Parking Enforcement and Residential Permit Parking Programs:The Somerville Experience
Enforcement of on-street parking regulations is an integral component to the management of municipal transportation systems. Inadequate enforcement can restrict traffic flow and reduce response time for emergency vehicles. Proper enforcement results in more efficient utilization of the public right-of-way.
Too often, transportation engineers have paid little attention to parking enforcement as an issue of concern. In general, too few major urban areas view this as a critical issue.
But many metropolitan Boston municipalities have recognized this by consolidating parking enforcement and traffic operations into one municipal department. Boston and Cambridge, MA, follow this model. So, too, does Somerville, MA.
This model is based on statutes governing the regulation of traffic control devices. To fully appreciate how this works in Somerville, a review is helpful.
Three primary organizations regulate and enforce the city's traffic regulations. They are:
1. The Department of Traffic & Parking directs, manages and operates the city's parking control and enforcement efforts. It also conducts all traffic engineering and maintenance for the city. And it serves as the staff of the Traffic Commission.
2. The Traffic Commission promulgates all traffic regulations in the city.
3. The Traffic Board hears appeals from actions of the Traffic Commission. Its decisions are binding on the commission and the Traffic & Parking Department.
Somerville has a population in excess of 78,000 people. The city is only 4.12 square miles, which yields a population density of approximately 19,000 people per square mile. These census numbers do not include students from, for example, Tufts University, Harvard and MIT. The actual number of residents is estimated to be close to 100,000.
However, perhaps the most staggering statistic involves the number of vehicles registered to owners in the city. In 2002, 55,000 vehicles were registered, representing a density of more than 13,000 vehicles per square mile. This does not take into account a significant number of residents -- students and others -- who don't register their vehicles in the city.
Finally, the city's density constraints are complicated by an infrastructure that has been established for more than three centuries. Most arterials and collectors were laid out in the mid-1600s. As a result, small right-of-way widths and short block sizes prevail.
Permit Parking Program
Given these high concentrations of people and vehicles, the city long ago enacted a residential permit parking program designed to efficiently manage its limited on-street parking supply. Currently, the number of legal on-street parking spaces is just over 14,000 -- well below the current demand.
The Department of Traffic & Parking manages a vigorous enforcement program for violations of residential permit parking regulations. The city employs 22 Parking Control Officers on three shifts; they wrote more than 205,000 tickets in fiscal 2002 (or more than 9,000 tickets per officer).
Of these, 67,000 tickets were for violations of the permit parking regulations; 61,000 were for obstructing street sweeping; and 30,000 were for meter violations.
A Disincentive to Park
Despite the department's best efforts to enforce the permit parking regulations and protect the local parking supply from commuters, the fines were no longer dissuading out-of-town scofflaws. The $15 cap on parking fines did not compare to downtown parking rates in excess of $25 per day. A new approach to the parking supply problem was required.
In 2000, the city proposed a home rule petition to allow the Traffic Commission to raise fines for parking violations. After the necessary local approvals, it was submitted to the legislature and approved in August 2002.
The Fiscal Implications
In fiscal 1999, the Department of Traffic & Parking wrote 156,000 tickets, representing $2.7 million in revenue. In fiscal 2002, it wrote 205,000 tickets, representing $3.4 million in revenue. This represents a 31.5% increase in enforcement activities and a 27% increase in revenues over the three-year period.
Since the increase in fines, issuance of citations for permit-parking violations in December 2002 increased 12.6% over the previous year. However, gross revenues from permit parking violations decreased 28.5%.
These diametrically opposite results in issuance and revenue could indicate several things. The increased fines have had an initial desired effect of impacting individual violators, giving them pause about paying their tickets. Or the downturn in the economy resulted in a slowdown in payment of tickets due to cash-flow problems, particularly around the holiday season.
Whatever the case may be, it will not be possible to gain a full understanding of the impact of the new permit parking fines until more data is collected and evaluated.
Overall, an aggressive enforcement program for parking violations is a key component to managing the efficient use of urban roadways. Without proper enforcement, the safety of a city's residents could be compromised. Transportation engineers must take parking regulation and enforcement into consideration when designing in an urban setting.
Bill Lyons, a former Director of Traffic & Parking for Somerville, MA, is a licensed professional in traffic engineering in Massachusetts and California. A certified Professional Traffic Operations Engineer, he is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
Todd Blake is the City Traffic Engineer in Somerville. He is an Engineer-in-Training in Massachusetts.
(c) 2004 William F. Lyons Jr. & Todd M. Blake