Housing Complex

How to Help People Park (by Charging Them More)

Jeff Tumlin at last night's panel.

A lot of people will tell you a war on cars is being waged in the District. It's not really true, of course, but there is a heated debate over transportation in the city, and the most contentious topic is parking. The city has been accused of waging war for the increased number of parking tickets, for the proposed zoning change that would eliminate minimum parking requirements in new buildings near Metro stations, and for bike lanes that replaced parking spots. It's an area where there's hardly any room to maneuver without angering some very vocal residents.

Which is why it was refreshing to step out of this charged environment last night and hear about the types of parking policies that have worked in other cities across the country. Jeff Tumlin, a prominent transportation planner who lives in San Francisco and works with the consulting group Nelson/Nygaard, presented the 15 steps he deems necessary to fix parking at a panel hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth. His central message: Focus on what you're trying to accomplish.

"We need to focus on outcomes," he said, "and the primary outcome is availability."

The spread of parking meters across the country came at the behest of downtown business owners who were concerned that people were parking outside their shops for eight hours a day while at the office and blocking potential customers from getting to the stores. The goal of the meters was to cycle people through, so everyone who wanted to find parking in the business district could.

But now, Tumlin says, we're still using that same 1947 technology, where you insert coins and have two hours to park during business hours. It's no longer relevant to our needs in 2013. In San Francisco, he says, 30 percent of traffic was just people looking for a parking space—that is, before the city instituted performance parking, which charges extra for people to park on the blocks with the highest demand.

So how do you reform parking to make cities as functional as possible for drivers? Here—and I warn you, this is about to get wonky—are Tumlin's 15 steps:

1. Beware residential parking permits. Considered the holy grail among some D.C. residents, RPPs were designed to keep commuters from taking over the parking lanes of residential streets. But when demand exceeds supply—in other words, when there are many more RPPs issued than there are parking spaces—the hunt for parking continues. It's sometimes better to charge for residential parking like you do for commercial parking; after all, who's to say that a resident's parking should be subsidized and protected by the city while a visiting contractor's or a nearby customer's should be banned? "Government," Tumlin says, "doesn't have much business deciding who has the right to park and who doesn't."

2. Meters must take credit cards. "If any of the businesses on Main Street required payment in quarters, they would go out of business," Tumlin says. So should meters. And, while we're at it, get rid of those pay stations that require you to walk halfway down the block to figure out what you need to do. If a city's going to charge for parking, it has to be as convenient as possible.

3. Use smart technology like phone apps that help people find spaces. Again, this goes to convenience and efficiency, and cuts down the time spent hunting for a space (and blocking traffic).

4. Find the right price. "The right price for parking is the lowest price at which a few spots are always available," Tumlin says. That'll generally be a lot higher than cities are currently charing. On San Francisco's Valencia Street, metered parking costs $4.50 an hour. On a cross street just 50 feet away, it's $2.50. Why? That's the price that balances supply and demand and ensures that the parking hunt won't be futile. But it's important to remember that the goal is not revenue, but to make it easier for people to find parking when they need it—"charging for parking is a pro-motorist strategy."

5. Find the right time. It makes no sense to charge for parking from 9 to 5 on a street full of restaurants where parking is tightest from 7 to 10. Charge until midnight if needed. Likewise, don't limit people to two hours of parking. Let them have dinner and a movie, and pay extra (provided they can do it conveniently with their cards or phones, not by running back to feed the meter or digging through mounds of quarters). That's better for businesses and for drivers.

6. Invest your revenue. In Pasadena, 100 percent of meter revenue goes to the neighborhood business improvement districts to provide for cleaner streets, safety, and marketing. That's better than putting the revenue into the city's general fund and prompting residents to accuse the city of extortion. At the very least, a city should be clear about how the money's being invested.

7. Be flexible. Allow restaurants and cafes to set up outdoor tables in the parking lane if they so desire. Remember, parking on retail corridors is there to serve the retail establishments. If they find that they get more business by increasing their street presence, let them do it. Outdoor tables in a parking lane at a restaurant not only give a boost to that restaurant, Tumlin says, they also help neighboring businesses by attracting people to the street.

8. Eliminate minimum requirements for off-street parking in new buildings. Not only can these be wasteful, eliminating them "is the most effective way to deliver affordable housing," Tumlin says. Parking spaces generally run in the tens of thousands of dollars, so buildings with less parking have substantially cheaper units.

