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San Antonio Street, near the University of Texas, Austin Campus, was a parking nightmare. Without any parking controls, students and commuters would clog the street. Furthermore, the City of Austin has targeted the area for an increase in dense residential development, ensuring that the area’s parking woes could get worse.
Enter a little-known program run by the EPA. In 2005, the City of Austin, Texas received a Federal grant under the Mobile Source Outreach Assistance program, a competitive grant run by the EPA to reduce emissions from cars. Under the program, the City received around $20,000 in federal funding to assist with purchasing and installing parking meters under a pilot “Parking Benefit District” program.
The city installed meters along San Antonio Street between Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave (see map), and set up a special fund to ensure the revenue is kept separate from general city funds. Net of expenses for meters and enforcement, all of the revenue is dedicated to the local area. Because the program only recently got off the ground, the revenue is still building up, but once enough has accumulated, “the city will involve stakeholders such as local residents and businesses in determining what kind of streetscape improvements should be funded,” said Erica Leak, of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department of the City of Austin. As of this quarter, around $100,000 has been set aside for local neighborhood improvements, which could consist of street trees, better sidewalks, rebuilt curbs and benches.
The parking meters run 5 days a week, from 8am to 5:30pm, and fill up by 10am and remain fairly full during the day, indicating that the $1.00 per hour rate may be set too low. But the rate is the same as in the rest of Austin, and the Parking Benefit District ordinance does not allow for city staff to adjust the rates based on occupancy, as does the Performance Parking Pilot Program (PDF) here in Washington, DC. Instead, to create turnover, there is a two hour parking time limit, and “feeding the meter” is not allowed.
The innovative part of this program over regular old parking meters is the dedicated funding, which is often essential to convincing local stakeholders that installing parking meters is acceptable. For example, the City of Pasadena repeatedly proposed installing parking meters in Old Pasadena to increase turnover and control occupancy, but it was the dedicated funding that brought the business community around. Dr Shoup:
What turned the tide is the city said to the property owners and merchants and residents, “If we put in parking meters, Old Pasadena keeps the revenue for public facilities” and, like that, they changed their attitude and they said, “Let’s run the meters until midnight and let’s run them on Sunday.”
According to Leak, the success of the program is a little too early to tell. “We haven’t spent the funds on local improvements yet, so it’s too early determine how many improvements can be funded through the program. But as far as promoting parking turnover and reducing a little of the spillover from the UT campus, it’s been a success.”
The City of Austin is looking into expanding the program to other areas, but no firm plans are made at this time.
Thanks to Erica Leak with the City of Austin for the interview.
My Comment: I think this program indicates that a successful parking program depends on two key elements, the first is demonstrated here where the money is dedicated to local improvements, the other is to set the rates based on occupancy and demand, which is what’s done in Redwood City, CA. I’m going to see if I can interview someone there and get their perspective. From Erica’s comments, it appears that the parking is very full during the day and that time limits are used to ensure some turnover. With the authority to set rates based on occupancy, the city could have more revenue to improve the community, and they could eliminate the time limits, which are inconvenient at best and at worst are hard to enforce and frustrating for the parker.