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Wells pushes DDOT to perform better on parking

At yesterday's DDOT performance hearing, Tommy Wells pushed DDOT and interim director Terry Bellamy to be more active in managing DC's two performance parking pilot zones, now over two years old.

Photo by namllih22 on Flickr.

In the performance parking zones, the price of on-street meters should reflect the demand for parking in an area. By adjusting the price per hour, DDOT can ensure there's at least one empty space per block.

Wells stated that DDOT's failure to implement performance parking in pilot districts has not given him confidence in their ability to extend the idea elsewhere, such as downtown. "We don't seem to have been very nimble in changing the pricing structure," Wells said. We've noticed this as well.

Although DDOT has been able to collect data on parking occupancy through consultants and outside groups like the Council of Governments, the follow-through of turning that data into price adjustments has been lacking. According to Wells, we would have to see performance parking work well in the pilot areas before expanding it to other areas.

Bellamy stated that performance parking was found to be a viable "best practice" for parking management in the District, and that he had reviewed a draft parking occupancy report, the second such report in almost three years of performance parking operation.

Bellamy also basically stated that you would need staff to monitor spaces almost daily in order to deal with parking patterns around the baseball stadium. While that may be true to get the prices exactly right, previous data released by DDOT indicate that there are blocks that are constantly underutilized or overutilized that could benefit from price adjustments. However, that has not happened.

Wells pushed DDOT to look hard at the data that was already collected and "see whether this was something you want to do." Based on the law, DDOT doesn't even have the right to decide not to do it. The implementing legislation, the Performance Based Parking Pilot Zone Act of 2008, states in part that "the Mayor shall adjust parking fees to achieve 10 to 20% availability of curbside parking spaces" in the ballpark zone.

Performance parking is one of the few self-funded improvements to transportation in the District. Unlike bike lanes, new bus lines or improvements to Metro service, performance parking won't cost DC any operating funds. Implementation of a good performance parking plan will reduce cars hunting for parking spaces, and therefore will reduce congestion in dense commercial areas.

DDOT needs to measure and report parking occupancy more often than twice in three years, and once they get the occupancy data, they need to actually change the prices in accordance with the law, not just make recommendations and then sit back. The District is cited as a leader in performance parking, by having these pilot districts.

The original 2-year pilot already ran out, though the DC Council recently passed legislation to extend it indefinitely. It's a shame the original pilot period passed before a single meter was changed based on measured demand.

DDOT should collect and review the data on regular schedule, actually implement appropriate parking price changes, and report on their actions, all as required in the law.

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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Grammar train wreck:

In the performance parking zones, where the price of on-street meters should to reflect the demand for parking in an area. providing at least one empty space per block by adjusting the price per hour.

by Jack Love on Mar 1, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

Thanks, I've edited that paragraph. Don't know how it got that way.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 1, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

I think it was an edit by me that got mixed up. Sorry.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport

So, in other word, DDOT isn't nimble enough to go around setting prices for hundreds of meters based on some imaginary demand figure?

As I've said before: charging anything for parking cuts its demand. After that, however, it is a fool's game to try and micromanage prices and demand.

Performance Parking is just a fancy way of saying more expensive street parking.

In some perfect model, would this work? Maybe. In the real world, where drivers wouldn't know what a meter cost, the short terms demand would remain inelastic and god only knows what happens in the long terms.


by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

The Columbia Heights Performance Parking Program needs to start from scratch. It was primarily used by CM Graham as a transportation slush fund to direct perks primarily to Adams Morgan and Mt. Pleasant and political favors for a few other supporters.

by W Jordan on Mar 1, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

Here is the problem with performance parking. Unless you are willing to really jack up the $10 an hour to park on public street, it will just be a revenue generation exercise.

by beatbox on Mar 1, 2011 12:21 pm • linkreport

Wow I am amazed by this. I always assumed these things were dynamic -- data on use is fed, real time, to some pricing model which then updates price based on use. It would probably take a decent programmer a week to code this up, obviating the need for any outside intervention.

Of course, that would mean that whoever implements these programs wouldn't have any jobs to dole out to their supporters ...

by SPer on Mar 1, 2011 12:33 pm • linkreport

This is ridiculous, precisely because they've done such a good job of collecting detailed data on street parking usage. Who was needed, or what was supposed to be done, to at the very least marginally alter the street parking prices?

by Michael on Mar 1, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

Mr. Jordan, would you mind getting on the phone with me and calling Jim Graham? Apparently he didn't get the memo that Mt. Pleasant was supposed to be benefiting from his slush fund. If he owes us money, I want it.

But before we get into questions about Jim Graham's modes and methods, I'd like to say that I agree that the Columbia Heights Performance Parking Program needs to be revamped. To the average observer, there doesn't appear to be much rhyme or reason with how it is laid out. It is only when you look at it through a political lens do you see how every exception and illogical implementation is a direct result of trying to appease some constituent group.

