Posts about Performance Parking
The District's one-size-fits-all approach to residential parking results in inefficient allocation of a scarce resource. Tailoring prices by neighborhood for the city's residential parking permit (RPP) program could make the system more responsive to the unique needs of individual communities.
When DC introduced its RPP system in the 1970s, it was designed to ensure that residents had access to street parking in their neighborhoods. Residents could petition the city to enforce 2-hour only parking on their block with an exemption for vehicles issued a zone permit. The parking zones coincide with the boundaries set for each of the city's eight wards.
For more than 30 years, this parking permit regime has worked well to prevent commuters from parking on residential streets. However, the system was never designed to allocate scarce street spaces efficiently among neighborhood residents.
Today, over 200,000 vehicles are registered with the RPP program. In many neighborhoods where residential street parking is restricted, open spaces are still nearly impossible to find, especially at peak times. To fix these ongoing problems, DC should learn from the experiences of Seattle, Washington and set more granular prices for RPP stickers.
Data provided by the DMV reveal that over 70% of the nearly 280,000 vehicles registered in the District are part of the RPP program. An additional 3,255 reciprocity permits are issued to diplomats, military personnel, federal appointees, and temporary residents.
Of the total number of RPP permits issued, 75% are assigned to residents of wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. That probably comes as little surprise to residents of those wards who rely on street parking. The overly large parking boundaries do little to prevent same-ward drivers from parking far from their homes, and the low $15 annual cost per permit effectively encourages residents to keep their cars on the street.
Proposals to help alleviate parking woes have included longer enforcement hours, instituting resident-only parking (thus eliminating 2-hour parking for visitors), increasing the number of parking zones, and metering more street spaces near commercial areas. However, these fixes by themselves are merely band-aids.
The fact is that in much of the city there are just too many cars looking for too few spaces, yet changes to the RPP system appear to be near-impossible. Seemingly innocuous steps to alleviate parking demand, such as a proposal earlier this year to charge higher permit fees for multiple-vehicle households, draw intense opposition from some members of the council. What can break the deadlock?
Last year, the City of Seattle implemented a new parking system that increased the number of parking zones (they now have 40 such areas) and started charging households graduated permit fees based on the number of vehicles. But not all residents pay the same rate. Permit fees in each zone range from free to a maximum of $65 every two years in high-demand areas, more than double DC's rate.
The most opposition to DC's plan to charge higher multiple-vehicle permit fees came from representatives of wards that have the least number of RPP holders, which indicates that a one-size-fits-all approach may no longer be viable. Under a system akin to Seattle's, DC would be able to more subtly address the unique needs of individual neighborhoods.
Councilmembers, understandably, do not support higher fees for residents who are not contributing to the parking problems in other neighborhoods. This new proposed system may be more politically viable. Residents of wards without street parking problems would likely see no change to their current permits, and may even see a reduction in fees.
While parking rates would probably not change significantly in half the city's wards, parking-scarce neighborhoods would likely see higher graduated permit fees. Those rates should be priced to better reflect the actual demand for street parking to encourage car owners to find alternate spaces for their vehicles.
As a result, the demand for off-street spaces may rise and developers should be allowed to construct those additional spaces, if they so choose. The key is to find the natural equilibrium in parking demand, rather than keeping fees artificially low.
In order to efficiently price permit rates, the city needs a comprehensive count of the total number of zoned parking spaces. DDOT currently only tracks the total number of RPP blocks, rather than individual spaces. It may be possible to quickly complete this task by asking current parking enforcement officers to count the number of spaces as they work their beats. It would then be possible to better compare vehicle registrations and permits in a given area with the total number of available spaces.
Combined with other proposed actions to reduce the size of the city's parking zones and heightened enforcement, tailoring prices for each community, as Seattle has done, may be the best way to efficiently allocate a scarce public resource among residents.
Councilmember Jack Evans says he wants to roll back parking meter rates and hours of enforcement in commercial corridors, including Georgetown, because of complaints from businesses and residents in his ward. But after speaking to organizations representing residents and businesses in Georgetown, I found no support for Evans' proposal.
The proposal passed out of Evans' Committee on Finance and Revenue by a 3-2 vote, and he frequently points to these complaints in defending the $5.2 million measure. He told the Examiner, "I get consistent complaints about the parking meters everywhere I go in my ward from residents. I can't go into a restaurant without the owner coming out to complain about the cost of the parking meters."
