensive to commute by car into cites, and removing, or reducing the number of parking spaces built. But we have a long way to go, our cities are still not designed for people, they are designed for cars. Hopefully people will follow the money and replace the parking spaces with something useful, like a garden, park, business, home, or bike lane!

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Posted in advocacy, news | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Cities Lose $1000 Or More Per Year For Every Parking Space They Have”

  1. By Liam on Apr 8, 2014 | Reply

    I’ve been thinking lately about how the MBTA – ostensibly a public transportation organization – runs a ton of parking lots in and around Boston. The MBTA website proclaims: “With over 55,000 available parking spaces in 103 locations, the MBTA is the largest owner of off-street paid parking in New England.” I can understand park & ride lots at suburban commuter rail stations to a certain extent, but I also counted parking lots at 26 subway stations in Boston and its more urban suburban cities.

    I’m most familiar with the Forest Hills station in my neighborhood where two large lots essentially set the station itself at a distance from where people actually live, work, and shop. And I expect there’s induced demand going on as well as hundreds of cars add to the traffic congestion in Forest Hills on the way to parking in those lots that wouldn’t be driving there otherwise. The lots are largely vacant outside of business hours (which is only %30 of the week) and I suspect the drivers of those cars provide very little economic contribution to the area beyond parking fees (which are artificially low).

    Wouldn’t it make sense for the MBTA to get out of the business of subsidizing parking at subway stations in Boston and its more urban suburbs? Renting or selling that land for development certainly would grant the MBTA some much-needed cashflow. It would be great to have MBTA stations as the heart of dense urban neighborhoods where people live, work, shop, dine, and play rather than in the center of parking crater.

  2. By MattyCiii on Apr 8, 2014 | Reply

    Boston Biker, this Thirsday night LivableStreets Alliance’s Spring Member party will include special guest speaker Donald Shoup

  3. By MattyCiii on Apr 8, 2014 | Reply

    (oops, hit “submit” before I was ready)

    Donald Shoup is the author of “The High Cost of Free Parking”, a well respected work on the damage parking has done to our society. More info on the party is here:

  4. By MattyCiii on Apr 8, 2014 | Reply

    I’ve had similar thoughts. In the summer of 2012 when it appeared there would be large fare increases (and service cuts) it occurred to me (at least with respect to the commuter lines) that a far less regressive way to increase revenue would be to raise the parking fee at commuter rail stations instead of the train fare. The assumption here is someone in a 1 car family is dropped off, or people with no access to a car bikes or walks to the station. These folks would not experience a total-cost increase because they don’t have the luxury/problem of having a car to leave idle in the parking lot all day.

  5. By mouthbreather on Apr 10, 2014 | Reply

    the problem with forest hills is that the orange line really needs to be extended down to 128, but it’s never going to happen due to the NIMBYs in west roxbury.

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