Would you rather have free parking and dirty sidewalks or paid parking and clean sidewalks?

I read this article in the Chicago Tribune about free parking over the weekend, and thought it posed some interesting ideas. Donald Shoup, the “Parking Prophet” and author of ‘The High Cost of Free Parking’ suggests that charging for parking, especially street parking encourages more people to walk, bike or take transit and reduces congestion, sprawl and air pollution.

In the article, he points out that “City governments contribute to all these ills, by requiring too many parking spaces for all development. The high cost of the required parking increases the prices we pay for everything else, including housing. We have expensive housing and free parking. We have our priorities the wrong way around.”

At the end of the article, they compare two suburban-style downtowns in Los Angeles. One installed parking meters and used the money for pedestrian improvements. The other decreased parking meter rates because the surrounding businesses didn’t see any direct benefits. Shoup makes it seem like charging for parking is an easy, transparent way to pay for bike and pedestrian improvements.