Despite this, neither the Georgetown BID nor the manager of the largest group of Georgetown restaurants support the proposal.
The Georgetown ANC and Citizens Association have passed no resolutions and sent no letters to Evans requesting reductions in either meter rates or enforcement hours. In fact, the ANC has been working with DDOT for a couple years to put in place a performance parking pilot that would increase parking turnover and availability by charging market rates at meters.
Jennifer Altemus, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG), told the Current (large PDF) in supporting a parking pilot that "We need to see more spaces open up in a timely fashion."
The change would induce more visitors to drive and to park for longer periods, which means more drivers seeking fewer available spaces and circling the residential blocks for free parking spots where CAG's members live.
Many have assumed that businesses are behind the plan, but the opposite appears to be the case, at least in Georgetown. The Georgetown BID has passed no resolution and sent no letter to Evans asking for the reductions. In fact, the Executive Director of the BID, Jim Bracco, told us, "We remain a proponent of performance parking and having rates and meter hours that can make garages more competitive."
The manager of the largest restaurant group in Georgetown, Paul J Cohn, has also not asked Evans for the reductions. Cohn runs Capital Restaurant Concepts, which includes J Pauls, Paolo's, Old Glory, Neyla and Third Edition, among other restaurants.
Cohn told us that "enforcement should not end at 6:30pm, because enforcement leads to turnover of spots." He does support reducing meter rates, but only if enforcement is stepped up to ensure that turnover goes up and doesn't go down as a result. Turnover, for Cohn as for all organizations representing Georgetown, is the goal.
While Evans is citing the complaints and requests of his constituents in defending the rollback of meter rates and enforcement, whoever is asking for this appears to be talking to Evans and no one else.
I asked Evans on Monday to meet with Topher Mathews, David Alpert, and myself (all constituents) to discuss his proposal, but have yet received no reply.
Some constituents are starting to complain that Evans, in his handling of Hardy Middle School and meter rates, is basing public policy on the complaints of a small number of vocal residents who don't well represent his constituency.
Evans introduced legislation in March appointing Patrick Pope as principal of Hardy based on complaints he received from parents upset that Michelle Rhee transferred him.
The complaints of a minority should obviously be heard and addressed. But sometimes that requires affirming the goal sought by constituents while meeting that goal through different means.
That's what Council Chair Kwame Brown did with regard to Hardy Middle School in telling the Current that "Regardless of parent opinions on Mr. Pope, DC Public Schools has a process for principal selection" and that "the result will be a stakeholder-driven selection of a candidate who will bring the community together and work to propel Hardy Middle School to new levels of achievement."
Evans should affirm the goals of whoever is complaining to him in Ward 2 that it shouldn't be so hard to find a parking spot and to avoid a fine. However, he should address those complaints through a policy that will actually achieve these goals.
One of the best solutions for Georgetown is one we have advocated for a long time: market-rate performance parking using pay-by-cell and multi-space meters that make it easy to avoid fines. This is the best system to increases turnover and availability of parking spots in the District. It will help both residents and businesses in Georgetown, unlike Evans' misguided proposal.
Councilmember Jack Evans is trying to repeal almost all proposed tax increases in DC's budget, as expected. On top of that, he wants to spend $5.2 million to make parking cheaper or free in the busiest areas. This may seem like a boon for those who park in these areas, but it's not. Traffic will get worse and it'll become harder to park, not easier.
Evans' Committee on Finance and Revenue voted 3-2 for a committee report which rolls back almost all tax increases in the Mayor's proposed budget, for a cost of $101 million, including the proposed increase in parking garage taxes.
It doesn't recommend ways to find that money in a budget that already decimates social services. Lydia DePillis reports Michael Brown and Marion Barry voted no, meaning Evans, David Catania, and Muriel Bowser must have voted for the recommendations.
Evans' amendments maintain the $1 Circulator fare and restores the ballpark-related community benefits fund. On top of that, Freeman Klopott reported yesterday that they would reduce parking meter rates from $2 to $1 per hour and make meters free after 6:30 pm downtown and in several other neighborhoods, including Georgetown.
Evans apparently feels that letting people who drive downtown for a $50 dinner save $2 on parking is one of the best uses of $5.2 million in this year's very tight budget.
