Greater Greater Washington

Parking innovation bypassing performance parking zones

During last Friday's online chat, DDOT Director Gabe Klein announced his intention to select a "parking czar" to manage the many pilot programs and other improvements to on-street parking in the District.


Photo by thetejon on Flickr.

We think this is an excellent idea to apply dedicated management staff to the issue of on-street parking. The many technology pilots, recent changes to evening parking rules, and more need management attention. And without it, DC's two performance parking pilot districts are being neglected.

In areas with high evening demand, DDOT made a sound policy decision to drop time limits in the evenings, allowing visitors to pay at a meter for as much time as they want. Those visitors can watch a show or have dinner without worrying about running out to "feed the meter" (which is illegal anyway), move their car or go home early. Combined with proper on-street pricing, this improves the usability of on-street parking by customers.

But the performance parking districts near the ballpark, Barracks Row and Columbia Heights were exempted from this change. Why? Certainly customers of the restaurants on Barracks Row, the Ballpark and evening entertainment at Columbia Heights have similar needs as customers in Georgetown or Adams Morgan.

Additionally, last year's budget approved higher meter prices in "premium demand" areas. The performance parking districts would also be considered "premium demand" according to data DDOT collected. In at least some blocks, prices ought to rise to ensure some availability and equalize supply and demand. In others, they should decrease. According to the act that created them, DDOT is supposed to adjust prices based on demand, but to my knowledge no price changes have ever happened.

The Council's intent for the performance parking districts was to bring innovative parking policies to those areas. Instead, the opposite has happened. Those have become a "time capsule," freezing parking policy as of 2008 while other areas are changing time limits, prices, even parking meter technologies.

The Performance Parking Pilot Districts are being left behind. Price increases will free up spaces to promote access, and provide revenue for local non-transportation improvements. Price decreases will make an area more affordable and provide a boost to local business.

DDOT sometimes argues that changing the meter prices is hard to do in "semi-real time," but they managed to change all the other meters in the city based on Council approval when budget pressures created an urgency.

DDOT should establish a regular process to review and change meter prices. Start out with adjusting quarterly. Even with maximum adjustments of 50¢/hr each calendar quarter, the prices will approach the most appropriate hourly charge for the District very quickly.

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Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia. 

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Broken record alert: Performance parking is a sham. Like a lot of "good ideas" they are being driven by consultants and companies that want privatization contracts. (Note to David: I am fully aware that Perkins doesn't get a cent for this stuff. That makes him more crazy, no?) Cities want to maximize revenue, not deal with the complexities of making sure each space is used 84.9955 of the time. I've made the argument before, blah, blah.

That being said, I was thinking of this when I saw a number of parking garages on Mass Ave down by 395 offering $5 unlimited evening parking. That is cheaper than on street parking now.

(as opposed to the parking garage cartel that makes sure almost every garage charges the same for early bird and daily parking)

So I do see the value of some flexibility. The ability of something like a DDOT to get hyper-granular on the data, however, is not there. Keep it simple, and keep it affordable.

by charlie on Jul 12, 2010 1:51 pm • linkreport

@charlie

You do realize that on-street parking in many areas should be more expensive than garage parking, right?

by Alex B. on Jul 12, 2010 1:58 pm • linkreport

FWIW, last October I suggested that DC hire/appoint a parking planner, after attending the Arlington County TDM presentation.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/10/k-street-transitway-comments-accepted.html

by Richard Layman on Jul 12, 2010 2:00 pm • linkreport

@Charlie: If the city were really interested in maximizing revenue, how are they doing that by charging so little that people drive in circles looking for a space? How are they doing that by charging so much people avoid the area?

If you charge too much you don't have any customers and you get nothing, if you charge too little and the streets crowd up, you don't get as much.

Surely there's a balance here, and that's charging just enough that there's a space available but they're not always empty. It doesn't need to be precise down to the third decimal place, but it should be somewhere in the range of 80-95% occupied, rather than 105-140% on some streets or 20-40% on others like the reports show.

And the guy "driving" performance parking is Dr. Shoup, a university professor who's been studying this since the 1970s. This concept does not really need a high-priced consultant because unlike doing a station area plan or a financial analysis of a new transit line, it's not really that complicated.

I don't think this is beyond DDOT's capability. They put out a pretty good report a while back that pointed out where the parking was crowded and where it wasn't. That gave them all the information they needed to do an initial assessment and adjustment. They just didn't follow through, for whatever reason.

by Michael Perkins on Jul 12, 2010 2:06 pm • linkreport

@Mperkins; yeah, I think you posted something about that DDOT report a while ago?

If I wanted to be more cyncial, I'd say the maximizing revenue part doesn't just come from meter revenue but from the fines. That, after all, is where the real innovation at DDOT hides.

(I'd even note that, horrors, sometimes university professors make money on the side via consulting contracts, books and articles. I have to think parking professors make more money there than say, hmm, medieval greek literature professors.)

But isn't your point about DDOT having the rough data, but unable to do something, evidence that setting these prices isn't something that DDOT is good at? Perhaps the market is not the best way to allocate this public good.

