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Ice Cream as Metaphor for Car (and Bike) Parking

A fine example of what free stuff does, even to a website.

RACHEL AND I ARE GOING TO VERMONT on the Megabus this weekend, a transit-oriented adventure we'll be pleased to share pictures of soon.  But as I got thinking about Burlington, the home of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, it occurred to me that ice cream is a great metaphor for what's wrong with parking in cities.

If you've ever been to the opening "free cone day" at a Ben & Jerry's some spring day, the lines are out the door.  I mean, truly horrendous.  And the cone that one gets for this effort is very small.  

By comparison, on any given day that's not "free cone day", you can find Ben & Jerry's--or for that matter, any ice cream joint--pretty full, but almost never with lines out the door.  And you can actually get a decent-sized ice cream cone.

Why do people wait so long for something that's free?

When we look at parking in a city like Providence, we're constantly being told that there's nowhere to park in the downtown.  But in reality, a huge segment of our downtown is parking, not even including the on-street spots.  I submit to you that this is the same problem.

Cities have frequently tried to solve the problem of people not finding a parking spot by regulating the supply of parking--putting parking minimums.  This basically approaches the ice cream problem by saying that if we just gave away twice as many free ice cream cones, the line wouldn't be so bad.

But what would happen if you suddenly said, "Hey, there's even more free ice cream!"?  

I don't think I even have to answer that.

Parking minimums might be even worse than free ice cream, because they create conditions that increase driving that go beyond just making the supply of parking free.  Since excess parking spreads things out, it makes it less attractive to walk, even if one ignores the price incentive to take a free parking spot.

People should pay for ice cream (I know... grouchy...).  And they should pay for parking too.

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