When I go downtown, I usually either take Metro or bikeshare. But occasionally, I'm going to a meeting and then have to hike out to the suburbs afterward for a doctor's appointment or something. In those instances, I'll drive and park for 1-2 hours.
I've actually found it refreshingly non-stressful to do this. On the spaces on F and G streets, I've generally actually been able to find a space without a lot of circling or headache. Paying $4 for the 2 hours to attend a DC Council hearing is a trivial amount, less than the sandwich I might get afterward.
The only time it was annoying was when closing the car door created a breeze which flipped my multispace meter receipt upside-down, and I got a ticket for "P281 FAIL TO DISPLAY MUL SPACE METER." (I paid the ticket and will be more careful next time.)
If Evans lowers the rates, some people will drive and park who weren't doing so now. It's basic economics. More people driving and parking means I'll have a harder time finding a space, and so will everyone who drives and parks downtown on the street today.
It's foolish to spend $5.2 million to make traffic worse and make parking harder.
It's even more foolish to spend $5.2 million to make traffic worse and parking harder when there are so many other budgetary priorities, like keeping homeless people from dying and much more.
There may be some neighborhoods or blocks where the rates are too high. If the spaces are never being filled up, then we're probably charging too much, and it'd be reasonable to lower the rates if they money is available. But Evans' committee report does not base its conclusions on an analysis of parking occupancy. The only such analyses that exist are for the performance parking zones. And having the Council adjust meter rates by legislation during budget season is not the way.
Instead, Evans should create a performance parking zone, empowering DDOT to adjust rates and directing them to set them properly for each block. If DDOT hadn't squandered much of the last few years ignoring its performance parking pilot zones, there might be a stronger case for this today; hopefully the "parking czar" Tommy Wells funded will finally get this program on track.
Klopott also quoted Evans calling those who want parking to be easier and traffic to be lighter "anti-car." Does that mean Evans is "anti-schools," "anti-poor," "anti-police" and "anti-Metro" since he is choosing to spend $5.2 million on this instead of those other things?
He's up for reelection next year, and seems to feel that pandering to the complaints of constituents on this issue is a priority. If you live in Ward 2, please email Evans and complain about something more important than parking meter rates, or email Kwame Brown and ask him to ignore Evans' meter rate and tax suggestions when crafting his budget proposal.
The Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU is hosting a discussion about variable-rate "performance" parking in the District, featuring Donald Shoup of UCLA, Karina Ricks from DDOT, and myself, beginning at noon.
Dr. Shoup is the author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." Ms. Ricks is Associate Director for the Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration, which includes parking policy.
We will be discussing the two performance parking pilot districts near the ballpark and Columbia Heights, the new performance parking pilot in San Francisco, SFPark, and other parking management improvements in DC and around the world.
Update: The archived audio is here.
Tommy Wells would like to keep the Circulator fare at $1, add 40 more Capital Bikeshare stations, hire needed people at DDOT including a parking czar, set up performance parking on H Street, fund green alleys, and more. Increased residential parking fees, including for households with extra vehicles, and some higher fines will pay for these priorities.
These are some of the recommendations in the draft budget report from the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, which Wells chairs. The committee oversees DDOT, the Department of Public Works, the DMV, WMATA, and a few others, and the report covers budget changes to those programs.
The recommendations include:
Expand CaBi faster. $2 million in capital funding would fund 40 more Capital Bikeshare stations in the core and in more peripheral neighborhoods.
This would add to the 25 already planned and other stations that private developers or federal agencies will pay for. In total, DDOT says this will allow the system to double from its original size within 2 years of the September 2010 launch.
Fund green alleys. Many alleys have crumbling surfaces and greatly need repair, but there hasn't been much money for this in recent years. $1 million would fund a new Green Alleys program, picking some alleys to rebuild with permeable paving, energy-efficient LED lighting, trees, and more.
Keep Circulator fare. Wells is proposing to keep the Circulator fare at $1, rolling back Mayor Gray's proposal to make it $2 cash and $1.50 with SmarTrip. Downtown businesses argued that it would cut ridership substantially, perhaps even reversing all or most of the expected revenue gain. The Circulator is also going east of the river, and some felt it wasn't right for it to finally go there and double in price at the same time.
