Oakland’s Holiday Gift: Parking Dysfunction and Traffic Congestion

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidciani/4999187338/in/photostream/##davidciani/Flickr##

The City of Oakland would apparently like to think it’s doing merchants and shoppers a favor by declaring all on-street car parking free every Saturday until New Year’s.

Of course, parking meters were invented to encourage turnover and allow more driving customers to park near businesses. So while the city’s “gift” probably won’t do much for the local economy, it will help ensure that parking won’t be available. The city is basically inviting car owners to drive on down and circle endlessly for spots.

Meanwhile, the city didn’t see fit to bestow free fares to AC Transit riders, so shoppers considering taking the bus will have even less of an incentive to do so while free parking is on the table. Can the city do any more to get Oaklanders into their cars?

“If parking is filling up, it’s self-defeating — it can actually hurt stores,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, which is based in Oakland. “You want to look out for unintended consequences, because it could backfire.”

This isn’t the first time Oakland has fallen for the hare-brained notion that free parking is good for business. In 2009, the City Council caved on a proposal to extend parking meter hours into the evening after complaints from some vocal merchants, while businesses in other cities that have chosen to expand meter hours reap the benefits.

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