If you want to reduce congestion, increase the cost of public parking argued UCLA Professor, and Parking Policy Cult Hero, Donald Shoup at the recent "It's Time to Get LA Moving" conference.
Shoup pointed to studies done at UCLA showing that a lack of available parking, and drivers choosing to sniff out a cheap space rather than pay the extra couple of dollars for a garage space, leads to an extra half mile of VMT per trip...over the course of even one day that adds up to a lot of extra car travel in an area.
The answer? Increase the cost of parking at meters so that less people will be willing to pay. By pricing meters high enough that there is almost always 10-15% available in a given area, people will drive less choosing to either park in a garage or by being able to park closer to their destination.
Even without the damage to the infrastructure, Shoup argues that low cost public parking is an inefficient use of public resources. Or, as he calls it, "some of the most valuable real estate in the world used to store private property."
But, wouldn't there be huge opposition to such a plan? The professor points to what's happened in Boulder, CO. Responding to a traffic glut in its downtown, the city created a "Total Transportation Improvement District" where they began to charge a premium for parking and used the revenue to provide free transit to the downtown. The combination of expensive parking and free transit revitalized the city's core and reduced traffic congestion by allowing people a safe, free alternative to get to the city's shops and other attractions.
While congestion pricing and HOT Lanes continue to get much of the media attention in our local press, we should remember that our roads and highways aren't the only thing that is over priced.