On Tuesday, the news came that after 41 years of teaching at UCLA, Donald Shoup, distinguished professor of urban planning, will retire. For all of us who have had our paths in life profoundly influenced by his research, writing, and teaching on parking and transportation, it’s a good time to reflect. I never got to take a class from professor Shoup, but he has had more influence on my life and career than any of the professors whose classes I did attend.
Back in the spring of 1992, I was a student at Stanford in Washington, DC, studying international development. I was beginning to realize that before I tried to go to someone else’s country and tell them how to improve their lives, I needed to learn a real practical skill and see if I could accomplish something at home, in a culture I actually understood. That same spring, an article appeared in the Washington Post — “Subsidies Support a Drive-to-Work Habit” — about the ways in which the federal tax code subsidizes parking while withholding tax benefits if people walk or bike or take transit. It piqued my interest.
I knew that a large and remarkably ugly parking structure had recently been built outside my dad’s office on the Stanford campus, and I knew that I could get a permit to park in it for about $6 per month. I wondered how much it cost, and who really paid for it.
When I got back to Stanford in the fall, I went to see my future boss, Julia Fremon, the manager of Stanford’s Office of Transportation Programs. I asked her how much it cost to build and operate a parking space on campus, and who paid for them. She said, “I’ve been wanting to know that too.” Then she gave me a list of people to interview, and offered me a spot on the University’s Committee on Parking and Transportation. Encouraged by this, I went to Green Library, descended into the stacks, and discovered the writing of professor Shoup.
All that year, I devoured articles and monographs authored or co-authored by Donald Shoup. I still have my original dog-eared copies of all those articles on my office bookshelf, and I still reference them today, when I’m out in the world trying to persuade city planners and council members to think differently about transportation. There were all those great articles, some newly published: “Employer-Paid Parking: the Problem and Proposed Solutions,” by Shoup and Willson; “Parking Subsidies and Travel Choices: Assessing the Evidence,” by Willson and Shoup; and most importantly, “Cashing Out Employer-Paid Parking,” the big Federal Transit Administration report by Shoup.
Professor Shoup managed to make the apparently dry topic of parking economics and regulation not only worth studying, but compelling, fascinating, and at times, hilarious. I vividly remember sitting down in the stacks, reading his research papers on parking and laughing aloud at the insanity of it all.