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Parking


When parking prices reflect demand, everybody wins

When San Francisco let parking prices fluctuate with demand, drivers found it easier and faster to find parking. The city maximized its valuable curb parking spaces and modestly sped up buses.


Image from SFMTA.

These are some of the results from a recently-released evaluation of SFpark, a pilot program that started in 2011 by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) with support from the Federal Highway Administration.

SFpark used a sophisticated system of electromagnetic sensors, networked parking meters, and databases to track the occupancy of 7,000 on-street spaces in seven pilot neighborhoods and 15 of the city's 20 SFMTA-operated garages.

It took less time to find parking

The project's "primary focus was to make it easier to find a parking space," with prices allowed to fluctuate such that on-street spaces met a target occupancy of 60-80% on weekdays between 9 am and 6 pm. (Project managers chose this target as it generally allows for one space on each block space to sit open and ready for a newly arriving vehicle). According to the evaluation report, the dynamic-pricing pilot areas met this occupancy target more often than control areas the report compared them to.

As a result, the time it took to find parking decreased in the pilot area from an average of 11 minutes and 36 seconds to 6 minutes and 36 seconds, a 43% decrease. By comparison, the control areas saw only a 13% decrease. As a result of the reduced circling, the total distance vehicles traveled in the pilot area decreased by 30%, which meant less greenhouse gas emissions.

Nobody benefits when drivers circle for parking, take up road space, release more pollutants, and (in some cases) block the street by double-parking.

In many places and times, parking prices declined

One might think that this all occurred because parking prices shot up, and in some cases they did. For example, side streets along the Fillmore Street retail corridor saw weekday hourly prices go from the old, city-wide rate of $2.00 to as a high as $4.50. However, the average hourly rate for parking on the street, across the whole pilot area, actually went down by 4%, from $2.69 to $2.58. How could this be?

Just as roadway demand exceeds roadway supply (leading to congestion) only at certain times and in certain places, parking demand only exceeds parking supply in certain times and at certain places. In fact, many of San Francisco's pilot-area blocks sat relatively empty when parking cost a flat rate ($2.00, $3.00, or $3.50 per hour, depending on location) because those blocks were not desirable. Now, with parking as low as $0.25 per hour in some locations (the minimum price allowed under the program), demand is distributed more evenly across space.

Also, SFpark introduced time sensitivity to parking charges, making it possible to fine tune pricing to match demand across the day and across weekdays and weekends. Over the time period studied, four of the pilot neighborhoods saw increases in average weekday on-street parking rates, while three actually saw overall decreases.

How San Francisco mastered the politics

Between the evaluation report, the program's technical documentation, an upcoming evaluation from FHWA, and the downloadable data sets that program managers routinely update, there is a lot of quantitative data that researchers, activists, policy-makers and citizens can study in great detail.

Yet stepping back from the quantitative results for a moment, it is important also to recognize and learn from the way in which SFMTA sold dynamic pricing to the public in the first place.

First, it launched SFpark as a pilot, a strategy that can lower the perceived stakes (and tensions) for everyone involved. Second, it set primary and secondary goals that would not only benefit the community at large (reduce greenhouse gases, reduce congestion), but also those drivers paying the variable rates (make it easier to find a spot, make it easier to pay, reduce the number of parking tickets). Third, SFpark made marketing (with graphic design quality not usually seen from a public agency), messaging, transparency, and outreach core parts of the program.


The SFpark overview video explains complex technology with easy-to-understand animations and narration. Image from SFMTA.

It is vitally important that other cities take similar approaches if they are to change parking policy because such policy stirs up strong emotions and political action.

Jeffrey Tumlin, of the transportation-consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard, creatively refers to America's relationship with parking as an "addiction," which vividly sums up how difficult it is to alter the status quo around those patches of pavement where we store our cars. Similarly, a recent primer on parking pricing from FHWA notes that innovative parking policy ideas will go nowhere without political and public support.

The results of the SFpark pilot evaluation provide a rich source of rigorously measured outcomes that planners can reference in policy documents and presentations around the United States. Yet if similar programs and their beneficial outcomes are to take hold throughout the country, officials will need to copy not only SFpark's substance but also its style.

