Americans are so dependent on cars compared with the rest of the world that parking meters are often seen (or remembered) as an annoyance -and good riddance when they go! But the more you know about them, the more interesting the story is. Parking meters were developed to aid traffic flow and actually make spaces easier to find. The original philosophy behind the meters went awry when businesses and city planners veered from the master plan with alternatives that gave rise to the driver's idea that parking, and later free parking, was a right instead of a privilege. Collector's Weekly traces the history of city parking with the help of Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, and Jeff Speck, author of Walkable Cities.
According to Speck, “people who walk, bike, or take transit are bankrolling those who drive. In so doing, they are making driving cheaper and thus more prevalent, which in turn undermines the quality of walking, biking, and taking transit.” Furthermore, our plethora of free parking resulted in a range of negative consequences still unaccounted for: “The social costs of not charging for curb parking—traffic congestion, air pollution, accidents, wasted time, and wasted fuel—are enormous,” writes Shoup.
However, there is no longer any consistency in the use of meters. Many American cities that use them still have coin-fed machines that are so underpriced as to be useless, while others don't use them at all. Meanwhile, Europe is leading the way with hi-tech systems that actually work in the intended manner for reducing traffic congestion. Read all about the purpose and problems of metered parking at Collector's Weekly. Link
(Image credit: John Vachon)