Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Performance 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.


Here are four ways to make parking meters on the National Mall a success

The National Park Service is proposing to add meters to areas of the National Mall and memorial parks where parking is currently free. With a thoughtful plan, meters should make it easier to find parking on the Mall and improve access to its important sites.

Non-NPS meters on the Mall. Photo by Jeremy Caesar on Flickr.

A few key steps can help the meter program be successful: setting meter rates and times based on demand, offering convenient payment options, helping people locate parking and transportation alternatives, and being transparent about how meter revenue is spent.

Embrace performance parking: Meter rates need not be the same everywhere on the Mall. In areas and at times where parking is widely available, there is little reason to charge for it. But in places and at times where parking is scarce, the Park Service should set prices to manage its availability by encouraging parking turnover and alternative modes of transportation.

The Park Service already seems to anticipate this to an extent. The proposal would only add meters in some areas of the Mall, not everywhere (for instance, not at Hains Point). Presumably, NPS has selected these areas because parking demand is highest there, although it would be helpful for the Park Service to confirm this.

Likewise, NPS says that the meter rate, and the days and hours that meters are in effect, will be "similar to DC's parking rates adjacent to" the Mall area. That suggests that NPS will set Mall rates to be comparable to city meters nearby, but maybe slightly higher or lower based on demand. NPS also states that the times meters operate will include an evaluation of demand.

As with parking in other parts of the city, it may make sense for different areas of the Mall to charge different rates or operate for extended hours. To best manage the availability of parking, the Park Service should regularly review data from parking meters to determine whether rates and times should be adjusted.

Make it easy to pay: Drivers will be more willing to pay for parking if it's simple to do so. The days of quarters-only parking meters are gone. Thankfully, NPS says it plans to use meters with multiple payment options. In addition, signage on the meters should clearly explain charges. The Park Service should also plan to ensure that meters are kept in working condition.

Help people find a spot: Helping drivers to locate a parking spot will reduce the sting of introducing fees. The Park Service should evaluate whether current signage could be more effective at directing drivers to parking areas. For instance, if a person can't find an available spot in one parking area, is there a sign directing them to the next place to look? Perhaps meter data could even be used to provide real-time information about parking availability through a mobile website or app.

Furthermore, providing information about transportation options is a good way to encourage visitors to get to the Mall without needing to park. In addition to the planned Circulator bus service, the Mall is now home to several Capital Bikeshare stations.

The Park Service should be sure to publicize those options in its maps and websites and provide wayfinding tools on the ground. And in the longer term, NPS can support Metro's proposal to add a Metrorail station in East Potomac Park by 2040.

Be transparent about revenue: The most important reason to meter public parking is to manage its availability. Generating revenue can be an additional bonus for the Park Service, but it should not be the overriding concern. Being transparent about meter revenue will help people trust that meters were installed for the right reasons, not just to squeeze visitors.

For instance, the Park Service says that meter revenue will help pay for Circulator service, but doesn't say how much of the funds will go to that purpose or whether some of it might be spent elsewhere. The Park Service should annually disclose how much it raises from metered parking and explain what it does with those funds.

Street space in DC is scarce, especially around one of the city and nation's biggest attractions. Done right, bringing parking meters to the National Mall will allow more people to visit and enjoy it.


Topic of the week: Greater Greater 2024

Wednesday marks the start of 2014, but what about further into the future? We asked our contributors what they hope to be writing and reading about on Greater Greater Washington in 10 years.

Photo by Joe on Flickr.

Dan Reed: I'd like to write about how the region's ethnic enclaves, from Langley Park to Annandale, have become the new hot spots, drawing investment from around the globe as the cool kids finally realize there's a big world outside DC, and it's got much better food. Meanwhile, the Rockville Metro station gets renamed "Chinatown."

Jim Titus: I hope to read that that Metropolitan AME complains about DDOT's insensitivity to churches, while the city makes excuses. Church officials complain that CaBi needs to completely empty its 60-bike dock early on Sundays, to prevent the dock from exceeding capacity at the 11:00 AM service.

But DDOT says the real problem is that the new "trikeshare" three-wheelers used by most elderly parishioners each take up two spaces. Church officials concede that the dock never fills at the 7:45 service, which is generally attended by younger members.

