Parking is never really free but it could be cheaper.
Where are we going? To some parking lot math.
The Most Efficient Parking Lot
While most of us think about finding an empty space in a parking lot, a British mathematician saw a geometry problem.
He started by recognizing that most parking lots ask us to park at a 90 degree angle:
However, that 90 degree alignment is much less efficient than parking at a 45 degree angle. With the new design, a 500 car lot could expand to 619 spaces.
You can see below that an angled alignment creates more parking spaces and requires less of an access lane:
I should add that it is much easier to pull into an angled spot and less likely that you will dent another vehicle because you misjudged your clearance.
The more efficient lot:
Our Bottom Line: Cost of Free Parking
Defining cost as sacrifice, we can see why UCLA Professor Donald Shoup says that free parking is rather expensive. In a recent article, Dr. Shoup tells us that just one parking space in an above ground lot can cost $24,000 to construct. Then, without even mentioning the time we waste looking for parking spaces, he reminds us that we sacrifice more affordable housing, “…clean air, walkable neighborhoods, good urban design, and many other public goals…” for free parking.
So, when someone designs a more efficient parking lot, yes free parking is cheaper. Still though, it can be mighty expensive.
My sources and more: These articles from the Times and the Sun perfectly summarize what Dr. David Percy (Salford University) explained in the Conversation. The reality check though comes from Donald Shoup’s papers on the cost of free parking.