6,000 Parking Spots, 20,000 Cars

That's the ratio on summer weekends downtown in Newport, Rhode Island. A coalition of local businesses, advocates and city officials are brainstorming solutions.

The major obstacle to solving the problem is that the colonial-era city is largely built out or historically preserved. A streetcar linking downtown to the beach is under consideration as a possible solution.

"'Getting them from point A to point B quicker than if they took their vehicle or walked is a necessity for them to ride this people mover,' said Paige Bronk, Newport's director of planning, zoning, development and inspection.

Though a modern streetcar system may seem out-of-place with the city's colonial appeal, officials say it could actually be a throwback to the early 20th century, when trolleys operated in the city. Plus, Bronk said, there's nothing quaint about the city's traffic."

Full Story: Newport mulls answers to downtown parking shortage



They can't figure out that there is big demand for free parking?

Shocking news: Limited supply + big demand + low or free prices = problems!

According to http://www.destinationnewport.com/geninfo/gettingaroundnewport.asp

"Mary Street Lot is located just off Thames Street. This large surface lot provides residents with 3 hours free parking (with resident sticker), has public restrooms and is located downtown 1 block from the waterfront..."

They might do better to raise the price of parking until the demand slacks off... I am somewhat surprised that a "coalition of local businesses, advocates and city officials [who] are brainstorming solutions" can't figure out to charge market value for parking so as to achieve about 85% of the spaces taken at any given time. See Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking. This book is in the Newport Public Library's collection according to their Web site.

Or, if Newport officials want to give away something free, perhaps a cart giving away free ice cream! If this cart draws crowds and long lines, then establish two carts giving away free ice cream. If demand increases even more, set up more carts giving away free pizza! If this draws still more crowds, then set up carts giving away free wine and cheese! All of this is taxpayer funded, of course. Eventually, according to the logic of Newport brainstormers, giving away more and more free goods will slacken demand.

Ian Sacs's picture

great analogy...

john, i love the ice cream/pizza analogy. i will use it whenever i can!


Free ice cream and pizza = Best... analogy... ever.


I am not so sure the analogy works... It's been a while since an economics class - but it seems that the way people demand parking is fundamentally different than the way that they demand ice cream. If you build more free parking, does that really influence the demand? Adding more parking increases parking supply and therefore makes parking cheaper (and increases total car trips). How would this work for ice cream?
Yes, for parking, "Limited supply + big demand + low or free prices = problems!" But, in the ice cream analogy supply and demand are both unlimited! And, wouldn't the goal be to have no lines at the ice cream/pizza stand?

Also - re: john's comment "I am somewhat surprised that a "coalition of local businesses, advocates and city officials [who] are brainstorming solutions" can't figure out to charge market value for parking so as to achieve about 85% of the spaces taken at any given time." I can't imagine a business owner in a downtown really being excited to charge their potential customers for parking. Yes, it will help the parking problem - but how will it impact business? Instead of going to the local hardware store, having to pay for parking (presuming that I could easily find a spot, given the 85% occupancy goal), couldn't I just go to Home Depot easily find free parking and use self-checkout?

The bottom line - planners, and the public, need to be prepared with strategies that reduce overall demand for driving. How can we get people to drive less and not need parking?

free ice cream? I like Strawberry

I suppose I can smile about the ice cream analogy, but it is more of an acedemic or theorectical comparision. Just curious, would any of the commenters consider themselves to be knowledgeable about Newport? It is an island community with only 26,000 year round residents and over 3 million visitors. It has the resources of a town, but the problems of an internationally recognized destination. The community is heavily reliant upon property taxes (70% of expenses) since the majority of the tourist revenue is paid directly to the state. This is quite different than other comparable communities (Savannah, Charleston, or Annapolis). One of the small benefits offered to local residents is the limited three hour parking in the lot. Local residents feel that this is the least that can be provided for not receiving much of a tax adjustment from tourism and also the inconvenience of the visitors. Actually, there was a recent effort to eliminate or adjust the free parking which was defeated. The rates were increased by the way for others. Lastly, we find the visitors simply love driving around the city. The "people mover" idea was one of many concepts, to be integrated in a larger system, that attempts to provide an easy, convenient and attractive way to get more people out of their vehicles.


Your community is a wonderful place, with history, culture, and a scenic downtown that is a big draw for visitors. I wish I could have visited Newport when I lived near the East Coast. You have some very intelligent people there, and your residents, when informed about the high cost of that free parking, might make another choice. It is actually not correct to call it "free" at all--it comes at a cost, and I think after examining the scientific evidence Donald Shoup presents in his book and other research, the residents could see that cost. Perhaps you could offer a parking cashout option--every resident who agrees to not pick up their resident parking sticker gets instead their share of the equivalent cost of that parking spot in cash.

Also, your city seems to favor the "love [of] driving." Could you could design it so that automobile travel isn't favored? The tourist centers of many European cities have pedestrian-only areas--and massive numbers of visitors on the scale of Newport--and they thrive: Stockholm, Vienna, Freiburg, Munich, and more. The people in Newport could also be a leader in orienting their tourist-intensive areas around people and not cars--in fact, the abundance of visitors is precisely the why international city centers go car-free.

Best wishes!

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