Michael Perkins: Goal for the next five years is for DC to take the experience in San Francisco to heart and get serious about managing their curbside parking. Adjust hours and prices to ensure people can find a space if they're willing to pay what it's worth.

Ben Ross: Construction of a new Metro line through downtown DC, and new rail lines in the suburbs. And a reorientation of the Montgomery and Prince George's transportation departments, like DC and Arlington, to operate urban complete streets rather than suburban highways.

Canaan Merchant: 1) Hopefully I'll be reading about construction on a number of new transit lines. 2) Hopefully we'll see so many people on bikes that we'll need to discuss how to handle bicycle congestion. 3) How the city has adapted under new buildings that have broken the current height limit. 4) What the city has planned for an RFK site that is now focused on providing new housing/retail for the city and not more stadiums and parking lots. 5) How the Columbia Pike streetcar has aided in transforming the corridor and led to calls for streetcar expansion throughout Northern Virginia.

Chad Maddox: How the region has successfully absorbed many more residents while simultaneously managing to keep housing relatively affordable. Also, how the District has become a national model for its efforts to eliminate concentrated poverty and residential segregation in its borders.

Tracey Johnstone: That better coordination among local transit agencies, combined with the implementation of free transfer among subway, light rail, bus, and streetcar increased transit usage by over 25%.

Adam Froehlig: In a controversial effort to address chronic bike congestion on the MVT and the 14th St Bridge path, NPS and DDOT implement all-electronic bicycle tolls. A local bike commuter is quoted in the news as saying it will force him to switch to driving while another complains that the revenues will go to the private collector and WMATA instead of to path and bridge repairs.

And after years of false starts, the District finally implements a mileage tax. The effort is seen as a colossal failure as non-DC-registered cars are exempt and the elimination of the gas tax prompts Maryland drivers to suddenly flood DC streets such as Benning Road and Georgia Ave to take advantage of the cheaper DC gas.

Neil Flanagan: I'd like to hear Montgomery officials getting anxious about how successful Prince George's Smart Growth program has been. That it's putting pressure on DC to drop rents, but won't someone think about the historic Greenbelt gas station that's going under?

Also, "Daddy, what's a Millenial?"


How to fix parking: Price it right, and don't play favorites

Parking has been called third rail of local politics, and for good reason. At a panel Wednesday on "Getting Parking Right," Nelson\Nygaard transportation planner Jeff Tumlin put it this way: "People hate the existing system, but they'll also hate any changes you make to the rules. No matter what you do, people are going to be very upset with you."

Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

Sam Zimbabwe, planning director for the District Department of Transportation, was also on the panel. From the look on his face, he knows that has his work cut out for him as the agency tries to bring some measure of rationality to the city's tangle of parking regulations.

We all want to be able to park wherever we want, for as long as we want, and we want it to be free. But we might as well wish for a world of free and infinitely available ice cream. We can't have it, and we give up a lot by trying to get there.

Parking management is pro-driver

The parking problem is one of economics (real estate in the city is valuable and scarce) and geometry (cars take up a lot of space). It is not, Tumlin emphasized, a question of ideology. It's not wrong to own a car, not wrong to drive, and it's not wrong to want to park conveniently. But like all good things in life, convenient parking comes at a cost.

What we all want most of all is availability: We want parking to be there exactly where we need it and exactly when we need it.

The best way to get there, he said, is by pricing parking accurately. The "correct" price for parking in any given place is one that keeps a couple of spots per block open. In practice, that means around 85% of the capacity is usednot less, not more. A world with 85% utilization of parking is a world of parking karma for everyone. You can always park where you need to. It's every driver's dream come trueif, that is, you're willing to pay for that spot's true value.

Small pricing differences make a big difference

Does this mean that parking is just a luxury for the rich? Well, no.

One of the most interesting findings of San Francisco's experiments with parking pricing, according to Tumlin, is that demand is extremely sensitive to location. Right on a main drag like Valencia Street, parking might cost $4.50 an hour. Just around the corner on a side street, it might cost $2.50. Just another block away, garage parking might be available for $1.00. As in every other facet of life, you can choose to save money by giving up a little convenience.

Much of DC's policy discussion on parking management focuses on "transit zones" vs. everywhere else. But there are a lot of things that affect demand for parking. The availability of transit nearby is one, but it's just one of many. How dense is the neighborhood? Are there theaters, restaurants, or other attractions? Are there offices nearby? Just as in San Francisco, demand changes dramatically from block to block, and it's hard to say exactly where the demand is without measuring it empirically.

Thus far, data collection on DC's parking pilots has been thin. There has been a very long lag between collecting any data and adjustments to meter rates, and the data DDOT collects is not very fine-grained.

If and when DDOT collects more and more data on driving and parking patterns, we'll start to have a better understanding of the microgeography of parking demand. Hopefully this bring us closer to pricing that reflects observed real-world demand, instead of crude lines drawn on a map by politicians.

Payment mechanisms make a big difference

Much metered parking throughout the country still uses 1947 technology: You pay by feeding quarters into a metal contraption. Out of quarters? You're out of luck.

There's much better technology available today, and in this area DC has been out in front. According to Zimbabwe, 42% of DC parking transactions are paid by phone or using the Parkmobile app.

The friction of having inconvenient payment mechanismswhether it's machines that only take quarters, or single-block machines that you have to walk five minutes to get tois more of an issue for people than cost. If you can make payment seamless, then people don't care quite as much about the actual cost, and you have less resistance to increased rates.

My experience with the Parkmobile app has been that it's like magic: You tell the app you're parking, it already knows where you are, and has your credit card and license plate on file, so there's nothing more to do.

Ultimately, license-plate recognition coupled with smartphone apps will eliminate all of the friction of payment. Tumlin suggested you could even agree to have the city just automatically send you a parking bill at the end of each month based on how long you've parked and where.

Decriminalize parking now!

Another fascinating finding from San Francisco's performance parking program is this: When you start charging the right price for parking, meter revenue goes up ... and revenue from parking citations goes down by almost the same amount.

And when you think about it, that's exactly how it should be. Sometimes you don't have enough quarters on you, or you underestimate how long you'll need to park, and can't get back to the meter. That shouldn't make you a lawbreaker. In some neighborhoods, Tumlin pointed out, driving to dinner and movie is a criminal act, because there's no provision at all for out-of-zone parking for more than two hours.

In fact, the whole two-hour exception doesn't make any sense at all. If you're parking for an hour, you should pay for an hour. And if you need to park for three hours or eight hours, you should be allowed to pay for it.

Keep it simple, and don't play favorites

DC currently has a lot of parking programs. There's ordinary metered parking in commercial areas. There's a residential parking permit program and a pilot visitor parking pass program. There are pilot performance parking programs in a handful of neighborhoods.

Recent legislation looked at how to provide for contractor parking. City leaders are working with churches to resolve conflicts over church parking on Sundays. There have been proposals for special teacher parking and firefighter parking.

DDOT recently unveiled a Parking Action Agenda (PDF) that vows to review all of these different programs and propose reforms. We can start by no longer treating all these different categories as exceptional.

As Tumlin forcefully argued, it's not the government's business why you want to park. Are you shopping? Babysitting? Going to church? Commuting to the nearest metro stop? Redoing someone's kitchen? Making a delivery? Visiting a friend? Out on a date? (As Tumlin asked, "And what if your date goes better than expected?")

It shouldn't be the government's job to make value judgments about people's reasons for parking. So let's eliminate complexity and preferential treatment. You don't need a contractor parking program; you don't need a visitor parking program; you don't need a church parking program. You just need accurate pricing so that people can pay a fair price to park wherever they want, for as long as they want.


On the calendar: Parking! Walking! Bicycling! Controversy!

Whether you care about parking, bicycling, walking, or all three, in DC, Maryland, or Virginia, there are some important events coming up, from a parking meeting tonight in Georgetown to a forum on upcounty Montgomery pedestrian safety to a bike rally in Richmond.

Photo by HogueLikeWoah on Flickr.

Talk parking in Georgetown: Tonight (Wednesday, January 16) is a Georgetown community meeting about parking. Topher Mathews reports Georgetown is likely to get some form of performance parking, but before it does, leaders want to hear from residents about their parking needs and desires. The meeting starts at 6:30 at Hardy Middle School.

Make walkable neighborhoods for everyone: Many DC neighborhoods like H Street are becoming desirable, walkable places, but also increasingly unaffordable for many. How can we ensure these places serve everyone, including long-time residents, rather than one small segment of the population?

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the most influential smart growth group in the Washington region, organized a panel with Chris Leinberger of Brookings, David Bowers from Enterprise Community Partners, and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute's Ed Lazere. It's Tuesday, January 22, 6:30-8:30 (with some refreshments beginning at 6) at NCPC, 401 9th St NW, suite 500 North. RSVP here.

Talk pedestrians in upcounty: After a spate of pedestrian injuries and deaths in upcounty Montgomery, the Action Committee for Transit put together a forum on pedestrian safety at the Germantown Public Library, 2-4 pm on Saturday, January 26. Barbara McCann from the National Complete Streets Coalition will talk about the area's pedestrian safety problems and possible solutions.

Support biking in DC, Maryland: WABA is inviting folks to its offices on Wednesday, January 23 to talk about bicycle planning in DC and Maryland. The MoveDC initiative and a transportation planning process in Maryland will be collecting a lot of public input.

Stop by WABA's offices in Adams Morgan, 2599 Ontario Road NW, between 5:30 and 9:30 to talk with WABA staff and fellow cycling advocates about how to best weigh in during these processes and what to say when you do.

Support biking in Virginia: In the Commonwealth, the biggest bicycling issues are in the state legislature, where advocates are pushing for 6 specific bills that will make roads safer for cyclists. They are organizing a Bicycling Action Day in Richmond on Tuesday, January 29, starting at 10:30 at the "compass" plaza at Virginia Commonwealth University, followed by a bicycle ride to the state capitol for a rally.

Zoning update! And don't forget the Ward 4 zoning update information session, 6:30 tonight (again, Wednesdaysorry daily email readers) at Takoma Education Campus.


Amid scandal, don't lose sight of Gray's policy achievements

The charges filed yesterday against Vincent Gray's former assistant campaign treasurer will surely reinforce the image in many voters' minds of a scandal-plagued mayor who has accomplished nothing for the District. The scandals may be real, but his administration has also racked up some important achievements across the government.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

Instead of halting progress or even reversing course on bicycle infrastructure, streetcars, and education reform, the Gray administration is strengthening DC's commitment to these innovations. It has set clear priorities for traffic safety, performance parking, and sustainability, helped unem­ployed residents get jobs, and restored the rainy-day fund instead of spending it down.

None of this justifies any of the alleged illegal acts that happened in the campaign, but neither is this unimportant.

Ultimately, Gray's mayoralty will leave a lasting effect on the budget and city services, and residents, whether they voted for and endorsed Adrian Fenty (as I did) or Gray, should care a great deal about what the capable people in the administration, unconnected to the campaign or any campaign finance, are doing.

We've also yet to find out whether the mayor himself was part of any illegal activity or knew about it. Based on what we know thus far, it appears that Gray made some very poor choices about whom to trust early on. Since then, he's replaced most of these poor hires with better staff, who are better at sharing the administration's positive accomplishments, such as:

One City One Hire

The administration's program to help unemployed residents find jobs has now suc­cee­ded in getting employers to hire 3,000 unemployed District residents in the past year.

There are numerous obstacles to getting people into jobs, but employers' lack of trust in DC's jobless has been among the most intractable. One City One Hire officials work to restore this trust by personally vetting resumes of unemployed DC residents and asking employers to consider a couple of handpicked resumes for each opening.

Some feel that this is what the Department of Employment Services (DOES) was supposed to be doing all along. This is technically true. It's also true that DC Public Schools are supposed to be properly educating our children. We shouldn't withhold credit where credit is due when DCPS or DOES fulfills its mission.

Sector-specific economic development

Under previous administrations, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development was concerned almost exclusively with real estate deals. Although targeted real estate deals are important, only Mayor Gray has really invested in developing other sectors that are strategically important to the city.

The Mayor's broader focus has produced new positions critical to the city's economy, even if the officers filling those positions often operate behind the scenes. For example, newly hired DMPED officials regularly meet with leaders of the technology, government contractor, and health care communities to align identify ways DC can support these strategically important sectors.

A newly reconstituted Workforce Investment Council, whose executive director Alison Gerber was recruited from the Aspen Institute, has made it clear that workforce development dollars must be targeted to high demand sectors. As a result, for the first time, workforce development in DC is no longer scattershot, with the Gray Administration targeting key sectors.

