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Notes from Big Ben …

We in UK do Shoup, and Beyond...

By Peter Guest

JVH and I were at the Philippine parking conference in Manila recently, and he gave them a presentation on all things Shoup. After JVH came off the stage, I mentioned to him that he should not forget that although Professor Shoup’s stuff is quite radical to you guys out there, to us Brits it’s “been there, done that and got the T-shirt.”
JVH, with his normal tact and wit, snarled words to the effect that I was talking through my hat. But in a subsequent Q&A session, he did have the good grace to recognize that there may be something in what I said. To demonstrate that my hat knows a thing or two, here is a brief resumé of what we in the UK have been doing for the past 60 years. So here goes, the potted history of parking in the UK, from the London perspective:
Post-1945 London was a bomb site, and no one was thinking about cars or parking. You travelled using buses, trams, trolleys and the tube. A few rich people had cars. Into the 1950s, the city began to renew itself, people started to buy and use cars, and the roads became more congested. In 1959, the first sixpenny meters were installed to ensure that street parking turned over and people did not stay too long in key places.
In the 1960s, the London County Council finally realized that new buildings generated parking demand, and set rules to ensure that every new building provided sufficient parking on-site to accommodate the traffic it generated and place no further demands on the streets for parking. This was graphically described as “each building should eat its own smoke.”
Now, although it’s too long ago to know what basis was used to determine the amount of traffic and hence parking demand that each building would generate, it can be seen that we were heading toward an ITE type “predict and provide” minimum parking requirement.
The result was, with the benefit of hindsight, very predictable. Developers built buildings with lots of parking, and because they had free parking, people used cars more and the roads clogged up and traffic ground to a standstill.
Into the 1970s, the Greater London Development Plan (GLDP) set the basis for strategic planning of London, which is pretty much in use today. Before the GLDP, the council had published plans to try to build their way out of the problem.
“Predict and provide” had led to a plan for a program of radial and orbital expressways that would have cut through the historic city’s fabric, giving up everything to achieve more road space. Historic buildings, parks and houses would have all gone to build the new roads, and if as a result of the new scheme you had an elevated six-lane expressway 30 feet from your bedroom window, rejoice –this was the benefit of the brave new world we all want.
We stepped back from the brink. The GLDP set new standards for parking provisions that were maximums, not minimums. Any new build in any parts of London where there was reasonable public transport access simply did not get parking, or very little. In the city center, for example, a new building would get one space for each 1,000 square meter of floor space, maximum.
Now, we still have the Shoup problem that levels of activity are very weakly related to floor space areas, but we do not have a situation where a developer is required to build large amounts of parking or, indeed, any parking if it doesn’t want to. And it works just fine. Big buildings with high rental values go up and get leased; the world does not come to an end. People use public transport.
Yes, there are cars in central London, but they now cater for only about 12% of trips, the very high value of time being people and those moving around goods and services or making multiple visits. (I remember one of the speakers in Manila saying that it was a given that the CEO gets a parking slot. Who could you do without longest, the CEO or the maintenance man?)
So, as Professor Shoup proposes, we don’t build mindless parking lots because “it’s in the handbook.” We have moved past this and now minimize parking provision in new developments.
What about public parking? In London, we have always understood the on-street/off-street link, and meters have been premium charged with limited stay for 50 years or more. Public car parks by comparison offer cheaper long-stay parking virtually everywhere. Sure, the relationship is not perfect, especially when there are multiple providers, but anywhere where they have electricity, it’s pretty solid.
In smaller towns, sometimes the county authority running the streets decides to keep the street parking free, even though the town council is charging for the car parks. Interestingly enough, the county will often spout a demand management led transport policy but cannot be bothered to take on metered parking – “Do as I say, not as I do” personified.
I can’t help but wonder if you in the U.S. would have ever had this problem if you didn’t have such stupid coinage. If you had, say, a $2 coin half the diameter of a quarter and twice the thickness, would the problem ever have arisen? I think not.
And the money? Professor Shoup is very keen on the idea that if you collect money from parking, then any excess should be recycled into the community, rather than disappearing into a general fund. We do this, more or less.
The original law for parking meters was promulgated in 1969. Under that law, parking meter surpluses are ring-fenced and have to be re-invested into a defined set of initiatives. This includes improving public transport and other stuff, such as road repairs and improvements, and improving the local environment.
Now, in the absolutely pure sense that Professor Shoup proposes returning the money to a neighborhood, we do not have exactly this neighborhood concept in public administration, but hey, we did have the principle defined in law 50 years ago.
So am I a Shoupista? Have been since I started working in ‘72.
Peter, Peter, Peter – You hear, but do you listen?
First of all, Shoupistas believe that all requirements for parking be removed, minimum and maximum, and that the developer be able to decide how many spaces are needed for a particular type of development. London’s approach is still government control.
Second, although in your central city (London) folks are charged for parking, is it “market rate” and does the rate change with demand? I think not. I have many friends in London, and it appears that if you own property in an area, you can get a very low priced parking permit that allows you to park on-street in your neighborhood. This isn’t market pricing.
Third, investing the money in rapid transit and “environmental” causes isn’t really returning the money to the neighborhood at all. Frankly, it’s a dodge to help the local politico’s pet projects.
My guess is that if the people of London could actually see the results of the money spent for parking and parking fines, much of the problem with the unpopularity of parking wardens and parking fees would evaporate like that famous London fog.
(By the way, we here in the Colonies fare no better. Don Shoup’s theories are in place in very few cities. As for your being a “Shoupista,” I would call you “Shoupista lite.”) JVH
Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent on all things European and Middle East. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from December, 2009




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