Last night I attended a very thoughtful and well deliberated City Council and Planning Commission work session to address the ‘parking problem’ in my new hometown of Healdsburg, CA. Walker Parking gave an excellent report and analysis, but there were more questions than answers.  At one point, during public comment, someone referred to paid parking as ‘political kryptonite’.  Based on my work around the country and around the world (no one has a parking problem like Abu Dhabi!), I offered the assembled group the following thoughts on lessons I’ve learned.

Parking is an Infrastructure Asset – cities and the public would never expect water and sewer to be free.  Parking is no different, it is part of the public equity that must be managed and monetized by any fiscally responsible local government.

Get in Front of the Problem Early - you can’t solve the problem while people are screaming for a solution.  Like all elegant, mature answers, a great parking solution requires years of thinking and tinkering to get it right.  You need to start early to get the tinkering out of the way before users become too impatient and the stakes are too high.

Integrated Approach - like everything we are learning about sustainability and urban regeneration, parking must be looked at holistically.  Its not just about more spaces, higher charges,towing bad cars.  It must address uses and users, long term business outlooks, alternative transportation strategies, and increasingly dynamic management and pricing technologies.

Evolutionary and Adaptive Management Strategies – parking isn’t sexy but it’s also not one-dimensional.  Parking is like an eco-system, constantly evolving and searching for equilibrium.  You can’t expect to put a single solution in place and have it endure for years. The only thing that endures is the need for an agile, thoughtful, creative entity to constantly adapt the selected management strategy by  refining the resource to maximize efficiency and optimize use of the public equity.

Goldilocks Pricing – whether an in-lieu payment for parking space, annual service fees, garage vs. street parking pricing models, or a meter for 15 minutes – parking requires a well balanced approach to getting the pricing just right.  It has to be high enough to cover the cost of a quality service (who wants a dirty parking garage or broken meter?) while getting the utilization right and not killing the businesses and economy it supports.  This is not something that can be determined through a black box or a one-time analysis.  The adaptive management strategy seeks ‘goldilocks pricing’ that can only be achieved through trial and error and constantly updating to ongoing observed impacts and benefits.

When is the last time you saw an airline, hotel or car rental company set one price and keep it forever?