DOES has cut off funding to several training providers whose training wasn't aligned with these sectors. A new Workforce Intermediary will ensure that the needs of hospitality and construction employers are addressed by training providers.

Continued capital investments without raiding city's reserves

DC residents were aware of the many capital improvements made under former Mayor Fenty, but fewer were aware that Fenty drew down the "rainy day" fund of $700 million to pay for some of these improvements.

Mayor Gray has continued the pace of capital improvements, with renovations of Takoma Education Campus and Woodson, Cardozo and Anacostia High Schools. While maintaining the pace of the previous Administration, Mayor Gray has managed to replenish our reserve fund, bringing it up to $1.1 billion.

Sustainability plan

If you haven't seen the objectives Mayor Gray set for 2032 in his Sustainable DC plan, then you should take a look. These objectives should provide the basis for numerous DC government initiatives over the next two decades covering issues as diverse as our food supply and obesity, along with transportation, tree canopy, and waste.

For some these strategic plans and objectives may seem mere feel-good talk, but these objectives matter. Historically, DC government has looked to such comprehensive plans and small area plans in designing legislation and framing countless policy debates in subsequent years.

Cameras and parking

Study after study proves that traffic cameras save lives. Mayor Gray significantly expanded traffic cameras in this year's budget, a politically courageous move that will continue DC's trend of lower and lower traffic fatalities.

While the DC Council created visionary pilots in performance parking, the previous administration never made it much of a priority to adjust meter rates to manage curbside space effectively. The Gray administration has expanded performance parking and made it clear this is a priority.

Continued momentum in education reform, streetcars and bike lanes

Some predicted that education reform, the streetcar and bike lanes would stop under Mayor Gray. Let's be clear: that hasn't happened. Mayor Gray has increased the investment in streetcars, pledging $100 million in capital funds starting last year.

The pace of bike lane construction slowed a bit at first, but DDOT is now putting in bike lanes on many streets throughout the city, and is on track to build the L Street track this summer and M street soon after. He even vociferously defended Capital Bikeshare over Twitter to skeptical New York reporters.

Finally, Mayor Gray has continued the process of education reform, despite the fears of many DC residents. Teachers are still being evaluated and sometimes fired based on performance, not on seniority.

The Gray administration's education reforms have included important initiatives which haven't received the same attention and publicity accorded the teacher firings. The administration has already made strides toward improving our special education system and opened multiple Early Stages centers aimed at early identification of kids with special needs. These investments have reduced by 20% the number of children bused, at DC's expense, to non-public special education, saving significant money.

I'm not nominating Mayor Gray for sainthood, but residents need to reexamine the fairly widespread belief that the administration is not getting anything done. While Adrian Fenty was very good at getting press attention for his actions, this administration is acting more quietly.

We should condemn any illegal behavior from the campaign, but we must also give the mayor and his staff credit for the ways the administration is making DC greater for the long term.


Cheh makes better bus service a priority in DDOT budget

If performance parking works, it could raise needed funds to make DC's bus lines more efficient and more attractive to ride. DDOT will get the authority to bring performance parking citywide, but DDOT will now have make the program succeed before there's any money for buses or local neighborhood projects.

Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.

The DC Council's Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation approved their version of DDOT's budget yesterday. They agreed with Mayor Gray's request to let DDOT set up performance parking anywhere in DC, beyond the 3 zones where it exists today.

When performance parking raises extra money, it will go partly to projects in local neighborhoods and partly to make bus service more efficient. But if DDOT doesn't follow through on performance parking, local neighborhoods and buses could get nothing at all.

Performance parking money goes to neighborhoods and bus priority

Mayor Gray had proposed ending the practice, which the original performance parking pilot zones established, of putting some parking money toward projects in the local neighborhood. The committee restored that in part. Now, if a performance parking zone raises extra mone over its "baseline" revenue from before performance parking, half of that money can go toward transportation projects in that neighborhood.

In other words, if DDOT extends meter hours or raises rates, half of the extra revenue from that change can go to local projects. Before, just setting up a performance parking zone meant that 75% of the total revenue, including the preexisting revenue, went to the neighborhood (though, in some cases, some of that revenue had to pay for new meters). The neighborhoods with performance parking got to spend some money right off the bat, even if DDOT never tweaked meter rates and hours. And in some of the zones, DDOT took a painfully long time to do so.

