Mar 10, 2012

SFpark Lures Drivers to Underutilized Parking

Circling for parking in cities like San Francisco has become so routine that we don't think too much about it. If you're going to drive somewhere, you would be smart to budget at least a few extra minutes to find a place to park. But "cruising" isn't just an inconvenience; it has significant consequences for the quality of life in our communities. Donald Shoup, professor and researcher at UCLA and author of the groundbreaking work The High Cost of Free Parking, details that it is common for 30% or more of traffic in a given neighborhood to consist of drivers searching for parking. All of this extra traffic slows down people who are actually trying to move somewhere, especially impacting those traveling by public transport. It also results in more conflict on the road, since people stretch their limited attention between searching for a parking spot and watching out for other people walking, bicycling, and driving. As people circle over and over again with their engines idling, they wastefully emit millions of tons of pollution into the air and burn billions of gallons of fuel each year.

The goal then is to help people quickly find a parking space where it is available. We could build an infinitely greater number of parking spots, further inducing driving and all of the associated negative effects, or we could instead price it accordingly to make sure there are always a few open spots on each block. SFpark, an SFMTA federally-funded pilot project, is the first program of its kind to apply market-based pricing to parking. Testing the theories developed by Donald Shoup and his colleagues, meter prices on blocks with high demand for parking are going up and prices on blocks with low demand for parking are going down. Prices currently range between 50¢ to $4.50 per hour.

The SFMTA made a cute video which does a great job explaining the SFpark system.

This video from the 10-part Streetsfilms series, Moving Beyond the Automobile, further explores the topic.

More after the break.

In addition to adjusting meter prices based on demand, the SFMTA is lowering the cost to park in its city-owned garages (15 are in the SFpark pilot areas), given they are frequently well below capacity. The agency is now offering new discounts for those parking in garages during off-peak hours. Because many people are unaware of the location of many of these facilities, crews have spent the past few months installing these signs to help drivers more easily locate them.

This sign alerts people cruising for parking on the often-congested Chestnut Street to the Pierce Street Garage around the corner.

Also as part of the SFpark program, crews have applied stickers to meters in the pilot areas educating drivers of the nearest publicly-owned parking garage.

"Park nearby at the Lombard Street Garage" – This sticker tells people who may have just had a hard time finding this parking spot to try their luck at this close garage next time they're looking for parking.

I think this program and these new signs and stickers are great. Instead of demanding that developers build more unnecessary parking, as the Port is currently doing with the contentious 8 Washington project, we should first make sure our existing parking infrastructure is being properly utilized. Of course, we must concurrently invest in better public transport, bicycling, and walking – but remember: less circling means less congestion, and thus safer streets.

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