Yes, a Free Parking Space Grows in Manhattan

In my recent comments on Tyler Cowen’s op ed on the supposedly high costs of free parking, I boldly wrote, “I defy Cowen to find any free parking anywhere in Manhattan.” That just shows how little time this Oregon resident spends in Manhattan.

It turns out that the western invention, the parking meter (first installed in Oklahoma City in 1935), hasn’t thoroughly penetrated east of the Hudson River. Many streets in Manhattan offer free parking, albeit often with the caveat that you have to move your car from one side of the street to the other every night.

But this doesn’t change my main point, which is that it is one thing for Cowen to argue that cities should not price parking below market rates where there is a market for parking. I have no problem with this. But it is quite another thing to argue, as many urban planners following the Shoup model do, that private businesses should be required to charge for parking (or be limited in how much parking they are allowed to provide) in areas where the market rate for parking is zero.

If Manhattan has so much free on-street parking, why are some people willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own personal parking space? The answer is simple. Although Manhattan has one of the lowest rates of per-household auto ownership in the nation – less than a quarter of households own a car – its population is so dense that it has one of the highest rates of auto ownership per square mile. Based on 2000 census data, I calculate that Manhattan has 8,355 locally owned vehicles per square mile, vs. less than 4,000 vehicles per square mile in car-crazy Los Angeles and less than 2,000 vehicles per square mile in auto-happy Houston. So much for the idea that increasing population densities reduces congestion.