I'm glad to see Chairman Wells demanding that DDOT roll up their sleeves and start doing the math on this.

by Phil Lepanto on Mar 1, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

The politics of this will be tricky. Unless the system works well enough to guarantee 20% availability in a district, people will dismiss the not-high-enough prices as price gouging. What's the point of paying $5/hr if you still can't find a space?

Also, would prices vary per block or would the prices stay the same throughout each individual parking district? Obviously the spaces on the main streets are inherently more valuable than those on the side streets.

by Eric Fidler on Mar 1, 2011 1:02 pm • linkreport

Two years and we still don't know the specs?

Wasn't this Gabe Klein's domain? I thought he was an effective manager?

by HogWash on Mar 1, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

@Eric - In short, if occupancy goes above 85%, prices are supposed to rise and vice versa.

by Michael on Mar 1, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

What's the point of paying $5/hr if you still can't find a space?

Am I the only one in the city who does't find $5 / hour parking particularly daunting. That's dirt cheap compared to a private garage. "Ample free parking" is pretty much the mortal enemy of livable communities.

by oboe on Mar 1, 2011 1:14 pm • linkreport

$5/hr is relatively cheap rationally, but politically it will be difficult to sell perofance parking to a public that is accustomed to cheap street parking. If the pretext for raising rates is to ensure availability, and if you don't raise rates high enough and fast enough, the layperson will simply assume the city is grabbing for money without providing any of the supposed benefits (increased availability). Politically, that's hard to defend.

That's why it's important that DDOT get this right. The ideal political framing should be, "We're raising rates to make finding parking easier for you." Paradoxically, it will probably reduce circling and thus driving since people will become accustomed to high rates and will thus choose alternatives.

by Eric Fidler on Mar 1, 2011 1:23 pm • linkreport

Actually "We're raising rates to make finding parking easier for you" really sounds like "We're raising rates to make finding parking easier for people who have more money than you" which is probably even less popular.

Is reduction of "circling" such a good thing?*

Having one or two space on each block be 30 minute parking would probably help more to open up space.

* there is a strong argument about higher evening rates reducing valet parking who use the street.

by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

I agree with SPer: this isn't a hard problem. It would be pretty easy to write a computer program that would dynamically adjust prices. And you could have a sign that displays the price for the block (like the electronic signs many gas stations have to display gas prices).

by Rob on Mar 1, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

$5/hr is relatively cheap rationally, but politically it will be difficult to sell perofance parking to a public that is accustomed to cheap street parking.

Maybe we can bring back Fenty once each year for 24 hours. He can make us take our medicine, then, after passing unpopular legislation, be consigned back to the wilderness for another 364 days.

Gray can ceremonially drive him out of the Wilson Building, restoring harmony to the land, and get back to the core governmental business of incorporating Blue Ribbon Panels and leasing vehicles that reflect the manly, upscale nature of our citizenry.

by oboe on Mar 1, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

I thought Bellamy's testimony was generally awful. And Wells was tossing out softballs left and right to DDOT for most of the hearing, until Mendo showed up and beat up pretty badly on DDOT's inability to respond to traffic messes like the recent Regan Building fire. After that, Wells finally started asking some tough questions and got a whole lotta gibberish from DDOT.

by Fritz on Mar 1, 2011 1:35 pm • linkreport

Um, I'd just like to point out that the 2-year pilot period almost entirely took place under Fenty. Nothing happened.

I know there's some kind of dogma among some people that Fenty did everything that needed to be done and Gray is going to roll it all back, but on this, Fenty did absolutely nothing.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 1:36 pm • linkreport


Clearly, like myself you did not "pay enough to play". The visitor parking program aimed at Mt.P was funneled through the CH Performance Parking Legislation. A similar thing for AMs taxi-stand and etc.. Once these things were done, the program in CH was basically neglected. Except of course the battle over the money for the fund.

I'm not anti-Fenty, but please tell me what all of substance did he do? A few pet projects is not the same as real development.

by W Jordan on Mar 1, 2011 2:18 pm • linkreport

@charlie: This isn't that hard, it's an iterative process. Start with raising the price on blocks that hardly ever see occupancy go below 100%, there are plenty of those in DDOT's report. At the same time, drop the price on any block that never fills up above 50%, there are blocks like that too. The next iteration, tighten your target a little. Once you get to 70% on the low end and 90% on the high end, you're probably done.

I'm not sure it would take $10 per hour to get an empty space on many blocks. Once you get above $3 or $4 per hour, off-street garages, taxis and transit start becoming more competitive. Though there still might be people willing to pay above $5 for very short visits to very crowded areas.

The problem with DDOT's implementation is that data collection, rate decisionmaking and price updating are all manual processes. Data collection is done by driving a car around with a camera and database system to collect license plate numbers on each block and comparing to the number of available parking spaces per block. Rate decisions are performed by parking managers after evaluating the data (or not), and updating the pricing has to be done through meter reprogramming and replacing the paper information cards, which can't be done remotely.