9. Replace minimums with maximums. D.C.'s Office of Planning considered this as part of the zoning update but dropped it in the face of considerable opposition and is just going for the elimination of minimums in transit zones. But Tumlin argues that maximums can help create housing choices for the minority of people without cars, who are often forced to compete for pricier homes in buildings marketed to people with cars.

10. Design parking well. Don't degrade the pedestrian experience for cars' sake.

11. Locate driveways well. Again, they shouldn't turn a sidewalk into a minefield for pedestrians.

12. Unbundle parking from leases. This is related to 8 and 9. If people don't have cars, don't make them pay for parking in their buildings. Charge for spaces only when people demand them.

13. Encourage tandem/stack/valet parking, to save space.

14. Share. Each car-share vehicle, Tumlin says, eliminates seven to 25 vehicles from the roads. Hoboken, N.J., bribed residents with a two-year car-sharing membership and $100 to give up their RPPs, and Tumlin says it was a big success.

15. Park once. Currently, there are lots of arterial roads that are difficult and dangerous to cross, so driving from place to place is necessary, regardless of the distance. Think New York Avenue NE. By bringing the various uses along the road—schools, offices, stores—together on one side of it, connected by smaller streets, you allow people to park once and then walk to their various destinations. That cuts way down on traffic and makes for a better experience.

The District Department of Transportation's Sam Zimbabwe, sharing the stage with Tumlin, sat grimacing as Tumlin laid out some of the aggressive measures cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles and Hoboken have taken to make parking less unpleasant, as if imagining the epic fight that these proposals would provoke in D.C. And so I asked Tumlin if these approaches might not be feasible in certain political or demographic environments, or if it really was just a question of communication.

"It's only communication," he replied. "No matter what a community's issues are, being less stupid about parking is going to benefit everyone."

Of course, making parking more expensive is not always popular. "On parking, being progressive is the opposite of being populist," Tumlin says. "People say, 'I want free parking, and I want a lot of parking.' And they don't think through the unintended consequences."

But there's an opportunity cost to tackling parking, Tumlin says. A city can only do so much at once, and going all out on parking means giving up other priorities. "In D.C. you decided to do bikes, and that was probably the right choice," Tumlin says. "Washington is 100 times better on bikes and bike infrastructure than San Francisco."

Photo courtesy of the Coalition for Smarter Growth

  • DC Guy

    It isn't just communication. There are plenty of people who like their relatively free parking who will fight tooth and nail to prevent any changes to the current policy in DC.

  • Jes’ sayin’

    More bullshit from another post-hipster.

    As the population ages and the Baby Boomers hit Social Security age, more and more of them who are city dwellers will no longer be able to bicycle or walk long distances. More and more will need to drive - or have someone drive them - to necessary appointments and errands.

    Yes, we can lower the parking minimums from 1950's levels. But we must keep an appropriate number of spaces in all buildings for the elderly and the mobility impaired. To eliminate the minimums not only shuts them out, but is a giant gift to developers.

  • DC Guy

    No, lifting minimums doesn't mean "no parking". It just means, no government mandated minimums.

    And, I was referring to the relatively free RPP's, which has nothing to do with the zoning code and parking minimums.

    Just saying.

  • sbc

    Jes' saying,

    There are other ways elderly people and folks with disabilities can travel. I agree that having some spaces is a good thing, but car-sharing, taxis, metro access, the bus, etc. are also important....especially since many elderly/disabled people aren't going to be able to drive regardless of if there are parking spaces nearby (dementia, vision loss, slowed response times, sleepiness caused by meds, seizure disorders, etc.).

    If there is a way to make those alternate modes faster (which takes reducing other forms of automotive traffic) and more available (which takes money and reducing traffic) then they will seem like a better option for more--although I agree with you not all--people. Alternate modes will also have to be cheaper or at least competitive with driving, and there are a ton of ways to do that.

    I think being transit-friendly is critical to DC being a city where people can age in place. I see this as I look at my three surviving grandparents, none of whom would ideally be driving but all of whom live in places where transit is not a viable option. If they lived in DC, they would drive a lot less and might even sell their cars, which would probably be better for everyone.

