The Dynamics of On-Street Parking in Large Central Cities

Editor's Note: New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management has completed an study on the Dynamics of On-Street parking in large central cities. What follows is the executive summary of that study.

Parking is a critical component of transportation policy and management for any locale, but especially for the large central cities. The policies and management practices affecting parking lead to outcomes that, in turn, can affect land use, air quality, traffic congestion, travel behavior, safety and economic development -- not to mention revenue lines. Yet, effectively managing parking is an ongoing battle for the large central cities as they face competing, and sometimes contradictory, objectives along with an ever-increasing demand for space.
As important as parking is, however, there are relatively few serious analyses and assessments of parking, and even fewer of "on-street" or "curb" parking, which is of particular interest to central cities. Recognizing the need to enhance both the body of literature and an ongoing peer-to-peer exchange about on-street parking, the Federal Highway Administration under its Metropolitan Capacity Building Program, provided the funding for this study.
The purpose of the study was four-fold.
1. To identify and review comprehensively "on-street" parking policies and management practices in large cities.
2. To determine, to the degree possible, the impact that on-street parking has on transportation, development, and land-use.
3. To recommend best-practice strategies for on-street parking in large cities.
4. To facilitate a practical exchange of knowledge and problem-solving information between cities to improve on-street parking management.
This report is the culmination of the year-long study, which included an extensive literature review, one-on-one discussions with city parking officials, a peer-to-peer exchange session in Boston, and a detailed questionnaire to which nine U.S. cities responded (five of which are among the 10 most populous U.S. cities; the remainder are in the Top 25).
Responding cities included Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, DC.
On-street importance
On-street parking is a key factor in promoting businesses in cities, particularly within central business districts. As a type of shared parking, on-street parking is an efficient means for allowing multiple users to reach multiple destinations. On-street parking utilizes less land per space than off-street parking and provides easy access to businesses located on city streets. For pedestrians, on-street parking creates a buffer between moving traffic and individuals walking on the sidewalks, providing a measure of safety and reducing the level of perceived noise. Further, depending upon how on-street parking is situated on a street, it can also serve as a traffic-calming device, thereby slowing vehicles and potentially reducing the number and severity of accidents.
However, on-street parking is not without tradeoffs. The same barrier between moving traffic and individuals on the sidewalks can also create visual obstructions for both pedestrians trying to cross intersections and vehicles moving along a street, thus increasing accidents. On-street parking also competes with other uses of roadways, including additional lanes for traffic flow, bike lanes and wider sidewalks. Further, as drivers search for open parking spaces, congestion on roadways is increased. Finally, on-street parking, like all forms of parking, attracts vehicles, which generates more traffic.
There is a shared belief among transportation policymakers and parking officials alike that, when managed properly, the benefits of on-street parking outweigh the negative tradeoffs. However, the key is finding methods of effective management and maintenance that maximize opportunities and minimize difficulties associated with on-street parking. This report identifies some of these methods.
Findings and recommendations
There were several lessons learned as a result of this study, but chief among them are the following: To effectively manage, one must know what it is he/she is managing. In terms of on-street parking, this translates into the need for having basic information on assets and regulations in an accessible format that can be updated and easily shared across departments and agencies. Many cities lack this basic capability.
* Integrating and coordinating among agencies and divisions is critical. Multiple agencies and divisions within those agencies are responsible for various aspects of on-street parking. While they are all connected, they are not always effectively integrated.
* Further research is necessary. One can discern the techniques or approaches used by different cities for various elements of on-street parking, but analyses of whether the various measures are effective are meager and rarely provide data over extended periods of time.
* Ongoing peer-to-peer exchange on on-street parking is important. Because the literature about on-street parking is sparse and because there is little communication among parking officials from city to city, providing a continuous and regular means for exchanging information is particularly important.
Further study
Further study and assessment is recommended for several items, as follows:
* Ban on cars in the Central Business District between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Recognizing the political hurdles involved, several cities still expressed interest in banning cars in the central business districts during weekdays. Further assessment of the benefits and risks of this approach is needed.
* Better collaboration with suburban areas. Cities expressed a desire for suburban residents and businesses to better understand the costs of auto use. While there is an understanding that suburban areas rely more on cars because transit is not as available, the policies in place in areas outside the city do have an impact (often negative).