Education


We're moving to California because DC schools can't or won't serve our son's special needs

This summer my family is moving to San Francisco so that my disabled son can attend kindergarten. While we are excited about the next chapter of our lives in the Bay Area, we expected until recently to live in DC, and in Georgetown, the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, that plan changed when we ran into obstruction and hostility from DC Public Schools and local private schools regarding our son's special needs.


Photo by Christopher Chan on Flickr.

My 5-year-old son, Martin, is the joy of our lives. He is the sweetest little boy you will ever meet, with a passion for life that inspires me every day. Martin also has epilepsy.

In the past year, Martin has had over 2,500 seizures. Most of them are drop seizures, in which he drops to the ground like a puppet whose strings are cut. After every drop seizure, he gets right back up and resiliently soldiers oncoloring, playing with toys, eating his food, undeterred.

When the seizures began breaking through his medication last year, my wife and I spent every evening on our laptops, immersing ourselves in pediatric neurology. Helping our boy fight seizures was our primary activity, at least it was until we discovered how much we would have to fight DC Public Schools to secure his rights to an equal education.

Coping with epilepsy

Martin has miraculously not regressed cognitively despite his seizures, but must be kept safe. He has had drop seizures in which his face collides into his cereal bowl during breakfast, into the toilet bowl while going to the bathroom, into the sand table while playing at his preschool.

After several bloody and bruised faces, we made the difficult decision to put a helmet with face guard on our boy. Even with his helmet, he is still not safe on stairs, which pose a real risk to his life and limb.

Martin attends an amazing preschool, St, Columba's Nursery School in Tenleytown, whose teachers unflinchingly provide him any accommodation needed to keep him safe and help him learn with the other children. They go far beyond what the law requires.

This past year, we asked DC Public Schools (DCPS) for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) ahead of his entrance into kindergarten this fall.

An IEP is a list of the accommodations that a public school provides to ensure a child's civil right to equal access to the curriculum. A federal law, the 1975 Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), protects the civil right of children with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).

DCPS, through its Early Stages division, initially committed to including a dedicated aide in Martin's IEP to keep him safe. They were unable to put him in a building without stairs. Instead, an aide would hold his hand on the stairs or take him to elevators, as well as logging his seizure count and caring for him when he injures himself.

"Martin will obviously get an aide; he's dropping 10 times per day," was the assessment of our IEP team lead. "Just give us a letter from his neurologist, and we'll include an aide in his IEP." We provided letters from two neurologists, and expected to send Martin to DCPS kindergarten this fall.

DCPS throws up a wall

Two weeks after our IEP meeting at DCPS Early Stages, I received a startling call from our IEP team lead that would signal the beginning of the end of our time as DC residents. "I'm so sorry to have to tell you, apparently we were not authorized to put an aide in Martin's IEP. So we've taken it out."

She was unable to explain why Martin's IEP team couldn't give him an aide. She said to me, "I wish I had answers to your questions. I'm so sorry." When I pointed out that, by law, only members of an IEP team can determine what accommodations go into an IEP, she agreed, and repeated, "I'm so, so sorry."

A week later I received a call from Amanda Parks-Bianco, a DCPS special education administrator who manages all dedicated aides, asking me what my questions were. Parks-Bianco said, "Dedicated aides and nurses are never needed to provide FAPE. If you accept our offer of FAPE, then aides and nurses are additional services that your child may qualify for."

When I cited several court decisions stating that IDEA does sometimes require dedicated aides, she insisted that "IDEA is vague." Several times Parks-Bianco told me, "I know I must sound like a horrible person."

Private schools give the cold shoulder too

My wife and I retained an attorney, who advised us to find a private school that would keep Martin safe. We would then sue DCPS to pay the tuition. However, we were unable to find a general education private school in DC that would accept a child with uncontrolled seizures.

For example, we visited Lowell, known as one of the most inclusive private schools in town. When we mentioned to the Head of School that our son has 10 drop seizures per day, her response was, "You would need to purchase tuition insurance." She then explained that "a school with a smaller student-teacher ratio might be better, with more eyes on your son to keep him safe."

The Lowell Head of School never technically violated the federal law against discrimination towards those with disabilities, but made it clear that my child was not welcome at her school.