It's because of all these manual processes that DDOT has been reluctant to pursue performance parking.

The other direction, to have everything automated, risks a consumer information problem, where the prices aren't very predictable. I think the best solution would be to have automatic sensors and remotely updateable meters, but to have the decisions made periodically by a human, say quarterly or maybe every month. After a while, the adjustments required will be small, with higher prices on the main street and lower prices further away.

@Michael: I think DDOT just didn't want to go through with changing the prices, politically.

@Eric Fidler: The prices should be higher on blocks with higher demand and lower elsewhere. Take a look at what Redwood City does:

I'll note that the Redwood City map used to have some 75 cent per hour meters on the main street. They must have reduced the price when demand reduced during the current recession. At least that was what I thought they were going to do when I talked to their parking manager a couple of years ago.

@charlie: Reduction of circling is inherently a good thing. In crowded areas, a large fraction of the traffic is people looking for a parking space. Those people get in the way of other cars and buses and create congestion. Also, people looking for parking spaces aren't exactly the best drivers since they're having to split their attention between looking out for cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and buses and looking out for a parking space. Reducing circling would be great for everyone.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 1, 2011 4:25 pm • linkreport

The City Council in coordination with the DC Government is not intellectually equipped to handle this complexity.

This type of complexity is way over their collective heads.

It's City government, KISS.

by eb on Mar 1, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert

How can you say Fenty did nothing, when you know full well that DDOT leadership was not willing to go along with the bogus performance parking scheme as laid out. As @Sper stated above if it's not dynamic it's a huge waste of time and a government welfare hiring program. Kudos to DDOT for not buying into Grahams hair brained scheme and making plans that would actually work. Too bad Klein is gone to see his plan for real time parking pricing through.

by Transit junkie on Mar 1, 2011 9:44 pm • linkreport

Transit junkie: First, ignoring the laws passed by the Council is not part of DDOT's purview. This was a general problem with the Fenty administration, in fact; they felt that they could just implement those laws they agreed with and not the others.

Second, it's true that there were some weaknesses in the pilots as passed, but by ignoring them rather than trying to get them fixed or make the program work where they could, DDOT ensured that there was no support for performance parking because they hadn't shown anyone how it could be done right.

Klein's real-time program, which also hadn't been shared with anyone and had no supporters, was going to be in for a real firestorm if it had continued. This was a common pattern at DDOT, just doing well-meaning things without building any support, even among natural advocates, so they were out all alone when the inevitable opposition cropped up.

Third, my statement was that Fenty did nothing. You asked "how can you say Fenty did nothing" and then explained why it was right for him to do nothing. The fact is that performance parking was terribly bungled in 2 years of his administration, and whether or not he is responsible for it directly or not, you certainly can't say that this would have been better handled under Fenty as oboe was suggesting.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 10:15 pm • linkreport

First a true real time program makes no operational sense.

Having attempted to work with Performance Parking in Columbia Heights, the biggest problem with the program was CM Jim Graham. He actively blocked community meetings and formation of the neighborhood committee to oversee it. He actively, blocked DDOT from working with the community or anyone not hand picked by the CM. As well the concept and program was never fully developed from a practical standpoint.

The reality is the folks who advocated for this program focused more on sucking up to the politicians to get them to push this and other thing on communities, rather than working to communities to get the program properly designed and implemented. The program under performed because of the elitist approach taken to implement it.

by W Jordan on Mar 2, 2011 7:25 am • linkreport

@David Alpert I hear what you are saying about DDOT and the Fenty Administration not being in a position to ignore laws passed by the Council, but I have to say that it wasn't a concept that Adrian Fenty originated. Generally speaking, I'd say that's part of the balance of power.

From my experience, DC is 90% process and 10% implementation. I think Mr. Jordan makes some excellent points with regard to how in the case of Columbia Heights, both the process and the implementation were foiled at the Council level. I'm frankly suspicious that dynamic pricing would ever have been allowed to move forward.

by Phil Lepanto on Mar 2, 2011 7:28 pm • linkreport

Thank you Michael P for your sound reporting and tenacity on this important issue that DDOT continues to bungle. And props to Tommy Wells (my council member, who will be getting a supportive email next).

by Lance Brown on Mar 2, 2011 10:07 pm • linkreport

@beatbox: Here is the problem with performance parking. Unless you are willing to really jack up the $10 an hour to park on public street, it will just be a revenue generation exercise.

The evidence suggests that you're wrong. Many people are quite price sensitive.

I want to quibble to some extent with the idea that performance parking should be highly responsive to current conditions. In many ways, it's better for the cost to depend predictably on time of day and similar factors, because people can learn what parking will cost and decide in advance whether to drive. It's sort of too late once people drive to their destination and only then find out what parking costs, for it to influence their decisions.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 12:08 am • linkreport

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