Is Parking Too Cheap in Downtown Charlottesville?

Parking in Downtown Charlottesville is limited, and likely will get more limited when the Market Plaza is under construction and completed. Now this:

The Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville has asked the City Council to consider charging for on-street parking within the downtown core.

“Our present on-street free parking system is not serving the needs of the public or the businesses downtown and has acted to restrict the availability of parking downtown for most people, but especially those that that are customers of downtown business,” said Bob Stroh, co-chairman of the group.

The downtown association wants councilors to consider installing a system of kiosks that would read the license plates of vehicles parked on streets. He said that association members would be willing to help pay to install the system.

Don’t miss the conversation about this on my facebook page.

First:  who’s going to controla and have access to the license plate data?

Second: Downtown Charlottesville is the economic and tourism hub of the City, and one of the hubs of the Charlottesville region. Making it harder for consumers – whether regulars or tourists – is a decidedly bad idea. Stonefield, despite its astonishingly bad layout, has some pretty good restaurants (PastureQ, Rock Salt, to name two). While my favorite restaurant is on the Downtown Mall, would I come less often if parking was more of a challenge? Maybe.

Third: My perspective is that the free parking encourages people to come and stay downtown. There’s a reason people circle. And circle. And circle. Looking for close spots – they don’t want to walk (to the pedestrian mall).

And then there’s this perspective saying that free parking is a “plague.

On-street public parking, in contrast, is created in communal spaces and maintained by tax dollars. The instinct that common property should be accessible for free is deep-seeded; a 1937 legal challenge objected to parking meters as “a fee for the free use of the streets, which is a right of all citizens.” But that instinct is wrong. Just because something is publicly provided doesn’t mean that it should be free, or only $1.25 per hour. If a commodity is as scarce as land in Boston, we need a fair way of allocating it.

When public policy underprices things, as the Soviet Union once underpriced groceries, the result is long lines and shortages. People pay with their time, instead of their money. In Boston, the real price of seemingly cheap streetside parking also includes all the minutes drivers spend cruising around looking for it — and the congestion they create for everyone else.

UCLA transportation expert Donald Shoup has long urged that on-street parking rates be high enough to create an 85 percent occupancy rate — enough turnover to leave a spot empty almost on every block. Achieving this goal would require different meter rates in different neighborhoods, but new technologies will make it easy to set rates that change over time.

And … is parking too cheap (particularly when it’s free)?


Update 10 December 2014: Interesting article from CityLab – 5 Parking Innovations Every City Should Adopt. I’d never heard of charging more for longer cars …

(Visited 66 times, 1 visits today)


  1. mat7rva December 8, 2014 at 20:18

    Bob Stroh’s (Charlottesville Parking Center) comment should reveal that HIS primary business is parking lots and garages downtown. On top of that, Downtown business has carved out most of the public parking spaces within a two block area of the Downtown Mall for 24 hour “loading zones” for business (& business owners).

    Meanwhile, “free parking” from the City is merely an illusion (figure the salaries of those enforcement/ticket writers against the parking ticket income – and the limited means to protest those tickets) – the deck is already stacked against the public in favor of businesses that requisition public parking for their own use (every cross street on the Downtown Mall).

    If the City would charge business owners for the “loading zones” in similar fashion to the City’s sale of sidewalk space for cafes/business on the Mall, the public wouldn’t feel so cheated as they drive “round and round” looking for a two hour space while restaurant and shop owners parking in the loading zones

    1. Jim Duncan December 9, 2014 at 08:48

      Ah, loading zones. 🙂

      Great points about the “free” and the enforcement; it seems there are always at least 3 parking police patrolling.

      It’s interesting that I’ve not seen much public challenging of the intent of those advocating for the parking changes.

      Does the City have a long-term parking plan/strategy?


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *