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.

  • Anonymous

    Sigh. They just don’t get it. For days before Thanksgiving, San Jose airport was tweeting about how long-term parking was filling up and how they were giving parking discounts on the shorter term parking areas. I tried to get them to tweet that VTA and Caltrain were great alternatives, especially during high demand periods. I failed. 

  • LB2SF

    As an Oakland resident, I’m always amazed (and frequently annoyed) at how many Oaklanders have relatively “suburban” mentalities, especially when compared with San Franciscans just across the bay. When speaking with Oakland residents who chose to live here over SF, one of the most frequently given reasons for their preference is the abundance of parking and ease of owning a car.  Not exactly encouraging for those of us who wish Oakland was more pedestrian and transit-oriented like SF. 

  • Meter holidays, although well meant, create a
    shortage of curb parking at the busiest time of year, increase the time needed
    to find a curb space, and make traffic congestion even worse. If a city wants
    to be generous during the Christmas season, it might instead post signs on the
    meters saying, “All parking meter revenue from December 15 to 25 will be
    donated to pay for food and shelter for the city’s homeless population.” Some
    shoppers might like this policy and feel better about paying to park downtown. If
    cities set performance prices rather than offer meter holidays during the
    Christmas season, they can prevent parking shortages, help businesses that
    depend on curb parking, and generate substantial revenue to aid the homeless.  

  • mikesonn

    All these stores are going to get is less customers and those customers that do find parking are going to be cheap-asses. Good luck with that.

  • Casey

    I don’t think Oakland can offer free bus fares, they don’t have the money to pay AC Transit.

  • mikesonn

    Take a look at OAK’s parking page:


    Compare to their transit page:


    Which do you think they spent more time and money on?

  • Chris

    Probably not. Just as they don’t have money to pay for police officers and lots of other things.  But apparently they can afford to forego parking revenue for no good reason at all.

  • Anonymous

    Mike, of course the airport focuses on people arriving by car. That’s what the majority of people want to do. Who cares if it generates more traffic!  << read with sarcasm, please.

    Still, it's better than John Wayne Airport in Orange County where they have curbside valet parking adjacent to each terminal, but for any ground transportation–taxi, shuttle, bus–you have to walk much further to a central transit center that serves all three terminals.

  • Justin

    It’s really just embarrassing.

  • Davistrain

    “unintended consequences” like encouraging shoppers to give up looking for a downtown parking spot and head for the suburban mall with acres of free parking.

  • Shoot, I have a whole album of those Oakland F A I L meters right here https://plus.google.com/photos/108662840821852714064/albums/5729868915671813073

    Seriously though, thanks for covering this.  It’s quite depressing to think that the city government is so clueless as to think this will be a net gain for the city.

  • Davistrain

    And if the city decided to give parking meter revenues to help the “residentially challenged”, some citizens would complain, “Sure, and just attract more bums to our city when we’re already overrun with panhandlers.”  

  • Anonymous

    Truly silly, but for what it’s worth, the two hour parking limitations on meters still holds, so turnover SHOULD be the same (if properly enforced).  This change was asked for by the merchants, and embraced by politicians.  It’s definitely not staff driven.

  • Anonymous

    but if the parking is advertised as “free” in a given area, are there staff who would actually patrol? I highly doubt it. The policy may still say 2 hour limit, but unless it is enforced, and people know it, it won’t really matter.

  • Anonymous

    “free” parking. ha. higher rent prices for stores to have built/maintain the sea of mostly empty parking spaces (for most days/times of the year) at the expense of the consumer in higher prices.

  • Anonymous

    though ENTIRELY ILLOGICAL, if you gave someone a credit for the gasoline for a round-trip somewhere so that the gas credit was MORE than a FREE parking credit, they would take the “free” parking most of the time.

  • Rio

    It’s mostly moot because Oakland has almost no retail by the standard of any equivalent US city. Word: people from Oakland do their shopping in Emeryville which, precisely because they don’t have strict land use regulations, and do have the highest cop-to-resident ratio in the East Bay, not to mention free transit from BART, is cleaning up on all those retail dollars and tax revenues.

    Alas, poor Oakland, your goose is cooked.


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