The funding for this comes partly through use of one-time funds at WMATA, so the Council will have to look at the Circulator fare again next year. Wells wants that to happen once the Council has reviewed and approved DDOT's plans for longer-term Circulator expansion.
Semi-replace 7th Street Circulator. The north-south Circulator is still going away. To partly make up for it, WMATA is creating a 74 bus to travel between I Street NW and the Southwest Waterfront along a route similar to that part of the Circulator's, and extending the V8 bus, which connects Minnesota Avenue to Southwest, along 7th Street to downtown as well.
Hire ward planners, development reviewers, and parking czar. Wells also wants to restore six positions at DDOT which have been vacant for some time. Gray's budget cut most vacant positions entirely. The six positions include three ward planners, for wards 2, 3, and 5. The ward planners made sure that all DDOT projects in a ward fit together well, and provided useful points of contact for the communities involved.
DDOT also needs to staff up its development review department, which looks at planned developments and zoning filings and encourage developers to effectively accommodate pedestrians and bicycles, consider good stormwater management, and include Transportation Demand Management programs. Wells would add 2 positions for this.
The final and most exciting staff position is a parking program manager, or "parking czar." DDOT's parking program has been a tremendous disappointment for years. The performance parking pilot zones didn't see the kind of experimentation that the legislation asked for. Some neighborhoods have wanted performance parking but haven't been able to get it.
DDOT has been mailing out free visitor parking passes in several wards, which leaves large opportunities for abuse. They have promised for years to set up a better system, but haven't. If they can get a good parking program manager, DDOT can finally be the national leader in parking policies they once seemed to be, but got eclipsed by San Francisco and other cities.
Start performance parking on H Street. Wells would create a third performance parking zone, around H Street NE (G to I Streets from 3rd to 15th). Residential streets in the area would become resident-only for one side of the street, as in the other zones, and meters set to achieve 10-20% available spaces.
Protect neighborhood RPP funds. The performance parking pilot zones dedicate most of the revenue raised to local neighborhood improvements, giving residents a stake in the success of performance parking. Gray's budget took this money away to use as general revenue; Wells wants to restore it.
Maintain traffic enforcement officers. The proposal would restore 5 traffic enforcement officers cut in Gray's budget. There are plenty of places where enforcement can make pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers all safer by stopping dangerous behavior. Also, DDOT wants to do more to stop parking in loading zones, bus stops, and handicap placard abuse.
Keep "sweepercam" tickets. Gray's budget eliminated the "sweepercam" system, where street sweeping trucks automatically photograph vehicles illegally blocking sweeping and DPW can send them tickets. Without this, DPW would have to have people manually enforce the sweeping.
Also, as the report points out, the cameras allow DPW not to ticket anyone parked in a sweeping zone after the actual sweeping has finished, whereas if officers did it manually, they wouldn't know and would still ticket those cars. The committee report restores $300,000 for this program.
Create a DDOT enterprise fund. When DDOT lost its "unified fund," it lost some ability to dynamically fund innovations without going through the Council first. Budget staff at that time talked about creating a special fund with some money that can go to such programs. Wells' proposal moves Capital Bikeshare advertising revenue into this fund, along with truck weight fees, multispace meter advertising, car sharing fees, loading zone permit fees, and a few others.
And more. Wells' proposal also funds a "bait bike" where officers place a bike which looks ripe to steal, and watch to catch people who try to steal it. $50,000 will also go to the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation for neighborhood parks. Gray's budget cut the $10,000 annual funding each for the Bicycle Advisory Council and the Pedestrian Advisory Council; Wells is restoring both.
How will Wells and his committee pay for all this?
Errors in the budget. Some money comes from finding mistakes in the budget. For example, Gray's budget office moved a lot of DDOT positions from the capital budget over to the operating budget. That's mainly an accounting issue; the jobs are still there, but some categories of spending went from large amounts to zero and other categories went from zero to big. Upon scrutinizing all of this, Council staff realized that some of the jobs had been moved over twice, leading to double-funding in the budget.
Higher and graduated RPP fees. A big part of the increase comes from a longtime GGW recommendation: increasing RPP fees, especially for households with multiple cars. DC's fees for resident parking permits are remarkably low, at $15/year. Renting any other chunk of space anywhere in the city costs far more. San Francisco charges $98/year, for example.
