High Cost of Free Parking

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Delaware County Planning Staff attends event with Donald Shoup to better help municipalities innovate solutions on parking problems.

Does your town face parking issues? Even if you don’t think you do, parking still shapes your community. Parking is often one of the largest land uses in American cities and suburbs and has a huge effect on the viability of smart growth projects. Delaware County Planning Department can help you address your parking and land use concerns.

To better understand the latest innovations on parking issues Delaware County Planning Department staff attended the High Cost of Free Parking on May 5, 2016. The Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance event had a keynote by Donald Shoup, FAICP, recipient of the American Planning Association’s 2015 National Planning Excellence Award. Professor Shoup addressed land use, parking, smart growth and strong communities. The event materials including the presentation and a radio interview with Professor Shoup on WHYY can be found on the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance’s website.

Interested in talking about innovative parking strategies for your community? Contact the Planning Department at 610-891-5200 or Planning_Department@co.delaware.pa.us.

How to Optimize Your Parking

Professor Shoup focused his presentation on three strategies for optimizing parking levels in any size community.

1. Charge the right price for curb parking

The right price is the lowest price that will leave one or two spots on each block. Finding the right price has many benefits which include:

  • Providing certainty that customers can park within a block of a business;

  • Reducing cruising for parking which clogs commercial streets;

  • Maximizing use of existing parking facilities; and

  • Encouraging use of any off street paid parking.

This can be done through instituting demand-based pricing. Visitors who are in a time crunch are willing to pay more for a guaranteed spot while locals get to know which streets have lower pricing when they are willing to walk an extra block or two. The Planning Department can help your municipality find the right price for parking in your business district.

2. Establish parking benefits districts

Return the revenue from parking back to the commercial district to get support from local merchants. Parking revenue should be tied to streetscape and infrastructure improvements in the district so that businesses and shoppers see the benefits. This helps ensure that business owners don’t come out to fight parking adjustments, but instead become strong supporters. We can help prepare a presentation for your local businesses to explain the benefits of charging the right price of parking to them.

3. Reduce or remove off-street parking requirements

All municipalities in Delaware County have parking requirements as part of their zoning codes. But where do these figures come from? What do they mean for the community?

Requiring parking drives up development costs dramatically. Requiring 3 parking spots per 1000 square feet of development means you are requiring as much area for parking as it requires for the use. This has a tangible economic development impact and can limit development in many smaller parcels seen in Delaware County’s mature neighborhoods. Even in growing suburbs parking drives up the cost of projects and uses valuable open space for parking. There is no research on whether these parking requirement numbers are appropriate or needed, but they are repeatedly copied from municipality to municipality.

Reducing or eliminating parking requirements can spur economic development. Some municipalities go further than removing off-street parking requirements and actually include parking maximums. Parking maximums are even being considered by municipalities within Delaware County. This also allows for redevelopment in suburban locations where too much parking has already been built. We can discuss experiences in Delaware County of reducing parking requirements or including parking maximums in your ordinance.

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About Delaware County

Delaware County, presently consisting of over 184 square miles divided into forty-nine municipalities is the oldest settled section of Pennsylvania.

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