* Database management systems. One of the lessons learned was that there is a need for having basic information on assets and regulations easily accessible and updatable. Most of the cities do not have such systems in place, but what system would best work is uncertain.
* Integration is the key. While integration among divisions and agencies responsible for on-street parking policy, management, enforcement and adjudication is important, how best to achieve this is worthy of review.
* Meters that enforce themselves. Technologies already exist that allow meters to enforce themselves (automatically generating tickets, recognizing when a vehicle has left so the meter is set back to zero and recognizing when a vehicle has exceeded the time limit so the meter cannot be fed, for example). Additional analysis and assessments are needed to determine whether they should be implemented and how best to roll them out. However, there are other technologies, like pay by phone and in-vehicle meters (see best practices), which are less expensive and likely to provide a more optimal approach.
* Sliding scale fee/Use of Personal Data Assistants (PDAs) to determine validity of parking permits for persons with disabilities (ADA parking permits). Dealing with abuses of ADA parking permits was cited by almost all the cities. How best to mitigate the problem is unclear. However, these two possibilities warrant further review.
* Variable message boards for on-street parking. More research is needed on the efficacy of signage in general. However, to deal with the problem of multiple regulations on signs or at spaces, one might make use of variable message boards, which could be changed centrally at the press of a button. The technology for this already exists, and further study might be taken to determine its applicability for on-street parking.
Best practices
Among the best practices identified are:
* Congestion/Value Pricing -- New York City's Program for Commercial Parking. New York City's congestion pricing program for commercial parking has the makings of a best practice for the industry. The city began an incentive program in midtown to deal with commercial vehicles in October 2000. The program is win-win. For the businesses, if they receive a ticket for parking, it is a business loss; but if they have to pay for parking, they can deduct it as an expense. Also, the city sells debit cards with chips (smart cards) to the companies, which in turn give them to their drivers. The business can then track the drivers if they choose, and the drivers need not carry cash. For the city, enforcement is much easier and streamlined, summons rates have dropped significantly, and revenues have more than equaled the investment.
* Meter Technologies -- Free-Flow Parking, Smart Cards, In-Vehicle Meters, Pay by Phone. Many cities are moving toward free-flow parking meters and/or smart cards, and with good reason. Cities that have begun using free-flow parking or pay/display meters already see benefits in terms of revenues, maximizing the number of spaces on a given street, and streamlining ticketing. Combined with smart cards, they are powerful tools. For cities looking to integrate smart cards for on-street parking with other transportation modes, they will eventually offer a one-stop card for the consumer, helping to make transportation seamless from one mode to another.
The potential for smart card technology is tremendous if one thinks about standardizing systems so that transportation could provide a sense of seamlessness from city to city across the country. Pay by phone and in-vehicle meter technologies offer additional benefits, including lower costs since cities need not pay for meters on the curb and the potential to utilize the same system in different cities across the country. The pay by phone technology, which allows customers to call a toll-free number when they are about to park and to call again when they are finished, is already being used in Seattle and Vancouver for off-street parking and is utilized for on-street parking in several European countries. In-vehicle meters, also used in many European cities as well as in Aspen, CO, and Arlington, VA, in the United States, work together with a pre-paid smart card and allow drivers to start their meter with the card and turn it off when they return.
* Institutional Cooperation and Collaboration -- Chicago's Traffic Management Task Force. Chicago has a Mayor's Traffic Management Task Force that meets weekly to review traffic concerns related to daily operations. This consistent interaction enables greater coordination of operations.
* Community Outreach -- Boston's Program to Involve Merchants in Turnover Studies. Boston has an educational program that involves the merchants in conducting turnover studies. By letting merchants track the turnover in front of their businesses, they begin to better understand the importance of encouraging it.

Those wishing a copy of the complete study should contact Allison L. C. de Cerreno Ph.D., Co-Director, Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, NYU, Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at (212) 998-7547 or e-mail

Side Bar 1

Findings and Recommendations
Among the findings and recommendations of the study were:
* Integrating and coordinating among agencies and divisions is critical.
* Further research is necessary.
* Ongoing peer-to-peer exchange on on-street parking is important.

Side Bar 2

Best Practices
Among the best practices identified by the study were:
* Congestion/Value Pricing -- New York City's Program for Commercial Parking
* Meter Technologies -- Free Flow Parking, Smart Cards, In-Vehicle Meters, Pay by Phone
* Institutional Cooperation and Collaboration -- Chicago's Traffic Management Task Force
* Community Outreach -- Boston's Program to Involve Merchants in Turn-Over Studies.

Article Abstract from May, 2003

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