  • Typical DC BS

    Some good suggestions / ideas there. Although eliminating parking minimums from development will just force car owners to park on the street, especially with the high-rise buildings that are now replacing smaller apartment buildings.

  • Driver

    One suggestion not included here is building municipal garages with metered (or the high-tech equivalent) spaces in high-density, high-demand areas. Public garages have been tremendously successful in Bethesda, Silver Spring and elsewhere, and have contributed greatly to development there. And of course the payments go directly to the city or county. D.C. doesn't have them because D.C. politicians are in the pockets of the commercial parking magnates. Changing that would make a big difference.

  • mfrohn1

    Jes Sayin'

    I'm not an expert at all, and I absolutely agree that the elderly and disabled obviously won't be biking or taking car2go around (although sbc makes some good points about other ways to travel) but the fact remains that the DC population is getting younger, not older.

    According to the U.S. Census 12.2% of D.C.'s population was 65 or older, in 2010 despite an overall population growth of 40,000 the percent of 65 and older in D.C. went down to 11.4. Median age also went from 34.6 to 33.4, and I see this trend continuing, it is just the natural movement of a growing city.

  • Gerholdt

    Darn tootin' there's a war on cars in DC. They won, and businesses lose and tax revenues lose. I would only drive into DC if it was a matter of life and death. And since Metro has stopped opening the parking gates at 10 PM Fridays, I'm chinchy about going downtown that way as well.

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  • tntdc

    So the goal is to increase auto traffic by making parking spaces more available?

    The guy's 100% wrong that buildings that don't have $225/mo parking available but do have free RPP parking are cheaper.

    The guy's not too bright and so fits in with DC's so-called Smarter Growth Coalition.

  • Not_tntdc

    Just look at the source.

    "Jeff Tumlin, the planner who was fired by Santa Monica http://santamonica.patch.com/articles/city-drops-consultant-over-nimby-comment was deeply involved in the SFpark pilot and the evaluation.

    Turns out the residents in the City of Santa Monica did not appreciate him proposing ideas that will only benefit real estate developers, such as taking away parking and supporting more and greater density development.

    Instead of collecting the data that might have helped City Hall make proper decisions it is alleged that this consultant gathered only what was needed for the city to jump to their own preordained conclusions. The city of SF paid his firm 137K http://www.nelsonnygaard.com/Documents/Quals-Project-Profiles/NNproj-SF-MTA-SFPark-Pilot-Project-Impl.pdf"

  • sfpark.info

    "Jeff Tumlin was the City’s principal traffic consultant for seven years, during which he made over $1 million for his firm, though traffic, congestion and gridlock got measurably worse. "

    "Tumlin’s most recent planning surprise surfaced a couple of weeks ago when he claimed, after years of fiddling with parking plans, that the best way to reduce traffic was to provide fewer parking spaces. The rationale: if people know they can’t park, they won’t drive. Developers were crazy about the idea, as it would dramatically reduce their costs. Residents weren’t, as it would radically increase congestion."

    The Santa Monica Dispatch

    "Residents have had enough. The City has paid Mr. Tumlin and his firm over $1.6 million to devise circulation and parking policies. Virtually nothing concrete has come out of this lengthy,expensive process."

    - The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City

  • http://metermadness.wordpress.com zrants

    Please, keep Tumlin in DC. Don't let him come back to SF. California is rebelling against his theories big time. SF Supervisors have scheduled a hearing May 2, in their Chambers to allow the public to weigh in on the expansion of parking meters in our neighborhoods. Details are here:

  • http://sfpark.info/the_project/sfmta_lies_to_the_public sfpark.info

    Tumlin loves to tell gullible government planners that they are being "stupid" about giving away parking. He tells them that they can be "smart" by writing him and his company a check and then convincing them to spend millions of dollars on his untested theories that only benefit developers.

    Nothing that this guy says can be taken seriously or be backed up with any empirical evidence. Tumlins arrogant and condescending attitude towards San Francisco and Santa Monica residents speaks volumes about his incompetence. He was fired for calling San Monica residents NIMBYS and residents in San Francisco have demanded a hearing with the Board of Supervisors.

    Learn more at http://sfpark.info

  • Hillman

    "Which is why it was refreshing to step out of this charged environment last night "


    You fan the flames of that 'charged environment', almost giddy with glee from being able to portray the buffoonish antics of one guy from the AAA as reflecting the views of the majority of DC drivers.

