Cars Kill Cities: Using parking meters to revitalize downtowns

A handful of major cities across the U.S. are changing how they charge for some of the most valuable property they manage — on-street parking spaces.

Parking spaces haven’t always been seen as valuable by cities, though motorists seeking them in popular commercial areas do. Many cities charge just a few dollars an hour, while motorists circle looking for the spaces, adding to congestion, pollution, and angry and distracted driving.

Now, some major cities are seeking to take advantage of their supply and motorists’ demand with so-called demand-price parking. Rather than charge a flat rate for each spot in every area of the city, they are demanding motorists pay $4, $6 or up to $8 an hour for a spot on a busy street, close to shops and restaurants, while keeping hourly prices lower on less busy streets just a few blocks over.

The cities — Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle among them — also can adjust their rates by time of day, cheaper in the morning and higher in the evening, when people are more likely to be shopping and dining. The model is similar to surge pricing used by ride-hailing services like Uber.

Proponents say the goal isn’t to boost parking revenue. It’s designed to encourage turnover, thereby easing congestion and boosting the economy.

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