We visited Sheridan, also known as an inclusive private school. While they said they embraced children with disabilities, their building is still not ADA-compliant, requiring children of all ages to walk up and down a long staircase with no elevator. When we noticed the facilities they had invested in, such as a campus in the Shenandoah Valley, their true priorities seemed clear.

We considered suing DCPS to accommodate my child with an aide to keep him safe at school, a suit that our attorney said we had a 95% chance of winning. But he also said we would likely have to retain counsel multiple times over the years, as DCPS would try to remove the aide from Martin's IEP.

My wife and I were considering moving to California last fall in order to try a strain of medical marijuana that had helped other children control their seizures. A friend from San Francisco had been urging me to consider schools there that were inclusive of children with disabilities.

In March, I flew to San Francisco, and within a month enrolled Martin in a private school that embraces children with disabilities and was committed to keeping our son safe. Even our special education attorney recommended that we accept the offer of the school in San Francisco.

My family is privileged to have the means to move when our son's civil rights are denied and physical safety threatened by DC Public Schools. DC is full of thousands of special education students who face the obstacles our son faced and have far fewer options.

How can DC be a truly inclusive city?

While we are sad to leave our adopted hometown of 16 years, we are excited to embark on a new journey. We feel deep gratitude to the Bay Area for its inclusive culture, and hope to give back in spades.

One of the hardest parts of leaving DC, besides the friends we leave behind, is walking away from the fight to make DC a just city whose success is shared broadly. As DC's amenities have grown over the past decade, so have the growing gaps in wealth and educational outcomes in our city. This creates a moral imperative to advocate that we can either hide from or accept.

It's easy for elected officials in DC and other east cost cities to promote the influx of new residents, then take credit for the improved joblessness numbers and school test scores that inevitably follow.

My deepest fear for DC has been that in 30 years, all 8 wards will have stellar economic and education numbers, but those numbers will be the result of turning over half the population in the city.

There are few battles more critical to creating an inclusive DC than the fight for the 13,000 students, predominantly poor, who receive public special education.

DC can move forward in one of two waysby displacing DC's recipients of special education, or including them.

Bicycling


"Floating" transit stops work well with bicycles

Ever played a game of leapfrog with a bus while riding your bike? Some cities are using "floating" transit stops so buses don't have to pull into the bike lane to discharge passengers. Could one work here?


A floating light rail stop in San Francisco.

Since buses (and sometimes streetcars) discharge passengers onto the sidewalk on the right side of the street, bicyclists often face conflicts with transit vehicles or transit riders. That's one of the primary reasons the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack was put in the middle of the street, rather than as a pair of curb-side bike lanes.

These "floating" transit stops make it possible for cyclists to stay next to the curb, while still allowing transit vehicles to stop without blocking the bike lane. As the video shows, cyclists and transit riders share the space easily.

With DC's growing network of bike lanes and cycletracks, conflicts with transit stops are going to grow. Floating stops like this could be a solution to the problem.

Budget


Our bus fares aren't that cheap (if you transfer)

WMATA is considering raising bus fares, with the justification that they're lower than in other cities. But somehow every time this topic comes up, people forget that there's a big difference between our bus fares and other cities': riders transferring between bus and rail pay a lot more.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

The agency recently put out a survey which, among other things, asked riders what they thought about various options for a fare increase. For Metrobus, the survey asked about raising the bus fare from the current $1.60 to $1.75 or $1.85:

METROBUS
Passenger fares cover about 30 cents out of every dollar of the cost of providing Metrobus service. The current Metrobus fare is $1.60 for SmarTrip® and $1.80 for cash. Metrobus fares are relatively low compared to other major metropolitan areas around the country:
STANDARD BUS FARES:
San Francisco & Chicago$2.00
Philadelphia$2.25
New York City & Atlanta$2.50
That makes it look like our bus fares are relatively cheap, right? Maybe compared to those cities if you're just riding the bus. But a lot of people don't just ride the bus. They take a bus from home to a Metrorail station and then ride the train, and back again in the evening. Or a bus to a train to another bus.