Under Wells' proposal, RPP fees will increase to $35/year, except for seniors 65 and older who will only pay $25/year. Once the DMV finishes a computer upgrade to support it, additional permits for each household will cost $50/year for the second and $100/year for additional permits beyond that.
Fines for repeat parking offenders. Fines for parking in residential areas beyond the 2 hours allowed, or for parking in resident-only areas, would increase for repeat offenders. The fine now is $30, except $60 around the ballpark during games only. The $30 fines would remain $30 for the 1st and 2nd tickets someone receives in a single calendar year, but become $60 beyond that.
Reciprocity fees. Congressional, military, Presidental appointees, and some others are allowed to have reciprocity permits, getting the benefits of registering cars in DC including RPP permits but without actually becoming DC residents. They pay $10 annually for this, while students have to pay $338 and temporary residents $250. Wells proposes increasing the reciprocity fee to $50.
What's not included
WMATA, fully. Gray's budget slightly increased DC's contributions to WMATA, but DC was still $10.422 million short of the level needed to avoid service cuts. Wells found another $6.265 million, and is asking the Council to consider the other $4.157 million as a council-wide priority in the next phase of the budget process.
Each committee first considers its own budget, and moves around money within that area, raising related revenues if desired to restore programs. Then, the whole Council looks at further cuts or restorations broadly; the remaining WMATA gap will be one of them.
Street sweeping inspectors. Gray's budget cuts the numbers of officers enforcing street sweeping rules. Wells said in this morning's markup that he wanted to increase the numbers, but unlike with the DDOT traffic officers, the CFO wouldn't certify revenue from these officers, so the Council would have to come up with more revenue to restore them.
The committee report also touches on some other topics which aren't line items in the budget, but which have budgetary implications. It asks DDOT to organize a task force to look at long-term transportation funding as gas taxes decline; to try to implement Circulator expansions even sooner than proposed; to add more efficient streetlights; and more. DDOT has also promised to conduct a transportation study on M Street SE/SW.
For DPW, the committee asks them to aggressively push fleet sharing, especially to replace older vehicles; to come up with a strategy to increase recycling; and to publish more information on costs that Wells has been asking for.
The committee had its markup session scheduled for 10 am, but as of this writing didn't have enough Councilmembers present to make up a quorum. Assuming it passes the markup, this will get agglomerated with the budget reports from the other committees.
The full Council will then take up the WMATA funding issue and other larger priorities from other areas. Issues outside of transportation, like the proposed income tax increase for people making over $200,000 and cuts to human services, will be debated at the full Council level.
San Francisco is ready to roll out demand-responsive parking prices, a move that the city hopes will reduce congestion and allow transit vehicles to move faster.
San Francisco will adjust parking meter and garage parking prices based on measured demand. The District has a similar policy for adjusting prices in the Columbia Heights and ballpark "performance parking" districts. Unlike the District, San Francisco clearly described the method they will use to make the adjustments.
On-street metered blocks will have prices vary by time of day, in three or four daily meter periods. Though some meters open earlier and others run later into the night, all meters will change between the morning, afternoon, early evening, and late evening periods at the same time for customer convenience.
Some blocks serve the mid-day office crowd, while other blocks serve daytime tourists, other serve shoppers parking later in the day, and others late night entertainment.
The citywide meter periods will be
- opening (either 7am or 9am) to noon
- noon to 3pm
- 3pm to 7pm
- 7pm to closing
For each block side and meter period, officials will adjust on-street meters according to the number of cars parked on that block during that period. If more than 85% of the spaces are taken, the price will increase. If fewer than 65% of the spaces are taken, the price will fall.
The city is simplifying the rate system for municipal garages and will eliminate many special rates such as flat-fee evening parking. Instead, all garages will have an adjustable hourly rate for the different periods. Monthly and daily rates will be based on multiplying factors by the hourly rates. For example, a monthly parking permit might be made available for the cost of 10 full days of parking.
The city will adjust prices no more than once a month and will publish new rates a week in advance on the SFMTA and SFpark websites.
San Francisco is going to be the big test of whether a city can handle adjustable rates. The city already has the parking sensors, computer tracking equipment, dedicated staff, and political will.
