Sunday, August 15, 2010

Not even close

Most urban planning faculties include one or more economists, as they should. It is even better when one of these professors applies one of the core ideas of economics (that getting the prices wrong can be catastrophic) to one of the core problems of cities (managing the auto-highway system). UCLA's planning faculty has had the good sense to hire Don Shoup and Shoup has had the good sense to realize that how we manage parking has been terribly wrong. The prices are all wrong and the regulations are all wrong. Among Don's many writings, his The High Cost of Free Parking is the classic summary of his insight.

In Today's NY Times, Tyler Cowen nicely summarizes the importance of Don's ideas.

The bad news is that the same newspaper includes back-to-reality coverage re traffic and how real world planners and politicians get it all wrong. "New Stress Added to the Heart of LA Gridlock" describes a $1.3 billion project to add another car-pool lane. The story mentions all of the extra delay that the construction project causes. No mention is made of the fact that projects like this do nothing to convert people to carpooling. No mention of the fact that building something expensive is much preferred to pricing something and in any dollar-for-dollar comparison of the costs and the benefits, the two approaches are not even close.

People like Don Shoup and Tyler Cowen just have to start working harder.