How Free is Free Parking?
There has been a lot of talk about parking in downtown Biddeford recently. One of the things that jumped out to me while reading some of the newspaper articles is that some Biddeford citizens seem to think that free parking is a constitutional right. While city planners across the country have force fed us hordes of seemingly free parking since the 1950’s, it doesn’t make it an inalienable right.
What these citizens that cling to “free” parking fail to realize is that there really is no such thing as free parking. Just because the driver of the car does not have to pay to park their car in a particular space, it does not mean that costs of that space goes away. When you go to the grocery store you don’t have to get out and feed the meter, but part of the money you pay for your groceries is going to pay for that parking space. The grocery store needs to pay for maintenance, taxes, and plowing for each space in its lot. This holds true for the spaces on Main Street as well. The city’s taxpayers are paying for those spaces.
Not only do the taxpayers of Biddeford have to pay for the monetary cost of the existing public parking but they are also paying an environmental cost. Access to “free” parking fails to create an incentive for green modes of transportation. As a country we are conditioned to hop in our cars and drive to “free” parking. If parking costs were more prohibitive people would start to seek out alternative modes of transportation that would be much more environmentally friendly.
Regardless of whether or not the city of Biddeford decides to move forward with a parking garage (and I certainly hope they do) I am of the opinion that the city should implement paid parking downtown. Ideally the city would model a paid parking system after San Francisco’s SF Park program. The SF Park program is a dynamic parking system inspired by the work of world-renowned parking guru and urban planning professor Donald Shoup. The system allows parking prices to fluctuate based on demand. For example on Friday and Saturday nights when downtown spaces are at a premium the prices would be at their highest, and early morning on a weekday they would be at their lowest.
This dynamic parking system would do two things. First, it would shift the expense of the downtown parking spaces off of the taxpayer and onto the end user. Second, it would increase the incentive for people to use more environmentally friendly means to make their way downtown. These two things drop the monetary and environmental cost for all Biddeford citizens. Like anything else there may be some growing pains but in the long run it is undoubtedly the best thing for Biddeford’s burgeoning downtown.