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Progress in immobility: How optimization of stationary traffic can improve traffic flow


“Paying for parking is like going to a prostitute,” George Costanza, one of the most prominent cheapskates in the history of TV, once said. “Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I can get it for free?” Although most people would probably choose more subtle analogies, this punch line of the short and chubby Seinfeld sidekick aptly sums up most Americans’ attitude toward paying for parking.

And where has this attitude led us? Where curb parking is underpriced and overcrowded, a surprisingly large share of traffic may be cruising in search of a place to park. Sixteen studies conducted between 1927 and 2001 found that, on average, 30 percent of the cars in congested traffic on city streets were cruising for parking. For example, when researchers interviewed drivers who were stopped at traffic signals in New York City, they found that 28 percent of the drivers on a street in Manhattan and 45 percent on a street in Brooklyn were cruising for curb parking. In another study, the average time to find a curb space on 15 blocks in the Upper West Side of Manhattan was 3.1 minutes and the average cruising distance was 0.6 kilometers. These findings were used to estimate that cruising for underpriced parking in this small area alone creates about 590,000 excess vehicle kilometers of travel and 295 tons of CO2 per year.

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