I Can’t Find an Open Parking Spot: A Memoir
[but actually a policy recommendation for the city of Los Angeles]
The average person spends 106 days of their life looking for parking spaces.
You know this. You’ve been there too.
Driving through the streets of Downtown Los Angeles, trying to get to your favorite coffee shop, or a fancy restaurant for dinner, or a meeting in a skyscraper. Every sidewalk surrounding your desired location is full of cars, as you keep circling the block hoping and praying that a spot will magically appear so that you don’t have to park in one of those tiny expensive lots squeezed between buildings.
As you roll to 10 mph to peek down a side street, you see an open spot! It beckons to you as the clouds break and the shaft of coincidental yellow light guides you to the empty space. As your white knuckles loosen on the wheel you zoom toward the space, prepared to fight if anyone gets to the spot first.
And then you realize it’s a driveway. And you just want to go home.
The tragic story recounted above occurs regularly in one of the largest metropolitan regions in the world. Not only does it raise blood pressure and driving anxiety, but finding parking spots also results in distracted drivers driving slowly, which backs up traffic behind them, increases driving time which has an environmental impact, and creates problems for local businesses whose potential customers are discouraged by the lack of parking. UCLA professor Donald Shoup found that at times of peak traffic, about 68% of drivers at a given time were looking for parking. Additionally, at least 14% of Los Angeles’s land is dedicated to parking, an inefficient use of space in such high-demand areas.
That’s not to say that Los Angeles isn’t trying to alleviate this problem. LADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation) has implemented a multifaceted program called LA Express Parking, using smart meters, sensors, demand-based pricing, and a mobile phone application, among other additions, for its busiest areas. However, if Los Angeles is trying to prepare for the cusp of new urbanism, as it should, the city must begin by taking a closer look at the antiquated chore of parking. No longer are we in the days of horses and buggies, but we have a widespread driving culture in sunny Southern California, and the city was built to reflect the patterns of transportation used. With talks of self-driving cars and walkable cities of the future, it is time to take a step back and consider the next steps for Los Angeles’ parking woes, going beyond the city’s current band-aid solutions to find the progression to urban innovation. Although it is difficult to project future technology with complete certainty, large-scale projects toward an idea of a city utopia are worth considering.
In the built environment, parking lots take up a lot of space. Los Angeles owns some parking lots through the city, and there are a plethora of privately-owned lots and other parking spaces. These lots are inefficient by taking an exorbitant amount of valuable space to store cars while including extra room for people to walking. To make the lot spaces more efficient, the city could begin to encourage the transition to smart parking lots. Smart parking lots use carousel or elevator designs; people drive their car in to the driveway, exit the vehicle, receive a barcode, and a lift moves the car to a location in the lot. When people are ready to return to their car, they produce the barcode, and the machine will find their car in the lot and return it to the owners. Space is maximized because there is no extra room for people to walk in the lot; spaces can be closer together and the machines might not need to be monitored. Alternatively, the advent of self-parking vehicles and robotic parking valets can begin the renovation for this technology. Unfortunately, the technology is costly and requires analysis on the premier locations to convert to the new lots. If lots are made more efficient, then other lots could be unnecessary, and those can be renovated into mixed-use properties while facilitating the creation of the walkable city of the future.
As for a less-extreme parking-related suggestion, map applications can better incorporate Los Angeles’ open parking data into their platforms, allowing for people to be directly navigated to an open parking spot, and perhaps also pay for parking through the application. There are already multiple parking applications on the market. Another example is the company Streetline, with an app called Parker, which offers real-time parking information and the ability to pay for parking in-app. A new application called Polis Assist has a database of all parking restrictions in certain parts of Los Angeles, so they can help drivers know which areas are off limits. BestParking.com is another provider of real-time parking data around Los Angeles and other cities, but its primary mode of communication is over web browser, which is not convenient to drivers. San Francisco and New York City use another application called ParkMe, which directs drivers to open parking spots on the street and in lots while paying through the application. City costs for encouraging the incorporation of open data would be low because the data is already gathered from the sensors and meters around the city.
Whether the city starts to encourage the transition to smart parking lots, or applications like Google Maps incorporate parking data, Los Angeles would benefit from improving the parking conditions, looking toward the future of the city. Perhaps someday the densest parts of Downtown Los Angeles could be completely walkable *cue images of modern city: crisp grass, architectural precision, constant activity*. Hopefully Los Angeles strives to be the forefront of the modern city. Until that day, though, we have a lot more traffic to sit in.