And I'm glad to see you acknowledge that some street parking is now so expensive people are avoiding the area. Great for the anti-car GGW crowd, bad for local merchants.

It would be interesting to debate the flexibility of parking. Much like gasoline, it all seems to cost the same in an area.

(FWIW, I find Shoup interesting when he talks about mandating parking at buildings, but I lose him on performance parking)

by charlie on Jul 12, 2010 2:21 pm • linkreport

"And I'm glad to see you acknowledge that some street parking is now so expensive people are avoiding the area. Great for the anti-car GGW crowd, bad for local merchants."

In my experience, a lack of parking is the reason for avoiding an area... not the cost. If charging more for meter spaces encourages some people not to drive, then that's all the better.

by Adam L on Jul 12, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

@charlie: Shoup has told me that it's critical to get the on-street parking right before you go attack the problem of parking minimums.

Minimums were created to solve a parking problem (people clogging the streets looking for free spaces -- remember, this was before the 1935 invention of the parking meter). You can't just go eliminate parking minimums without solving the street clogging problem. Getting the street price right is the first step.

And I don't know how many times I have to say "street parking is not a public good". See the other dozen times I've explained rivalry and excludability.

My argument about DDOT having the data but not acting on it is not that they're not competent to do this, it's that they lack the political will.

by Michael Perkins on Jul 12, 2010 2:30 pm • linkreport

For what it's worth, I think the reason the low-demand blocks are like that is that there's very little demand for parking that's limited to three hours.

The people that come here (Navy Yard on non-ballgame days) want to park all day, and there are free unrestricted spaces available if you get here early enough.

If you don't get here early enough you pay for all-day parking. Three-hour limit spaces at $1.50 per hour don't meet any need, so they go empty.

Unlimited spaces at $1.00 or $1.25 per hour might (off-street is $5-10 all day depending on location), but DDOT has told me that they don't want to encourage people to drive because once the area fills in they'll have to go back to discouraging them.

by Michael Perkins on Jul 12, 2010 2:35 pm • linkreport

As far as Columbia Heights goes, there are so many unused spaces in the DCUSA garage where diners and theatergoers can park as long as they want, I don't see a need to remove on-street parking time restrictions.

by Erica on Jul 12, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

I think if you have DC tags you should e given a break. Ticket VA/MD drivers. You want to bring people into DC. Tailor your policies towards them and their vehicles!

IDEA: Charge all the VA/MD drivers a toll to drive into our city. If the DC leadership had any *&^% they would implement that program. Imagine the cash! Plus, the metro would start to make money instead of hemorrhaging it...

by J on Jul 12, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

@J

Congress won't let D.C. charge any type of commuter tax on non-residents. Just the way it is.

by Adam L on Jul 12, 2010 3:34 pm • linkreport

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/28/AR2010062804850.html

Why not listen to the experts that you respect Mr. Perkins:

"Washington is taking the lead in this country and almost throughout the world," said UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." "Washington has started its [parking] reforms at just the right time, when there's so much new technology available."

From what I hear, the two pilot zones were poorly picked, and the new leadership at DDOT would rather address the issue citywide with cutting edge technology and are testing lots of concepts. Sometimes it seems like this blog is more interested in trying to make up a "gotcha" then admiring the amount of innovation at DDOT and elsewhere in District government. Luckily, people like Donald Shoup do for you.

by Tyler Hawkins on Jul 12, 2010 6:14 pm • linkreport

@Tyler Hawkins: the amount of technology DDOT has been piloting for meter technology is commendable.

But that's only half the picture. It's great to get good technology that's easy to use and hassle free. It's another thing to get the prices right.

When I met with Klein, we discussed how the pricing aspect of the performance pilots was not going well. Doctor Shoup and I discussed it when we had lunch, and he discussed it with them when he met with them. He probably didn't want to use his discussion with the Post as.an opportunity to dump on DDOT, because theyre doing a lot right.

DDOT is doing a lot right when it comes to parkin policy, but when it.comes to following the letter and the spirit of the performance parking law, they're not. I'm prodding them on it not only because it's a good policy for the whole district, but the city will be a useful example for others.

Right now all the newspaper articles and studies cite DC as one of the homes of this performance parking concept, and we.haven't really implemented it to show how successful it can be. It's still theory for a lot of people. And on the outside it's going to look like we tried and it doesn't work, but the reality might end up that we never really tried.

Apologies for typos I'm on a phone.

by Michael Perkins on Jul 12, 2010 6:48 pm • linkreport

So DDOT doesn't want to play with performance parking until they have new machines that can up updated remotely?

by charlie on Jul 12, 2010 7:19 pm • linkreport

You're right on the money with this piece about DDOt not following up to keep the performance parking up to date around the ballpark. It was off to a great start, but needs to be kept current, with adjusted prices, new ways to pay, and removing free parking for weekday Virginia commuters.

by Michael on Jul 12, 2010 10:09 pm • linkreport

@Charlie: That's what I don't get about this whole thing. There's a performance parking district where DDOT is supposed to be piloting this concept of adjusting prices based on demand, DDOT says that they have difficulty doing that with equipment that doesn't report occupancy and is hard to adjust. Now they install new equipment that reports occupancy and is easier to adjust and they didn't put it in the performance parking district.