Communicating the process for adjusting prices in advance is an important step DC neglected when rolling out its similar demand-based performance parking program. Admittedly, DDOT did not have Federal funding to purchase occupancy sensors, they did not appear to dedicate full-time staff, and the approval for parking rate adjustments appears to have been influenced by neighborhood approval, rather than market demand.
The District should borrow from San Francisco and communicate a clear policy for how often parking meter occupancy will be observed, and what occupancy levels will result in changes to meter prices.
DDOT has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on neighborhood improvements thanks to the performance parking zones, and new reports on the Ballpark and Columbia Heights performance parking districts propose adjustments both up and down for meter rates.
DDOT has collected almost a million dollars from parking meters in the ballpark performance parking district to date. Over $800,000 has been spent or dedicated for projects including BigBelly Solar waste collection systems, benches, historic district signs, and bike racks.
In 2011, with revenue generated by performance parking, DDOT plans to install three or four Capital Bikeshare stations, install an information kiosk at the Eastern Market metro plaza, and perform a transportation study for the Capitol Riverfront district, which will include a study of the M Street corridor for streetcars.
In the Columbia Heights area, DDOT has collected $52,000 from meters and is going to dedicate funding to traffic calming sidewalk bulb-outs, replacing concrete and brick sidewalk surfaces, and upgrading foundation walls. DDOT has also provided funding to streetscape projects for Park Road and the Farmerss Market.
The legislation to create the performance parking districts requires that DDOT periodically measure occupancy and adjust prices if blocks are too full or too empty. In the past, DDOT has been reluctant to follow through, but in this new round, they will. Some crowded areas are getting parking meter price increases, and some crowded areas will stay the same.
DDOT found that the parking lot underneath the Southeast Freeway on 8th Street SE in Barracks Row only collects about a dollar a day per space, and proposes reducing the price to 75¢ per hour. This is an appropriate change, and should allow people parking in the area a cheaper option than parking on the main commercial street.
DDOT should also consider increasing the time limit for this lot to four hours until 5 pm and unlimited afterward. That would encourage people with longer anticipated stays to use it, thus leaving the more convenient spaces for people with shorter term needs.
Although many areas in the performance parking zone had measured occupancy above 100% (made possible because of illegal parking and smaller than average cars), DDOT does not propose increasing the meter rates in many areas where the occupancy is high.
For some blocks near the ballpark, between M, South Capitol, and 2nd streets and the Southeast Freeway, DDOT proposes increasing the rate. This is a big improvement from the last performance parking report for this zone published in 2009, where DDOT recommended raising prices for blocks having high occupancy, but specific blocks were not identified and the prices were not adjusted.
The report lists this area having maximum occupancy only at 86% during Nationals ball games, but that is actually the figure for all blocks, including resident permit parking. To improve understanding of their recommendation, DDOT chould list in a separate table the metered blocks and their occupancy, and whether they have been included in the proposed price increase.
For some areas with very high parking occupancy, such as 8th street and Pennsylvania Avenues SE, DDOT is not raising rates. An official responsible for parking policy told me that they wanted to avoid adverse impact on District businesses during the economic downturn and had attempted to use other means such as time limits to manage occupancy rather than adjusting price.
It appears that using time limits is not having the desired effect, because the blocks are all showing excessively high occupancy, and my visits to the area during the busiest times have confirmed that parking is very scarce in the area. DDOT is working on building community support for performance parking so that price adjustments can be implemented.
The local stakeholders are concerned about the effects performance parking is having on local resident permit parking blocks. The DDOT official pointed out the importance of being sensitive to the local community's opinions, and I understand that, but I'll also note that right now the visitors looking for parking on residential blocks are those that don't want to pay for parking combined with those that are willing to pay but cannot find a metered space.
If DDOT increases the prices on crowded blocks, at the very least the people willing to pay can find a space, and the extra money collected can help fund enforcement on local resident blocks. Once pay by cell is implemented more fully in the city, the closest resident permit blocks could be changed to resident permit blocks with visitors also paying by cell or walking to the main street to obtain a pay and display receipt.
In the Columbia Heights performance parking zone, DDOT found that all the multispace meter blocks had occupancy rates above 85%, which should lead to higher meter prices in the zone. DDOT proposes extending the meter hours in the zone to 10 pm, and increasing the prices on some blocks to $2.50 for the first hour, and $3.00 for each subsequent hour, with a two hour limit before 6:30pm and three hour limit after 6:30pm.