What about the other half of the money? The committee's budget probably dedicates that to bus priority improvements.

While DDOT needs to do its utmost to make the H Street streetcar a success and lay the groundwork for future lines, streetcars won't go everywhere and won't magically solve all of DC's transportation problems. The District spends $190 million per year to subsidize on bus service, yet many buses spend a lot of time in traffic and many people don't want to ride a bus that's not the Circulator.

Reducing bus delay could save a lot of money and draw more riders to the bus system. The many Metrobus line studies came up with countless recommendations for how to make service better: moving a stop across the street, changing a turn signal to help buses through a rough spot, improving enforcement to avoid illegal loading, adding a bus lane, and so on.

Funds depend on DDOT implementing performance parking

A dedicated pot of money will push DDOT to move ahead with these important changes. These projects won't have to compete with others for money. That assumes there is money, though. Before any money goes to bus improvements, WMATA gets about $30 million for existing bus operations. The CFO's office estimates that DC's meters today will almost cover that. DDOT is upgrading old meters to newer ones with better technology that break less and therefore are less likely to lose revenue; the WMATA payment also assumes that those upgrades continue.

If DDOT goes ahead with the upgrades and then starts managing its curbside space more efficiently, the meter revenue will surpass the $30 million mark. Local neighborhoods and bus priority projects will get funded. If the meter upgrades get delayed and DDOT doesn't tweak rates and hours, it could fall short, and both neighborhoods and bus priority could end up with nothing for the year.

An amendment from Tommy Wells at the markup specifically asks DDOT to make bus priority improvements on downtown segments of H and I streets a top priority for the money. WMATA has said that this congested area forms a major bottleneck for bus routes from all parts of the District; bus lanes here could do the most to reduce delays. A consultant is currently studying traffic operations along H and I, and their report will help DDOT design the lanes to best move bus traffic and minimize the amount of extra delay for drivers.

To help get performance parking moving downtown, the legislation specifically instructs DDOT to work on performance parking with DC Surface Transit, the business-led group that was been instrumental in bringing in the Circulator and promoting the streetcar. DCST and downtown businesses have been eager for performance parking.

Other changes in the budget

The budget also takes steps to restore the pedestrian and bicycle enhancement fund, which pays for a number of smaller pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects. In addition, $100,000 comes from the Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning to fund a new volunteer Trail Ranger program, similar to one in Denver. The money pays for a grant to an organization like WABA to manage that program.

The committee asked DDOT to use federal funds to redo the streetscape on Florida Avenue between 2nd and 10th Streets NE. Florida Avenue is wider here than elsewhere, but the sidewalk is far too narrow even though it adjoins the growing NoMa district and Gallaudet students often walk along the road. DDOT has already acknowledged in an earlier study that the sidewalk needs to be better here.

Finally, the budget takes a little bit out of transportation to fund a few of Cheh's other priorities, including a program encouraging food stamp recipients to buy food at farmers' markets ($50,000), help fund the Office of Campaign Finance ($100,000), and a tax break for a homeless services organization ($10,800).

A good budget gets better

Mayor Gray's original DDOT budget was an excellent proposal. It funded the streetcar, preserved Metro service, and took the very significant step of pushing for performance parking citywide. Gray made it clear that he stands behind initiatives that enhance walking, bicycling, and transit.

The way the budget used parking meter revenue was the biggest issue council staff had with the budget. The Mayor's proposal sent all parking meter revenue straight to WMATA. It's great to fund transit, but the problem with this approach is that DC doesn't just give more or less to WMATA as money is available; its commitment gets set in the WMATA budget.

Far more money comes from the general fund for WMATA, and a small amount from meters. As meter revenue increased, it would just have replaced general fund support. That would have only fueled the criticism that performance parking is just a way to raise money.

Perfromance parking is best when local neighborhoods also get a benefit from meter changes, and when money goes toward improving the other ways shoppers, diners, office workers and others can travel to an area besides driving and parking. The commitee's budget restores that nexus. Money DDOT raises from changing parking will directly help fund programs that make neighborhoods either easier to get to or more attractive.

This budget recommendation will next go to the entire council as part of the overall budget debate. The council should preserve what the committee has done.


