I think it’s a travesty that something as trivial as expensive downtown parking can make such sensationalist headlines in the local paper, especially when considering that parking is nothing more than a good, which can be bought and sold. It’s telling of the cultural attitude our society has towards non-auto modes when there’s such outrage over a phenomenon that’s framed according to market principles.
Luckily, people like Jon Talton get it:
But even “free” out in the suburbs isn’t really free. The externalities, such as environmental damage and climate-altering emissions, of big surface parking lots, wide streets, extensive car use, etc. aren’t priced in to conventional studies or public policies. Much of this is an artifact of a moment in history when energy was very cheap and debt low. Not for nothing are many suburbs suffering worse from the recession and its aftermath than center cities.
While Jon’s last point isn’t as simplistic as it sounds, there’s a reason why the Seattle/North King subarea always seems to outperform its peers in terms of sales tax revenue. A lot of the lowest-density suburbs in the county that are subsidizing free parking (both public and private) also subsidize and encourage the kind of low-density development patterns that weaken the local tax base and reduce justification for strong frequent transit service.
It makes me chuckle when I read comments in Seattle Times articles about how people are driven to prefer the malls with free parking over the “expensive” downtown retailers, supposedly giving suburban businesses a big economic advantage. As we’ve seen, that’s not the case— a sad reminder that free parking is almost always subsidized at the expense of transit, either directly or indirectly.