Sunday, January 18, 2009

Parking in historic Ellicott City

Everything boils down to incentives. I always thought that it was really stupid for the British troops during the Revolutionary War to walk around in neat geometric lines while wearing bright red coats which practically had a bulls eye drawn on them. However, even back then it was known that the army who wins is the army that stands and shoots. If the army stands and shoots, it will probably break any charge although a few of its own soldiers will certainly be killed. However, if you are an individual soldier you have an incentive to turn and run to increase your own chance of survival. Wearing bright red coats and walking in straight lines made it difficult for any one soldier to slip out of formation in order to hide when things got dangerous. So the uniforms and practices of the British weren’t so stupid after all.

Many people have concluded that a parking garage is needed in historic Ellicott City because the parking problem is so bad. An article in today’s Sun discusses a few of the perverse parking incentives in downtown EC:

He said people could find parking, though an open space "might not have been just where you want it."

Street parking is free, with a two-hour limit, while lots provide a mix of free and metered spots. That might be backward, Connor said.

The authority might want to hire someone to more aggressively manage parking by offering incentives to park on the fringes of the district or in Circuit Court parking lots atop a nearby hill, the consultant said. That could result in prime spaces along lower Main Street turning over faster, possibly by adding parking meters.

Parking at the courthouse could be aided by a shuttle bus, Connor suggested. Restaurant or store patrons could be offered free parking for a return visit or other incentives, while employees and residents could be lured away from the most congested areas by lower parking fees.

Incentives are now reversed, he said, with prime spaces along Main Street available free, which encourages motorists to occupy them for longer periods or to move their cars to work around the two-hour limit.

I think that last paragraph is the most important. Giving away valuable things for free and then complaining that there is not enough to go around is very strange. I would be willing to bet that much or all of Ellicott City’s parking problems could be cured with a commonsense pricing structure that fixes some of the perverse parking incentives.


jim adams said...

I to wondered why the British wore red, and I find your comments rewarding and thought provocating.

Compromise may have offered a solution.

Colors on the front of the uniform, such as green, and or brown may have provided less of a target, while red on the back would offer the benefits of reinforching descipline.

Often there are sides to many items.