Fix all of Dupont's parking problems tonight

DDOT officials will meet with residents tonight to discuss parking in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. After the meeting, anyone will be able to park directly in front of their homes, offices, or stores, for free, without circling.

Photo by sethladd on Flickr.

Oops, it's not still April Fool. But there is a parking meeting tonight.

Dupont Circle, like most of DC's busy neighborhoods, has far more demand for parking than supply of on-street spaces. Right now, we allocate the limited resource of spaces in one way. The meeting will discuss whether to allocate them in a different way.

Today, people who don't live in the neighborhood can park on any residential block for up to 2 hours during weekdays and for unlimited time evenings and weekends. This means that around the commercial corridors, especially hot spots like Lauriol Plaza at 18th and T, parking is very scarce.

I used to live near there and parked on the street. When I had to move my car for street cleaning, it would usually take under 5 minutes mid-morning to find an alternate space, but coming home from a car trip on a Saturday night or Sunday morning could mean a 20-30 minute quest for a space.

Residents in this and other spots are understandably interested in change. They'd like a less daunting parking experience. Plus, if the residential blocks are supposed to prioritize parking for residents, why are we giving it to diners?

More importantly, why should this parking be free? Parking in garages isn't free. At the meters on 18th, it's not free (except Sundays). Free parking on residential streets just encourages people to circle the neighborhood for a long time to save some money.

DDOT could pursue a few options.

Reserve parking for residents of all Ward 2 neighborhoods. A simple approach would be to set up the same arrangement Jack Evans has suggested for Logan Circle: Designate one side of every street for holders of Zone 2 stickers only. A related option, with similar pros and cons, would be to extend Residential Permit Parking hours later into the night and to weekends.

These options would free up a lot of parking for residents, though with so many residents in the area, it still wouldn't guarantee that anyone would be able to park on any given block.

There are also a few downsides. For one, people often have contractors, housecleaners, friends, family members, and others who don't live in the area drive to visit residents. In other wards, these parking changes went hand in hand with visitor passes. Each household got one, and any car sporting a pass counted as a resident.

In Ward 2, there would be too much abuse. If every resident got a pass, many would sell them to people who want to drive jobs in the ward. DDOT monitors Craigslist and other sites for people selling passes, but the temptation and potential profit would be far higher for Ward 2.

Another downside is that it would also encourage more driving from neighborhoods like Georgetown, which happen to be in Ward 2, at the expense of drivers from U Street or Adams Morgan in Ward 1 or other DC neighborhoods. If we are dedicating parking to residents of a neighborhood, then it should actually apply to residents of that neighborhood, not them plus others who by accident of legislative line-drawing live in the same ward.

Reserve parking for actual Dupont residents. DDOT could reserve one side of the street as above, but also give out new 2B stickers to residents of the ANC 2B area. Only drivers with those stickers would get the new privileges.

Reserve parking, then "sell" the excess. Any of these schemes to reserve parking may overly limit parking especially at lower demand times. Should we just leave part of the street empty much of the day? DDOT could also reserve one side of each street, or even both sides, but also let drivers pay for some of the extra space.

It's too expensive to install multi-space meters on each block, but now that DDOT has ParkMobile, it could offer these spaces through that service. Just put up signs that say something like, "Reserved for cars with 2B stickers only, OR pay $5 an hour for this space at ParkMobile."

DDOT would set the price at a premium level. This parking is primarily reserved for residents, but others can use it too if they want to pay the higher rates. If they don't, then use a garage, or arrive by Metro, bus, bike or foot.

Set meters to a market rate. There are a number of meters in the neighborhood. At night, they're usually all full. During the day, they're often not very full at all. If a more rigorous analysis bears out this anecdotal evidence, DDOT ought to raise rates at night and lower them during the day. That could bring more drivers in to patronize businesses middays, when the neighborhood is only moderately busy, and generate more revenue at night, when people will fill up the spaces regardless.

DDOT and ANC commissioners will likely support approaches which have support at the meeting and oppose those which don't. Some good ideas for 17th Street's streetscape got thrown out because a majority of people at a community meeting opposed the idea. If you live in the neighborhood, it's important to try to attend.

The meeting starts at 7 pm in the Foxhall Room of the Hotel Dupont, which is on Dupont Circle at New Hampshire Avenue on the north side. Go in the New Hampshire main entrance and turn right to reach Foxhall.

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