Saturday, February 2, 2008

Curb parking is the problem, not the solution, with Westside LA traffic

There are many proposals floating around about how to improve traffic on the Westside of LA. One proposal discussed in today's Times is that curb parking should be prohibited during peak hours. Businesses are up in arms about this idea, as can be expected. However, the businesses are wrong. The elimination of curb parking during rush hours is not going to harm their businesses, and may even improve them in the long run.

The problem with the business owners' position is that they argue that their sales depend on easy access for their customers from street parking right out front. One business owner quoted in the article says the street spaces right in front of his shop are worth hundreds of dollars a day. If this is true (and it isn't) then is cost effective for him to build a few off street parking spaces near his business. Being that an average storefront in the area probably has about a space and a half in front of it, there is no doubt that not many customers can park immediately in front of the store. Since the parking meters are very inexpensive, there is not much turnover, reducing further the importance of any particular space. Each block face has about eight spaces. In each car that parks in a space has two shoppers in it (which is very unlikely) and the spaces turn over twice and hour (for a total of 32 shoppers per block face per hour), that is nowhere near enough customers to support any business except high end retail, yet alone high volume retail like bakeries and restaurants.

Parking lanes affect traffic flow in two ways, both of which are problematic for high volume arterial streets (such as Olympic and Pico). First, there is a lane that is eliminated from traffic flow. While this is obvious, the problem lies in the inconsistent execution, where some blocks have limited parking and some have no parking. When the lane opens up for traffic (such as at intersections) drivers fill the lanes and then are forced to merge back into the remaining lanes when they approach parked cars. Aggressive merging certainly adds to overall delay (congestion) and driver frustration. The second way that parking causes problems is through the act of parking. Each parking event stops traffic in a flowing traffic lane. These events add up to considerable congestion and excess merging (as drivers move to a left hand lane).

All in all, parking should be eliminated because it will greatly help traffic flow and likely make the Westside more attractive as a destination. It's probably the best thing that can be done. The businesses are overestimating the value of street parking to their success-especially during rush hour. As for the residential neighborhood and permit parking, the neighborhood should issue permits and be allowed to keep the money. That way the neighbors get something in return for allowing businesses to park cars on their streets (this outcome would be a Coasian bargain). Parking should not be an uncompensated good.
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