The Antiplanner blew it yesterday by saying there was no free parking in Manhattan, which shows this Oregon resident doesn’t spend much time in the Big Apple. It turns out Manhattan has lots of free on-street parking, though on many streets you have to move your car to the alternate side of the street every night.
This doesnâ€™t change my main point, which is that it is one thing to argue that cities should not price parking below market rates where there is a market for parking. I have no problem with this. But it is quite another thing to argue, as many urban planners following the Shoup model do, that private businesses should be required to charge for parking (or be limited in how much parking they can provide) in areas where the market rate for parking is zero (meaning most areas outside of central city downtowns).
But I began to wonder: if there is so much free on-street parking in Manhattan, why would someone pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own personal parking space? Census data indicate that, outside of towns in Alaska that are not accessible by auto, Manhattan has about the lowest rate of auto ownership in the United States: just 22.5 percent of households have a car, compared with more than 90 percent in the rest of the country. So you might not think there would be much demand for parking.
On the other hand, Manhattan has some of the highest population densities in the United States: nearly 67,000 people per square mile according to the 2000 census, compared with an average of 2,000 to 3,000 per square mile in most other developed areas. Combine one-quarter the auto-ownership rate with twenty times the population density and Manhattan turns out to have a much higher density of locally owned autos than all but a handful of communities, most of them bedroom suburbs.
Specifically, as of the 2000 census, Manhattan residents owned (or leased) more than 8,350 cars per square mile. That’s considerably more than Brooklyn or Queens (both around 6,500 cars per square mile), and more than twice car-crazy Los Angeles (about 3,900 cars per square mile for the city) and more than four times auto-friendly Houston (about 1,800 per square mile, again for the city).
Among urban areas, the highest auto densities are found in San Francisco-Oakland (4,000 veh/sq mi), San Jose (3,900), and Los Angeles (3,800). The New York-Northern New Jersey urban area only has about 2,200 cars per square mile, but that covers more than 3,300 square miles of land outside of Manhattan, including most of Long Island and parts of New Jersey more than 100 miles south of New York City. The Houston urban area has just 1,700 cars per square mile.
About a dozen incorporated cities and towns have higher auto densities than Manhattan, led by Guttenberg, NJ at 20,600 veh/sq mi and West Hollywood, CA at 13,900 veh/sq mi. Then there is Friendship Village, MD, the highest-density “census-defined place” in America, a small group of high rises housing 82,000 people and 45,000 cars per square mile (though in fact the whole place occupies less than a tenth of a square mile). In general, higher population densities may have lower auto ownership rates but they are still tend to be associated with higher auto densities per square mile. So much for reducing congestion by increasing population densities.
You can look up the data on the Census Bureau’s web site, by choosing the decennial census, selecting Summary File 3, and asking for table H44. To save you the trouble, I’ve posted auto ownership data in three files: by urbanized area (a 3.6 MB file that includes urban clusters of 2,500 people or more), by place (a 12.7 MB file that includes cities, towns, and other concentrations of people that the Census Bureau defined as “places”), and a few selected areas, including the five boroughs of New York City as well as the cities and urban areas of Houston, Los Angeles, Portland, and San Francisco.
The census question on vehicle ownership asked households if they had 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 or more cars. In calculating the number of cars, I assumed that households with “five or more cars” had just five cars, which may slightly underestimate auto densities in some areas. But this should not greatly change the results as less than 1.3 percent of households (including nearly 2,000 households in Manhattan) admitted to having five or more cars.