On-street parking is intended to serve the needs of downtown patrons while being convenient. The majority of on-street parking users park between a 0 to 2 hour range, with most users parking for 1 hour or less. A 2002 study on Spokane’s Downtown Comprehensive Parking Program reveals that 34 percent of downtown visitors preferred on-street parking for ease of access instead of garage parking.
Free car parking in downtown areas has been associated with more people driving to work creating a lack of available parking spaces for visitors, patrons, and tourists. According to an article on “Commuter Mode Choice and Free Car Parking” in The Journal of Public Transportation (Vol. 17, No. 2, 2014, pg. 68), more people are likely to drive to work instead of cycling, taking public transit or using an alternative transportation method if there is free parking. This increases the number of vehicles downtown limiting parking capacity for visitors as well as leading to increased traffic congestion. Downtown areas that had free on-street parking and a public transportation network still had approximately 87 percent of commuters drive to work. This is compared to downtowns with metered on-street parking that only had 26 percent of commuters that drove to work.
Donald Shoup, a UCLA Professor in Economics and Urban Planning, has highlighted a study of six different urban areas found that about one-third of all downtown traffic congestion was created by people trying to find parking places. Shoup found that the implementation of parking meters reduces parking overcrowding, helps alleviate traffic congestion, and increases user turnover rates that allows for a greater ratio of patrons per hour.
The Journal of Transportation recommends that mid-sized cities, such as Spokane, offer transportation policies and incentives instead of providing low-cost or free downtown on-street parking. Metered parking results in 25 to 34 percent fewer automobiles driven to the workplace, allowing for increased visitor capacity. Parking incentives will help relieve congestion and open up more spaces for patrons, tourists, and shoppers that are visiting downtown Spokane.
Free parking also requires the entire population pay for real costs of parking rather than the actual user. The City of Spokane currently offers 2,800 metered on-street parking spaces throughout the city, most of which are located in the downtown business district. According to a CH2M Hill parking analysis report, done for St. Louis, Missouri, the average annual cost of a single street parking space is $1,338 or about $3.67 per day. Given these two sets of figures, the annual cost for street parking in Spokane is a little over $3.7 million or around $10,300 per day. If meters are removed and free parking is implemented in the downtown business district, the costs for maintenance and construction of on-street parking spaces will, most likely, be forced onto taxpayers and businesses through increased property or sales taxes.
Downtown Area Free Parking Summary
- Most on-street parking users park a maximum of 1 hours or less.
- Downtown visitors and tourists have more personal funds to shop downtown.
- Can attract more auto-oriented visitors to the downtown area.
- Takes business from private downtown paid parking lots and garages.
- Creates more traffic congestion.
- Less parking becomes available throughout the day.
- More business employees drive and take up parking for potential patrons and customers.
- More people are likely to drive instead of taking public transit or cycling.
- Parking construction and maintenance costs are shifted to the taxpayer instead of a single user service.
- Less parking turnover which reduces stall availability for patrons, tourists, and customers.