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Why Charlottesville needs parking meters

Local residents responding to the National Citizen Survey were generally positive about life in Charlottesville – except when it came to traffic and parking. From their tepid responses, the Newsplex derived the headline, “Residents Fed Up With Charlottesville Parking,” an odd choice of words given that demand for both residential and commercial space in parking-challenged areas of the city is higher than it has ever been.

Complaints about parking are part of a larger problem of public ignorance about trade-offs. It’s a bit like the airline legroom conundrum, in which passengers consistently complain about decreasing legroom on planes, yet continue to vote for it with their wallet by purchasing cheaper tickets on planes that have packed more people in and declining to pay for small seat upgrades that provide more space at the cost of having fewer passengers to split the gas bill.

Here are the facts:

What Charlottesville actually needs is a system of parking meters
for all public parking spaces in commercial and high-density
residential districts. Parking space is finite and shouldn’t be free.

What Charlottesville actually needs is a system of parking meters for all public parking spaces in commercial and high-density residential districts. Parking space is finite and shouldn’t be free. The pricing needs to be variable, based on typical demand for parking on that particular street at that particular time. Cities across the country are moving this direction, using modern parking meters that allow you to pay by credit card and that send data to mobile apps that show where open spaces are located.

If we switched to this system, which the Downtown Business Association already supports, the benefits would be visible immediately:

Parking in Charlottesville isn’t that bad, but charging a market price would make it even better. Cities that have done so have seen improvements in traffic flow, ease of use, and ability to attract customers. Whatever we choose to do about parking, let’s recognize that it’s a good problem to have.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luke Juday is a Fifeville resident and a demographic analyst at the Weldon Cooper Center. He holds a graduate degree in urban planning from the UVA School of Architecture and used to work for the planning department in Waynesboro, where (would you believe it) everyone also says it’s impossible to find parking. In a past life he was a middle school teacher and debate coach. You can see him riding his red canondale bike because, if karma is real, he’ll never be able to find a parking spot downtown after writing this article. The views shared in this column are his own.