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Multispace meters make performance parking easier

DDOT has installed new multispace parking meters all over downtown, including Connecticut Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and the Chinatown area. These meters replace older single-head meters which have been unreliable.

Photo by Michael Perkins.

The new meters have some capabilities that will help the District more easily implement performance parking. One of the difficulties with implementing a good performance parking plan is the trouble with collecting good data about parking occupancy, and with having meter prices that make sense at different times of day and days of the week.

With old meters, you might only get the number of quarters collected, if it's logged. The transactions won't be tied to times of day or days of the week. To get the kind of occupancy data you need for performance parking, you have to do manual counts and surveys. This isn't a very efficient use of manpower, which may be one reason why performance parking hasn't taken off yet in many cities.

Additionally, since old meters only allow for one hourly rate, it's difficult or impossible to implement rates that vary by time of day or day of week. It's an all-or-nothing prospect, which is why meters typically run all day and then offer free parking at all other hours, including Saturday and evenings. But there is sometimes too much demand to let the parking go free, but not enough demand to charge daytime rates.

The new meters are capable of collecting and transmitting transaction-level data, down to the amount of parking purchased, time of day, and date of sale. By analyzing this data, DDOT can get a very accurate picture of how crowded various parking meters are and when. For example, I obtained a day's worth of data from a parking meter on 8th Street SE (near M Street SE). The data show a dual peak of demand at lunchtime and at 3pm. This data combined with targeted occupancy surveys would allow DDOT to adjust meter rates to more closely match the demand for parking with the price.

Number of cars purchasing time in 30-minute blocks from 7am to 7pm.
Data from DDOT.

As the performance parking pilot around the ballpark demonstrates, the new meters allow for variable pricing by time of day, for the first hour, or even something as complex as special event pricing.

This combination of data collection and flexible rates allows DDOT to more easily implement performance parking downtown. DDOT should work with the Council and local groups to roll out performance parking slowly and steadily, starting with the most crowded blocks and based on the data reported by the District's investment in multispace meters. DDOT should implement a plan of regular data collection and analysis, with surveys to confirm the calculations. Then, rates and time limits should be adjusted to implement a target occupancy, in order to make parking more convenient and available.

Michael Perkins serves on the Arlington County Transportation Commission, though the views expressed here are his own. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children. 


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In case anyone is wondering, the data is based on assuming cars stay the entire time that is purchased, and that any purchased time during a half-hour block counts for the whole block of time. It's a crude measure, but when you're doing the calculations by hand it's easy to do.

If I get back into programming I'll write something in python. Then I'll request a bunch of data and hopefully have something to share.

by Michael Perkins on May 21, 2009 12:39 pm • linkreport

Multispace meters are a good thing, but I really wish the District and Arlington had implemented Montreal's amazing paperless downtown parking system, where one simply has to enter the space number into the machine, no walking back-and-forth. Additionally, if you're blocks away and the meter is about to expire, it can be recharged from any of the machines around downtown.

by Don Incognito on May 21, 2009 1:04 pm • linkreport

@Don, that's a good plan, but doesn't it require marking off and numbering on-street spaces? If you do that, you get a loss of capacity because you have to mark off larger spaces than people typically take.

I think both jurisdictions are looking into it because they both have pay-by-cell on their future implementation plans.

by Michael Perkins on May 21, 2009 1:19 pm • linkreport

Isn't "recharging" the equivalent of feeding the meter? Although I suppose with a computer the overall time limit can be set.

As to Michael's point, what about having people input their license plate number (and the block of the street if need be)? That solves the marked-spaces problem, but maybe it makes enforcement more difficult.

by ah on May 21, 2009 1:28 pm • linkreport

@ah: Big brother?

by Michael Perkins on May 21, 2009 2:20 pm • linkreport

Cell phone parking does the same thing, no? And it's not like your plate isn't in plain sight. Sure, I suppose the city could keep records, but it would be a lot easier for the machine simply to keep the plate number in its memory until the time is up, then it goes out of memory.

by ah on May 21, 2009 2:41 pm • linkreport

and I thought DC was claiming they didn't have the money to put multi-space meters everywhere yet (weird excuse since they make it easier to pay larger amounts).

When I lived in Hamburg and Amsterdam some 30 years ago they already had multi-space meters everywhere and Baltimore's had them for years. Nice DC's soon to catch up to 20th century.

Everywhere I go in downtown still has the old two-headed monsters that take 16 quarters for two hours and often don't work. Yesterday by Judciary Square ( I had a load of files for BZA and Ct. of Appeals) I got one that took my first 5 quarters then reverted to 0 and stayed there for the next quarter. I backed into another space and the meter there took 12 quarters to make it to 1 hour. I was able to back into another space as there are now plenty of open meters since people are sick of fooling with them.

by Tom Coumaris on May 21, 2009 7:59 pm • linkreport

The parking situation in DC is getting ridiculous. First, it was better when spaces were clearly marked, such that the number of spaces could be maximized; now, folks park any which way they want, taking up more than a space, leaving less room and fewer effective spaces. Also, one is required to walk up the street to get the parking pass and then back to ones car- that is stupid. If the old meters are outdated then DC should replace them with state of the art meters, but the meters should remain at each individual parking space, for the convenience of patrons.

by KevinM on May 22, 2009 6:49 am • linkreport


Are you really complaining about walking 10-50 feet to the meeter and back to the car? Did you just say that we should have at-space meters for the convenience of the patron? Isn't it convenient that they get to park on the street? Walking a quarter of a block doesn't seem that big of deal.

by Eric H. on May 22, 2009 7:05 am • linkreport

Indeed, that is exactly what I am complaining about. Often the master meter is in the opposite direction from where you are going, and also this is a hassle if the weather is bad- rain, snow, etc. And again- the city loses spaces when they are not clearly marked.

by KevinM on May 22, 2009 9:06 am • linkreport

While I agree with Kevin that individual space meters are a lot more convenient for drivers, the multispace meters offer such significant benefits that they're worth the hassle.

It would likely be prohibitive to have individual meters that accept credit cards, individual meters are much more time consuming for the District to collect revenue, set rates, and maintain, etc.

Hopefully pay-by-cell will take off and make paying for parking even more convenient.

by Michael Perkins on May 22, 2009 10:14 am • linkreport

Multi space meters are fine, but the old meters were good for looking a bike up to in the absence of a bike rack. DDOT needs to install more bike racks when they remove the old meters.

by Maurice Walters on May 22, 2009 10:32 am • linkreport

I like multi space meters because of the variety of payment options available. Although, i don't think reliability should be listed as an advantage over the old meters. In my experiences, the multi space meters in DC have some sort of problem half the time, whether it is only taking coins, or out of order completely.

by RD on May 22, 2009 11:00 am • linkreport

Maurice, I agree and DDOT is aware. Tommy Wells says the loss of bike parking is the #1 complaint he gets. DDOT is trying to create one contract to replace meters and install bike parking. Contractors don't get paid until they do both.

by David C on May 22, 2009 1:18 pm • linkreport

I am all for the innovations with regard to electronic payment, and if multi-space meters is the way to accomplish this , variety of payment options then so be it. However, I do believe that, contrary to what has been said here previously, there is no loss of capacity when spaces are marked. In fact, people take up more room when spaces are not clearly marked, sometimes as much as a space and a half.

by Kevinm on May 23, 2009 7:07 pm • linkreport

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