It All Comes Down to a Parking Space

Like the narrator of Calvin Trillin’s novella, Tepper Isn’t Going Out, as a New Yorker with a car, I have an unseemly obsession with parking. I have encoded into long-term memory the local geography of available spaces, and I can identify a false space (e.g., a parking hydrant) from far off, like a fisherman can sense oncoming weather. My refrigerator bears not family photos but the DOT’s calendar of street-cleaning holidays (Sukkot — Yes!) I’ve spent late nights cruising around looking what for I sometimes think must be the last available space, and pondered the unthinkable: What would happen if, one night, there simply were no spaces, if the invisible hand of the parking market clenched up into a closed fist? It’s this last prospect that, more than anything, determines my own (limited) use of the car in the city. I only drive someplace when I know I can reasonably expect to find parking, and when there is a reasonable chance of finding a “good” space when I return.

This point is underscored in a fascinating new study, “Guaranteed Parking — Guaranteed Driving,” by Rachel Weinberger, Mark Seaman Carolyn Johnson, and John Kaehny (via the indispensable Streetsblog).

The study looks at two NYC neighborhoods Park Slope and Jackson Heights and finds, strikingly, that despite a number of other demographic factors (e.g., income, car ownership, number of total commuters, government employees, etc.) that would seem to tip Park Slope as the bigger source of drivers commuting into Manhattan, it’s actually Jackson Heights that comes out on top in terms of car commuting — by 28%.

What explained the difference? “Surveying the neighborhoods brought us to a powerful explanation,” the authors write. “Jackson Heights has more than twice as much off-street residential parking per residence, it has more than 2.5 times as much off-street parking per car-owning household and over six times as much ‘on-site’ off-street parking, i.e., in driveways or on-site garages.”

In essence, having that guaranteed spot upon returning makes Jackson Heights residents more likely to get behind the wheel. This report doesn’t cover actual traffic patterns within Jackson Heights, but I would imagine the same parking formula helps explain why traffic congestion always seems so abysmal in Jackson Heights; in Park Slope (or “No Park Slope” as we call it around here), the streets are rarely that crowded per se, but finding a parking space can often be arduous. So much so that I usually find another way to go to Park Slope.

In any case, the report shows how traffic, rather than the ‘natural’ phenomenon it is sometimes taken for (“trafficandweather,” exclaim the radio stations), is shaped by a series of discrete incentives, and of course by government policy; as Kaehny notes, what explains the parking discrepancy to begin with between the two neighborhoods is that “much more of Jackson Heights has been built since 1963, when the city zoning code introduced residential parking requirements…[which require] driving-inducing residential parking for between 40 and 150 percent of new dwelling units.”

This entry was posted on Friday, October 17th, 2008 at 9:38 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage:

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



October 2008

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