Performance parking but no spaces at Barracks Row
The performance parking meter rates must not be correct around Barracks Row, because my wife and I couldn't find a space on Barracks Row one recent evening, and ate at Pentagon City instead.
It was a Friday evening, my wife's last day working in that office. I picked her up in the car so we could move boxes out. Since it was getting late, we decided to eat out. I work at the Navy Yard, and one of my favorite nice lunch spots is The Old Siam, near 8th and E SE, at the north end of Barracks Row.
The vast majority of parking meters in that area are part of the "Performance Parking" system, where meter rates are supposed to adjust based on demand to keep at least a few parking spaces available. DDOT's Damon Harvey told the community that no blocks in the ballpark zone need higher rates.
My experience at 7 pm that Friday doesn't match this report. We circled for about a mile, and we must have passed about a hundred full metered spaces, one instance of double parking, and a few instances of waiting in non-legal spaces.
Eventually, we decided to give up. As we drove out, we noticed that the meters on M street (which charge the same price or perhaps 50 cents cheaper) were completely empty, but that was too far to walk with two kids. We drove to Pentagon City to eat and paid $2 for an hour of parking. We would have been willing to pay the same or maybe a little more to park on 8th for dinner.
While this might have been an anomaly, I'm guessing it's not. According to the performance parking report (PDF) for the Columbia Heights zone, DDOT stated that only three multispace meter blocks have occupancy above 85%. However, it appears that this is based on average occupancy throughout the day, rather than maximum occupancy during the peak hour.
It's important to adjust meter rates based on maximum occupancy because the goal of performance parking is to ensure an available parking space on almost every block. If the rates revolve around average occupancy, that only ensures that the overcrowded parking during peak times is balanced by relatively empty parking at other times of the day. If demand throughout the day is highly variable, as is likely here, it's better to have two or more different rates at different times, or some other way to offer discounted parking during off-peak times. The Port of San Francisco has two tiers and highly varied prices by location in order to better match prices with demand. Their maximum is $3 per hour (4 hours max), and the minimum is 50¢ per hour. Some spaces are available for $1.00 per hour for a maximum of 12 hours.
Having the parking meter fees too low but with no spaces available is like a grocery store that offers heavily discounted bread. Sure, it's a great deal, but they never have any bread. Eventually, you give up going to that store and to to a more expensive store that you know always has some bread available. That's the point of performance parking: making sure that there's always a space available.
I'd like DDOT to report the data they've collected about the performance parking zones on a block-by-block and hour-by-hour basis. Rather than use the average occupancy to determine what areas need price changes, they should look at the maximum occupancy or throw out a couple of outlier hours and look at the nearly maximum occupancy. If the blocks are still empty even at the peak, the fees should decrease. But if at the peak, people are finding the spaces all full, then a meter fee increase is justified.
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