Many buses, in fact, don't go downtown at all. They end at a Metrorail station. When Metro opened, the agency cut back many of the buses so they just fed the rail system. The same is going to happen around Tysons when the Silver Line opens (or even before).

Therefore, to really compare fares, we have to look at the fares for a rail and bus trip. Since our rail system has variable fares, it's more complex to compute the bus-to-rail fare, so for simplicity let's look at the rail-to-bus fare, assuming you've already paid for a rail trip from some other location.

City &
Agency
Bus fare (w/card)1Bus fare after railBus fare after other railRail+bus pass?Inter-agency rail+bus pass?
Washington (WMATA)$1.60$1.10Full fare from MARC/VRENoYes
Philadelphia (SEPTA)$2.25$1.00$1.65 from PATCO2YesNo
Los Angeles
(LACMTA)
$1.5035¢/$1.503No other railYesNo
Chicago
(CTA)
$2.0025¢Full fare from MetraYesYes
New York (NYCT)$2.504FREEFull fareYesNo
Atlanta (MARTA)$2.50FREENo other railYesN/A
San Francisco (MUNI)$2.00FREE$1.75 from BARTYesYes
Boston
(MBTA)
$1.50FREEFull fare from commuter railYesNo Yes5

1 All fare calculations assume you have the electronic fare media for that city. Most agencies offer better fares for people with the card (SmartTrip in Washington, MetroCard in NYC, Clipper in SF, Breeze in Atlanta, etc.)

2 Riders transferring from PATCO to select city train and bus lines can buy a round-trip ticket for $3.10, for an effective per-direction fare of $1.65.

3 Los Angeles offers no transfer discount even between multiple LA Metro rapid bus lines, but a rider on a Metro rail or bus line can transfer to a local municipal bus operated by one of the county's cities for 35¢.

4 Riders using the pay-per-ride MetroCard also get a 5% fare bonus when putting more than $5 on the card, making the effective fare for riders who don't have passes closer to $2.38.

5 The MBTA runs both commuter rail and Boston subway, so there aren't enough agencies to have an inter-agency pass as in other cities on this table. However, the commuter rail passes do offer free "T" subway and bus rides, so Boston does have a pass analogous to those that give a "Yes" for the other cities.

If you look at the 2nd column here, among these cities listed in the WMATA survey, taking the bus after a rail trip costs more here than in any of those cities. Three, New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta all have a flat fare for a trip throughout the city, no matter whether it's on one train, one bus, or a combination (though in San Francisco, that's just MUNI light rail, not BART).

We're not necessarily the worst. If you ignore SF Muni's light rail for a moment, the San Francisco Bay Area has a regional rapid transit system (BART) that's very similar to the Metro, and both its base bus fare and transfers between BART and buses are more expensive. Los Angeles has no transfer discount at all between LA Metro bus lines, but its base bus fare (and rail fare, for its limited rail system) is much lower, so many riders are paying less there.

Don't forget passes

In addition, all of the listed cities have combined passes that offer rail and bus trips for a discount. Large numbers of commuters in these cities don't pay every time they ride the bus or train; instead, they subscribe to a weekly or monthly pass and get their transit free. WMATA has a bus pass that a lot of people use, but nothing for rail and bus users. WMATA has, in fact, has been very stingy about passes overall.

Many cities have inter-agency passes, such as Chicago, where you can get a pass for Metra commuter rail and also the L or bus in the city. MARC and VRE also offer passes for their tickets as well as Metro rail or bus; in fact, you pay less to add unlimited Metrorail and Metrobus to a monthly MARC or VRE ticket ($108) than to get an unlimited Metrorail "short trip" pass for 28 days ($140) which offers free rides up to $3.50 but no bus rides.

WMATA could certainly move to a system like other cities' where most people subscribe to transit rather than paying each time. It has a lot of advantages, like blunting the fare loss when there's a big storm, a federal government shutdown, or just the holidays. But every time the issue comes up, finance staff say they're nervous about the relatively unknowable financial impact of the change. (They also say that they need to wait for the next generation of fare systems).

That's in large part because discussions about changing fares only arise around a fare hike. If costs have risen a certain amount, then the agency needs to raise a certain amount more money, not revamp the fare system. But we never have the discussion during the off years, either.

Should bus fares go up?