This would be the highest street parking rate in DC. In the last performance parking report for this zone, DDOT recommended increasing the parking meter rates and hours, but the recommendation lacked specifics.
At a public meeting in 2009, DDOT's Damon Harvey stated that the adjustment would happen only after the streetscape project was complete, which it now is. The current report calls for making adjustments in April 2011. For the Columbia Heights performance parking zone, DDOT should be commended for now following through on adjusting rates according to occupancy, as the performance parking pilot legislation demands.
The report lists occupancy for each block as a number of spaces, number of cars parked on average and the maximum number of cars. This is a big improvement, which I recommended after the last performance parking report came out. However, to the extent that DDOT can communicate more information about parking, the occupancy should be reported as an average and a 90th percentile occupancy, which eliminates that problem that reporting a maximum might cause if the maximum is an extreme outlier.
Based on high occupancy, DDOT plans on expanding multispace meter installation to the waterfront area on Water Street and Maine Avenue. DDOT will also look into adjusting the rates based on curbside occupancy as it does elsewhere in the zone.
DDOT is getting closer to performing all the actions required by the performance parking legislation. They're measuring occupancy, reporting the data, recommending rate changes, and spending the money locally. However, in many areas with high demand, prices are not increasing as they should.
Compared to the previous performance parking reports, I would say this report is a big improvement. Reporting the data on a block-by-block basis is tedious but important. The money is being spent on local improvements which help the pedestrian and cycling environment, and everybody becomes a pedestrian once they've parked. Unlike the previous report, which called for vague increases in prices, this report specifies what blocks will have changes and what the prices will be.
It should be noted that DDOT is running one of the only parking systems in the US where the occupancy is measured and reported, and the prices are actually being adjusted. The other such program is in San Francisco, and that program is supported by a fairly substantial federal grant.
Here are some recommendations for the next report:
- Reinstate the table showing the revenue collected and how it is being spent
- Separate out the occupancy table between blocks that have multispace meters and those that have other parking controls
- Make a recommendation concerning the price for every multispace meter block
- Obtain community buy-in to follow the variable price policy on very crowded commercial streets like 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Arlington is interested in using license plate recognition technology to better understand how people park at meters. A better statistical picture could lead to more effective management and a fairer pricing scheme that generates higher revenues.
County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman had asked the Department of Environmental Services about the use of installed parking occupancy sensors, how the sensors could improve the efficiency of meter enforcement or improve information available about parking space occupancy. Arlington staff reported their findings in a staff memo.
This would be an important step toward understanding parking in Arlington well enough to implement ideas like running the meters later at night, and setting parking meter prices according to occupancy.
Arlington found that Los Angeles and San Francisco are using installed occupancy sensors to improve parking meter enforcement and adjust parking prices according to demand respectively.
In Los Angeles, better enforcement and credit card acceptance means that parking revenues are dramatically up. There, drivers can use an iPhone app to see where parking spaces are available, and a webpage shows real-time occupancy. These data guide parking managers on enforcement targets as well as pricing guidance.
San Francisco's Smart Park program has support from a US DOT grant. SFPark will collect parking occupancy data and adjust meter prices automatically to balance parking demand, ensuring parking availability even on blocks that are in high demand.
Arlington staff is currently looking at procedures to manually measure occupancy, a labor-intensive process that former DDOT director Gabe Klein pointed to as one of the biggest reasons performance parking hasn't worked so far in DC. The time-consuming data collection process cannot be performed often enough to provide relevant information.
Arlington is also looking into a system similar to what DDOT has paid the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to use. License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology uses cameras and a database to record where and when cars are observed. According to Arlington County, the treasurer's office and the police already own LPR equipment which can be used for occupancy counts.
Although this is cheaper than installing sensors at each parking meter, it has many downsides:
- Data collection has to be planned in advance, essentially deciding what data to gather and then designing routes for people to drive with the camera in order to ensure coverage.
- Data will most likely only be gathered when the meters are running and need enforcement, leading to the same information hole we have today where meters that aren't running can't tell you anything about how many people park outside of normal operating hours.
- Monitor coverage won't be as complete as with continuously operating sensors. Essentially, with sensors, any possible view of the data could be supported, from information about late evening parking on weekends, to mid-day turnover rates and even special views like occupancy during street festivals.
