Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, one of the foremost urban thinkers in America today, has a provocative op-ed in the Globe. In “Best deal in town: on-street parking“, Glaeser examines the economics of urban parking. He contends that the because real estate is so valuable, the true cost of a parking space is quite expensive, but with municipal meters charging just $1 per hour for curbside parking, the entire community is subsidizing the select few who snag one of these spaces. He further observes that when you factor in the time spent hunting for curbside parking and the congestion and pollution it causes, curbside parking should be made more expensive than off-street parking. He doesn’t advocate eliminating curbside parking; he wants to let the free market price it. The added revenue, he contends, could fund improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists and other non-car drivers.
While Glaeser’s proposal is completely logical and even desirable, I laugh when I think of the debate that would ensue on the floor of the city council if something like this were ever proposed. One former councilor actually made the elimination of all downtown parking meters the centerpiece of his council tenure. Still, when you consider the traffic congestion that paralyzes the downtown at every evening rush hour, the thought of lessening the number of cars parked curbside starts making more sense in very practical terms. I doubt we’ll be having this debate anytime soon in Lowell, but it’s still good to get people thinking about it.