Missing out on a public library parking lot nudge

The public library in Bethesda, Maryland, is just two short blocks away from a red line Metro stop that takes riders to downtown D.C. in 20 short minutes. For many years, the library had meters in its parking lot. People who lived far from the Metro stop but worked in D.C. were sometimes known to park at the meters and ride into the city, leaving less space for library visitors and would-be readers. Conveniently for Metro hoppers, the meters with the longest allowable hours were located at the outer edge of the parking lot, closest to the metro stop. Not surprisingly, this parking system created a small controversy with some local residents arguing that the lot should be reserved for library users only, while other county residents claiming that, as taxpayers, they had the right to park on county property without necessarily using the library.

In the end, the library got rid of its old single meters in favor of a centralized parking system that eliminates Metro hopping. People who park in the lot are now required to walk into the library lobby and get a ticket to place on their car’s dashboard. Each parking space has a number. Strict time limits for parking spots make Metro hopping very difficult.

While the county’s final decision was a mandate, it missed an opportunity for a nudge. For instance, the county could have set aside a limited number of spots at the edge of its lots for Metro hoppers or library users. Instead of using the designated parking machine in the lobby, Metro hoppers would have to use a separate machine located at the point on the library’s property furthest away from the set of spaces (an outside location on the other side of the building would be perfect). To keep Metro hoppers honest, library staffers might occasionally announce parking space numbers and fine patrons who did not present their ticket within 30 minutes.

Addendum: If the cost of a new kiosk and parking machine is too expensive, an alternative would be to randomly allow parking for non-library users on the machine inside the library. Rather than randomize on a daily basis, which would allow metro riders to alert friends through email or text, the machines could randomize spaces literally by the minute. Some people will no doubt want to “spin again” if they lose out on a space the first time. The county could consider two options: 1) Limit the number of “spins” within a certain extended time period that would be long enough to exact a cost on people who are willing to wait around (say 20 minutes); 2) Charge for each additional spin (maybe $2).

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