Maybe bus fares need to change (or maybe not), but this survey is pushing the idea through remarkably misleading statistics. If the proposal is to raise the bus fare but at the same time make transfers cheaper, that is certainly an option. To compare the base WMATA bus fare to the one in other cities without any mention of the transfers or passes, however, does not give riders a fair picture.

Bicycling


Here are America's largest bikesharing systems in 2013

American bikesharing boomed in 2013 like never before. Led by huge new systems in New York and Chicago, the total number of bikesharing stations in the US more than doubled, from 835 at the end of 2012 to 1,925 in 2013.

After three straight years at the top of the chart, Washington's Capital Bikeshare slipped to second place. CaBi's 305 stations barely edge out Chicago's 300, but are behind New York's 330. Those three cities make up a clear first tier nationwide, with no other systems cracking 200 stations.

Overall, 13 new bikesharing systems opened nationwide, bringing the total to 40. In addition to New York and Chicago, other noteworthy additions include San Francisco, Fort Worth, and Columbus.

At this point, it's fair to say we're no longer in the pioneering period. Any city that still doesn't have bikesharing is beginning to fall behind.

It's not just the big coastal cities where bikesharing is becoming popular. There are some unexpected hotspots, where groups of nearby cities have independently launched small systems. Four Texas cities have bikesharing, plus two more in Oklahoma. Small systems are also popular in the Southeast, with 6 systems in close proximity in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Oddly, the only area of the country that seems particularly underrepresented is the West Coast. San Francisco's Bay Area Bikeshare finally became the first large West Coast system this year, but it's still the only one. Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles continue to lag.

Here's the complete list. New systems in 2013 are in bold. Previous years are available for comparison.

RankCity2012 Stations2013 Stations
1New York0330
2Washington (regional)191305
3Chicago0300
4Minneapolis (regional)145170
5Boston (regional)105132
6Miami Beach8497
7Denver5381
8San Francisco (regional)067
9San Antonio3051
10Fort Worth034
11Chattanooga3033
12Madison2432
13Columbus030
14Houston329
15Ft Lauderdale (regional)2525
16(t)Boulder2222
16(t)Nashville2022
18Charlotte2021
19Long Beach, NY1213
20(t)Kansas City1212
20(t)Aspen012
20(t)Salt Lake City012
23Austin011
24(t)Washington State Univ (Pullman, WA)99
24(t)Georgia Tech Univ (Atlanta, Ga)99
26Omaha58
27(t)Oklahoma City77
27(t)George Mason Univ (Fairfax, VA)47
29(t)Greenville, SC66
29(t)Des Moines46
31(t)California Univ - Irvine (Irvine, CA)44
31(t)Tulsa44
31(t)Spartanburg, SC24
31(t)Univ of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY)04
31(t)Lansing04
36(t)Louisville33
36(t)Stony Brook Univ (Stony Brook, NY)03
38(t)Kailua, HI22
38(t)Roseburg VA Hospital (Roseburg, OR)02
?Hailey, ID02
(approx.)

Notes: Systems covering multiple jurisdictions are counted either together or separately depending on how they choose to represent themselves. Thus Bay Area Bikeshare is counted as a single system, while Denver B-Cycle and Boulder B-Cycle are counted separately.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Parking


With the streetcar, H Street will need clear signs

For streetcars to move through traffic, rail tracks have to be free of parked cars. To keep them that way, the rules of the road must be crystal clear for drivers.


Streetcar parking zone sign, Seattle. Photo by BeyondDC.

Last week DDOT used a truck for a test-run of the H Street streetcar route, and because of illegally parked cars, the going was slow. But other cities with similar streetcar layouts, like Seattle and Portland, have had a lot of success keeping their lanes clear. How do they do it?

With constant and clear communication to drivers, like the sign pictured here, and with strong enforcement.

Any time you take pavement away from cars, there's a learning curve. Drivers accustomed to doing as they please have to change behavior. That's to be expected, and it doesn't happen on the first day you run your first test truck. But most drivers do fall in line, once they understand what's changed. That's how streetcars have worked in other cities.

And if all else fails, ticketing cameras mounted on streetcars, like in San Francisco, would solve any remaining problem in a hurry.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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