We're almost at the end of the two year authorization of performance parking (passed March 2008) and we have learned little about adjusting prices.

What will DDOT do now? Will they propose performance parking for the whole city? Will they request a reauthorization for the two performance parking districts?

by Michael Perkins on Jul 13, 2010 7:04 am • linkreport

@Mperkins; well, my gut tells me DDOT will drag their feet and then request a reauthorization.

And will performance parking be popular? I suspect if it paired with some other popular "upgrades" it might be easier to swallow. Pay by phone, etc. Will there be other benefits from pp? The block circling might drop. The idea of painting more lines for parking spaces is stupid - drivers in dc (and that includes the VA and MD people, who are generally worse) take up too much room as it is. The local money? Maybe, but I don't see that really continuing with the budget crunch.

by charlie on Jul 13, 2010 8:18 am • linkreport

I spent the weekend in New Orleans, by all accounts a highly dysfunctional city, and came back with a few remarkable insights.

1) The streets are a disaster. It was a rare part of town that had anything that appeared paved in the last 20 years. The net effect is one of wondrous coexistence between cars, bikes and peds.

The speed limit is 30 in most parts of the city, and people almost never speed. In part because of the poor roads, but also in part because there is a lot of foot and bike traffic (and a lot of drunks). And the streetcars. People drive cautiously.

There are also far fewer traffic control devices, unlike the complex intersections we love to design here. There are many completely uncontrolled intersections, and 4 way stops (versus 2-way stops) are a rarity. People just look where they are going. It actually seems to work remarkably well.

I have always believed that complex traffic control devices create more problems than they solve by preventing normal traffic flow when traffic is light and confusing people all of the time.

Most streets are one way, too, which I really don't understand why people hate in DC so much. Everyone seems to think they are anti-neighborhood or anti-pedestrian or something. I don't get that at all, they make things far more predictable for all road users and eliminate backups and conflicts at turns.

2) Parking is tightly metered where its needed and mostly unregulated where it's not. The result is, you can find a parking spot pretty easily in busy areas for a short time, and you can't drive at all for longer-term parking in those areas. I stayed in the French Quarter with a car, and parked at least a half-mile away from my hotel on the street outside the quarter. You just deal with it and accept that if you want to have a car, you won't be parking it near a densely populated/traveled area.

People in DC have come to expect long-term parking steps from their destination. That is a remarkable attitude that doesn't exist even in a city like New Orleans that is pretty small (and a lot smaller than it was a decade ago) and has relatively bad public transit. We should restrict parking more tightly close-in to busy areas, but loosen the needless residential restrictions farther out that mostly serve to annoy residents and their guests. This would both encourage public transit use, free up high-demand parking, but make it practical to park for longer times if you don't mind walking a bit to your car.

The net effect of all this is that the minimal traffic controls and parking restrictions outside of super-dense destinations just work better. The more you try to tightly control every move made by vehicles, the worse things work overall because you just disrupt the flow which changes minute by minute.

When I lived in Mt. Pleasant, the light at Park and Klingle Road would go out occasionally and just blink red. Normally, during AM rush hour, that intersection would back way up Park Road. On the days when the light was out, it was a breeze. This is a perfect example of a useless traffic light. We should try making things simpler here.

by Jamie on Jul 13, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

The time freeze in the zones should go to show that the Council should not legislate performance parking policy, but grant DDOT the authority to manage parking on a dynamic basis. The performance parking bill imposed ceilings on the rates DDOT can charge in each zone that do not match current realities. If I recall correctly, the Mayor proposed giving the DDOT Director such authority in the FY11 budget but the Council killed it. When Council controls meter pricing, the tough/right decision to raise rates will never happen.

by JoeP on Jul 13, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

Wow. I certainly don't mind paying more for parking on the street, but I think if you put up a map showing all the variations of rates, enforcement hours, priority zones, Saturday enforcement, etc. it would look like a Jackson Pollack painting.

Add to that the realities of operating some of these ideas - street signs with no parking hour/enforcement information. Meters with different information on front and back, inoperable meters (9 of 11 meters broken on New Hampshire Ave NW @ GWU hospital a few weeks back), meters that record one of every two or three coins inserted. Two hour parking to 10pm (though I heard that's change (on 17 of 83 blocks??). I would think the merchants and theatres would be screaming. Throw in infrequent metro service after 8pm and track maintenance. The downtown area is almost impossible to enjoy in the evening, unless you live there.

Seems like there are too many pilots, too many changes, too many varieties of restrictions - incomprehensible and frustrating enough to keep spenders in their own neighborhoods.

Select a few time limit/cost/period of enforcement options (limit them to say less than 57), simplify signage and information, and Yes give a little wiggle room (it's OK if the city misses a little revenue after 8:30PM or Saturday between 5:17pm and 6:23PM ;-) ).

And one more thing. If there is an overall plan, post it on the DDOT website. Thanks.

by Confused and Frustrated on Aug 8, 2010 10:28 am • linkreport

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