Despite these drawbacks, collecting some data will help improve understanding of the usage of Arlington's metered parking spaces. Within six months, Arlington plans to test different occupancy measurement technologies within six months, and expects by next spring to identify high density blocks for studying occupancy as a proof of concept.
Update: Arlington County parking manager Sarah Stott's has responded with the following comments:
Thanks to Michael Perkins and GGW for helping to explain the importance of managing the curb space so that on-street parking spaces are available and utilized to their full potential to support local businesses. Unfortunately the article's headline is inaccurate.
Yes, Arlington County is currently investigating a number of techniques and technologies for measuring parking occupancy. We have not, however, decided to use cameras for this purpose.
Second, the County's goal in measuring occupancy is to collect data for the effective management of curb space and to devise parking solutions that are tailored to the community's needs. Revenue generation is not the goal. This is evidenced by the County's practice of measuring occupancy on non-metered streets where revenue doesn't exist.
Lastly, Arlington County has no current plan to extend meter hours past 6:00 pm in commercial neighborhoods. This decision would be made with the community's input and the support of data. We strive to make parking available and convenient for all. Doing so, will help to ensure that Arlingon continues to be a friendly place to live, work, shop and do business.
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.
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.
Greater Greater Washington started publishing three years ago yesterday.
What were we writing about then? Quite a few things that were still relevant today.
Parking policy: Tommy Wells spoke at a Coalition for Smarter Growth forum about parking and how he himself became a convert on performance parking because of all the cars the baseball stadium was going to bring to his neighborhood. He had devised the "livable, walkable" slogan for his campaign, then discovered a whole community of people who believed strongly in this philosophy.
Sidewalks at construction sites: DC instituted a policy requiring covered sidewalks or pedestrian walkways during construction, instead of the then-common practice of just forcing pedestrians to cross to the other side of the street.
Last week, TBD reported that the Convention Center hotel is apparently not following this practice at 9th Street and Massachusetts Avenue, NW.
Potomac Yard station: Alexandria officials were talking about getting developers around Potomac Yard to pay for a new station. That tax structure has become a reality and the environmental review begun; will the station get built on time?
Our first mission statement: My vision for this blog, three years ago:
Urban centers and walkable suburbs in America are experiencing a renaissance, including the Washington, DC region. Unfortunately, too many people are forced to leave great neighborhoods to find affordable housing or good schools. If people want to live in single-family homes, they certainly may. But everyone should have the choice to live in an apartment or townhouse in a walkable, safe, livable neighborhood.This still seems to apply just as strongly today.
People make a city great. Downtown job centers, historic neighborhoods, and new edge cities should all be full of people, walking to do errands, sitting outside at sidewalk cafes, enjoying parks, living life, and interacting with each other. Unfortunately, the streets of downtown DC are fairly empty during the day and even quieter on weekends, with little more than one inward-facing office building after another. We should encourage more mixed-use development downtown, with more residences and more retail shops, enabling restaurants to operate all week and more people to live near where they work.
We should continue the trend of building new, mixed-use neighborhoods in areas such as Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, College Park, Rockville, Silver Spring and Tysons Corner as well as the District of Columbia, where people can live, work, eat, shop and find entertainment in walking distance. We should construct buildings that engage a vibrant street life, with stores and restaurants and human-scale features, rather than cutting themselves off from the wider world.
We should expand Metro and build streetcars in DC to allow more people to get to work and other destinations without need of a car. We should put higher density development near transit stations, to enable more people to travel without cars, and so that the region can grow without adding traffic congestion. We should make it easier for people to get to work by walking or biking or rollerblading if they wish, with adequate and safe sidewalks, bike lanes and paths.
We should stop building new highways which only foster more driving and more traffic. And we should set appropriate prices for driving in and out of our city, or using parking spaces in our neighborhoods, so that people who choose to own cars, use the roads, and park pay the fair cost of the land they are using, without being unfairly burdened or subsidized.
The Washington, DC area is already great. DC itself has some of the most beautiful, mixed-use, and transit-accessible neighborhoods in any American city. Arlington and Bethesda contain Smart Growth areas that are models for cities everywhere. As the region grows, we must preserve what already works and expand what is possible, to ensure that there are enough great neighborhoods for everyone who wants to live, work, shop or play in one.
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