>In the future, Arlington County residents and visitors could find that getting a convenient place to park has become much easier and convenient — and possibly a little more expensive.
That’s one of the policy goals of the county’s new Master Transportation Plan. In it, the County Board has approved (PDF) the policy of
“Utiliz[ing] parking meter pricing strategies that vary by hour and location to better match parking availability and demand. Implement[ing] newer technologies such as multi‐space meters and credit card and cell phone payment to enhance parking options.”
I talked with Sarah Stott, Arlington County’s Parking Manager, by phone. She stated that the county staff is working hard to take that policy goal and develop implementation strategies and regulations, which should be presented to the Arlington County Transportation Commission on November 24 and the Planning Commission on December 1. After that, the County Board is scheduled to act on the recommended proposal at its December 13 meeting.* Sarah told me that the policies are likely to be implemented slowly over a period of years, at the end of many individual steps with significant public input:
“In order to increase the meter rates based on occupancy, pilot studies would have to take place, a public process would have to be undertaken, a new ordinance would have to be passed, and more staff and equipment resources would have to be dedicated. A first step may be just to see if the County Board would support having meters extended past 6 pm in certain areas.”
Parts of the draft Parking and Curbspace Management Element (PDF) read like a summary of Dr. Shoup’s influential book, The High Cost of Free Parking, especially the flexible on-street parking pricing, which has a occupancy goal of 85% and prices that can vary by the time of day or week to balance supply with demand. Based on a draft copy of this post, Dr. Shoup said that Arlington’s direction is “encouraging news. It’s great that Arlington is taking the lead in parking reform.”
The Draft Master Transportation Plan is an initial view of what is likely to be a topic of intense citizen debate later in the year. The Draft will be reviewed by citizen commissions and will ultimately have to approved by the Board to become official County policy.
Of the three policy recommendations from Dr. Shoup’s book, only one (market-based on-street parking pricing) is currently part of the Draft. The other two, returning parking meter revenue to the local neighborhood for streetscape improvements, and eliminating minimum off-street parking requirements, are not mentioned.
For the first, the main reason Dr. Shoup puts behind his recommendation is to obtain political buy-in from businesses and local residents. The parking meter revenue is intended to improve the conditions on the local streets so that the destination is a place people want to go, rather than a place people go because parking is cheap or free. I think for Arlington, the public comment process works pretty well to obtain buy-in, and most locations that have street meters are already pretty nice. I would like to see Arlington look into this a little more, but for success in Arlington it may not be necessary.
For the second, the Draft has some considerations for significantly reducing the required spaces, and Arlington certainly does not apply the questionable standards used in most of the country. In exchange for transit improvements, streetscape improvements, and other changes to the site plan, Arlington routinely offers reduced parking as an incentive. Arlington also manages parking proactively, arranging for commercial lots to remain open to the public after hours, and encouraging sharing between neighboring uses (for example, a restaurant and offices use the same garages but at different times of the day). Additionally, it looks like progressive policies such as parking cash-out and in-lieu fees are proposed in the Draft to be included in the developer’s toolbox for passing the costs of parking on to the actual parking user, rather than including it for free with rent.
Overall, the future for parking management in Arlington looks bright. My experience with parking in our downtown has been that after hours it is very difficult to find a space, and I would be willing to pay in order not to have to circle the block to find a space. Hopefully, in the future, it will be easier to find an empty space, and Arlington will be able to get a little more revenue from parking.
*Dates listed are subject to change but were currently available on the Master Transportation Plan website.