    And then you claim it's refreshing to step away from the 'charged environment'?

  • Hillman

    Getting rid of RPP is the first step?

    Try living close to the US Capitol or any major tourist destination or federal workplace.

    The considerable majority of the cars on my street are either federal commuters or tourists.

    It isn't other city residents trying to come in and park on my street, as this article idiotically suggests.

    It's tourists and commuters. Dang near every time.

    What would getting rid of residential zoned parking do, other than make it an open field for even more tourist and commuter parking?

    That makes daily life for taxpaying residents far more difficult.

    And for what?

    And yes, government does have the right to protect residential parking, giving taxpaying permanent residents preference over one-day tourists and commuters.

  • Long time DC

    I'm fine with bike lanes, although they make driving a bit more difficult. Live and let live. Because people often attribute to others the attitudes they themselves have, I was very slow to pick up on what I now see as a war on cars and people like me who own them.

    I've been told in blogs like this that I should bike more ("good for my health" - thanks!), but in my 60s, I've had 4 knee operations and cannot do so. I still walk to work (2 miles) and will do so as long as I can.

    I moved into a city in the 1970s because I wanted to walk to work, not drive. In that sense, I was green before the tern was invented.

    That said, I have to have a car, I drive 3 to 5 times a week (4500 miles a year), and have to be able to park it near my home. This is already an issue, but will become far worse if these new zoning proposals go through.

    When I said this on a blog like this one, I was told by a younger recent resident that if I really need a car, I should leave and move to a car friendly environment. In other words, there are new people in town, and even though almost all of our friends are nearly, we should leave everything we have known for the last 30 years to accommodate the wishes of a new generation who have no idea what the lives of people in or near retirement are.

    This type of attitude very much feels like a war on cars to me.

    One more thing. My costs of driving are basically filling my tank about 14 times a year, and insurance. Not only would using a zip car about 200 times a year be very inconvenient, but it would cost more than my current costs. So please don't tell me (yet again) what is good for me, whether it is biking more, moving away, or using a zip car.

  • Urbanbicyclist

    Ah, I see that vendetta-wielding commenters from afar have stooped to anonymous personal attacks! Always a good sign that they've won on the merits of their arguments.

    "So the goal is to increase auto traffic by making parking spaces more available?"

    More available spaces = less time spent looking for parking = fewer cars driving around looking for parking = less traffic. In downtown areas, some 30% of cars on the road are looking for parking. It's better (and safer, since they often drive erratically) for everyone if they can find their parking faster.

  • http://www.smclc.net/ sfpark.info


    From The Santa Monica Daily Press March 4, 2013 
    I joined what appears to be many other Santa Monicans in examining the resume of parking consultant Jeffrey Tumlin
    (“Community groups demand consultant’s job over comment,” Feb. 27). Since I spend a lot of time in San Francisco and am familiar with its issues, I focused on the section called “Key Accomplishments: San Francisco.”

    Once past the self-important hyperbole, Mr. Tumlin states that two of his plans together “help accommodate over 10,000 residents without an increase in traffic, largely by making walking more delightful, bicycling safer and transit more efficient and reliable.” Sounds pretty good, no? I heard his same rap before the Planning Commission, describing it as the perfect solution for building Santa Monica 2.0.

    And exactly where is this new nirvana? Nowhere. It exists on paper only. He is referring to the Bayview-Hunters Point redevelopment, a projected 20-year process of rebuilding 1,300 acres (over 2 square miles) of a former industrial land pocket in the southeastern corner of the city. Partially occupied by mostly lower-end housing, it is well served by freeways, but future funding for the project is sketchy at best. Candlestick Park (home of the 49ers) is also located there.

    Only a consultant would consider his fancy (and expensive) how-to plan as an “accomplishment,” when there are zero tangible results, nor any results-based metrics to judge it on. Based on his blue-sky projections, the city of Santa Monica bows at his feet, and is gambling that millions of square feet of new development are just what we need while already overwhelmed with traffic. What the hell kind of planning is that? Is anyone even considering the disastrous downside if Tumlin’s “accomplishments” are simply wishful thinking? It’s no surprise that private developers continue eating the lunch of our naive politicians.

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