Amusement Parks and Parking

If you've been to an amusement park this summer, you know they're expensive. On top of the ticket prices and the food prices, at most parks, you've got to pay to park your car.

(from Flickr user Don Solo)

At some of the big corporate parks, this can be as much as $10 to $20 per car. Why do they do this? Arguably, the high cost of parking hurts their business, driving away potential customers who would come if parking was 'free'.

OK, maybe not. But that's essentially the argument that some planners make when designing neighborhoods. 'Make sure it's got parking, lots of it,' they'll say. 'And it's got to be free, otherwise, nobody is going to come.'

Amusement parks typically have gigantic, sprawling surface lots, and rarely, if ever, is every space in that lot filled. This is more or less the opposite problem that a lot of cities face: no charge for parking but no immediately available spaces either.

Amusement parks are destinations. They're places that people go because they want to have a day of fun and escape reality for a few hours. Arguably, nobody is going to drive all the way to a park and then turn around and go home because of the parking fee. Similarly, people don't pick which park they want to visit exclusively based on how much each charges for parking.

Urban neighborhoods can be destinations too. In DC, look no further than Georgetown on a weekend, or Adams Morgan on a Friday or Saturday night. These are places that people flock to, despite the fact that parking is either scarce or expensive or both. Most of the retailers in Georgetown have stores out in suburbia, but people want to come to Georgetown because the experience is about more than just the stores.

Would people still want to visit their favorite amusement park if it ripped out a roller coaster to expand the parking lot? How about if those hypothetical new spaces allowed them to lower the parking price? Would it be worth the cost of one few roller coaster? Often when people talk about reconfiguring destination neighborhoods to accommodate more parked cars, it's an analogous phenomenon.


    I suspect it's a 'pay me now or pay me later' phenomenon. The big parks have big bills, and they're going to get the money to pay them however they can.

    But, you know? I'd pay for decent valet parking. Say, those little pink jeeps they used to have in Jamaica? Summoned and waiting when I arrive at the departure point? With on-board iced-water in chilled tumblers?

    Heck, these are fantasy destinations, are they not?