San Francisco has 23,000 metered parking spaces and sets prices using complex “demand-responsive rate adjustments.” Around SF City Hall, for example, hourly rates vary by time of day and block by block – up to $5.25 midweek and as low as $.25 on weekends. In San Diego, despite the growing population and a tightening supply, many locals still expect free parking – especially in beach communities. San Diego currently has about 5,700 metered spaces mostly charging a top rate of $1.25 per hour. Nearly all the metered spaces are in Uptown and Downtown where parking is a hot topic at neighborhood meetings.
Since 2004, the Downtown Parking Management Group*, a volunteer board of residents and business members, has worked with City staff to improve utilization of street parking. An early pilot program targeted sections of East Village, Cortez Hill and the Marina District with very low meter usage:
The DPMG made recommendations to city staff to adjust rates for selected meters from $.50 to $1.25 per hour and modify time limits ranging from one-hour to nine-hour durations. The recommended rates and time limits were designed to achieve a target utilization rate of 85 percent (15 percent vacancy) – the optimal point at which parking supply is maximized yet there remains a sufficient level of parking available to reduce cruising-induced traffic and facilitate ingress and egress. In highly desirable areas with convenient parking, the hourly rates were set to the highest allowable rate and time limits set shorter to promote turnover and access for more motorists. In less convenient locations, meter rates were lowered and time limits extended to entice long-term-parking motorists… from sandiego.gov .
During the pilot, for example, street parking in the Gaslamp Quarter remained at $1.25 per hour with a two-hour limit while several blocks of East Village from Eighth Ave to Park Blvd were converted to $1 per hour with a four-hour limit. East of Thirteenth, rates dropped to $.50 per hour with a nine-hour limit. This offered price sensitive workers and residents an option to walk a little and save.
The experiment worked. Over a two year period, meter utilization was up 106% and (despite the drop in rates) meter revenue was up 89%.
San Diego was still using outdated coin-only meters in 2006. The DPMG recommended switching to newer equipment that accepted payment by credit cards. The City selected Cale from among the companies responding to a request for proposals. Initially fifty multi-space “pay and display” stations were installed. This test proved popular with motorists and contributed to improvements in utilization. More recently, the City has installed a combination of single-head and multi-space pay stations by IPS.
Until 2014, nearly all zones with time limits restricted parking between 8am and 6pm. That made sense in the financial and legal districts north of Broadway. But neighborhoods to the south — around the Gaslamp, Convention Center and Petco Park – were quiet in the mornings and busy at night. Spaces were typically full by 4pm. To encourage turnover and better match supply with demand, the DPMG asked the City to shift parking enforcement back two hours – 10am to 8pm — in the area between First and Seventh Avenues. The first six months of comparative data showed utilization rates going up from 55% to 80%.
San Diego’s community-up style of parking management stands in sharp contrast to San Francisco’s high-priced, technology-driven approach and to Chicago’s $1 billion sale of their parking concession to a private company. Citizens and businesses owners are actively involved in Uptown, Little Italy and throughout Downtown.
Population growth and increased density will continue to exacerbate tensions. Our sprawling car-based transportation system must ultimately transition to a more urban model with better public transportation serving walkable neighborhoods. But for now, parking is important and folks are passionate. Fortunately we have tools to manage the transition and parking revenue is providing real benefits that help communities adjust.
More about that in Part 3…
* The DPMG is advisory to Civic San Diego which serves as the Downtown Community Parking District Board. In practice, DPMG attends to the details. Its meetings are on the second Thursday of the month, 1130am at the CivicSD offices.
All photos by author