Writing in the LA Magazine, Dave Gardetta visits the thinking of the world's top parking theorists, who believe that parking causes people to go insane: "I truly believe that when men and women think about parking, their mental capacity reverts to the reptilian cortex of the brain. How to get food, ritual display, territorial dominance—all these things are part of parking, and we've assigned it to the most primitive part of the brain that makes snap fight-or-flight decisions. Our mental capacities just bottom out when we talk about parking."
The whole feature is fascinating, tracing the grim history of urban parking, where neighborhoods were blighted and jobs and businesses destroyed in the rush to add places for cars; up to recent political wrangles over parking in southern California's car-centric metro areas.
Shoup can often be found dallying around parking meters and brings a camera to photograph illegally parked cars. Not long ago you could have spotted Shoup clicking on the corner of Pico and Fairfax, where the city had quadrupled its meter rates. ("Rates had gone too high there—sometimes there wasn't a car on the street.") In Westwood Village Shoup once rode the Raleigh back and forth for weeks tailing cars. He discovered that the average driver had to circle the block two and a half times before locating an open metered space. Westwood became a model for Shoup; the "cruising" he observed there occurs wherever drivers seek out inexpensive metered space to avoid pricier garages and lots. (A similar study in Manhattan in 1995 revealed that New Yorkers spent 11 minutes on average searching for a space.) In a year's time in Westwood, space hunting by drivers consumed an extra 47,000 gallons of gas. It stalled traffic, increased accidents, and required 950,000 extra vehicle miles, about four trips to the moon and back…
So Cole, an untested mayor, decided to commit career suicide—he would be the first to install meters. And not just anywhere but in the city's seediest business district, its skid row, a stroll for prostitutes that would soon be renamed Old Pasadena. Cole had chosen the area to install parking meters because it was ideal for conducting his own experiment: He wanted to attract merchants to the area, where the rent on the decaying buildings was low and the potential for foot traffic was high. Could meter revenue clean and repair Old Pasadena, then help police its streets? "There was, putting it politely, tremendous opposition," says Cole. Shop owners barely hanging on told Cole he was crazy. In a large meeting with merchants, Cole said something that swayed them: Rather than fill city coffers, meter collections would go back to businesses in the form of new alleyways, sidewalk improvement, more trees, and police. "The moment I said that, one of my staff members kicked me under the table," says Cole.