Of all the transportation priorities DDOT has on its plate a full redesign of the District’s on-street parking environment using Performance Parking principles should be at the top.
Performance parking is the only transportation upgrade that is self-financing in the short term. As a refresher, Performance Parking is the principle that a city should charge the right price for on-street parking (the lowest price that ensures at least some empty spaces per block), and devote the revenue to local improvements. The policy offers clear benefits to a wide variety of groups:
Drivers: The policy would ensure that parking is available everywhere in the city, without having to drive in circles to search for it. Eliminating time limits would allow drivers to buy as much as they need without having to return to feed the meter. Because drivers spend less time searching for parking, there is less congestion.
Transit: Fewer cars on the road improves bus travel speeds. Transit riders get to their destinations quicker. The transit agency can then operate buses more frequently with the same operating subsidy. Reduced urban congestion would also improve schedule reliability.
Pedestrians: Without Performance Parking, drivers searching for parking are often paying more attention to searching than to watching for pedestrians. Hunting for parking involves a lot of turns, inviting vehicle/pedestrian conflicts. Drivers who notice an empty space (when they’re rare) may make sudden moves to claim it. If empty spaces are more common, the search will be less distracting. Additionally, the revenue devoted to the local streetscape can repair sidewalks, provide trash pickup, build tree boxes, install wayfinding signs, etc.
Cyclists: As with pedestrians, making sure drivers have parking spaces readily available reduces the number of distracted drivers. Some of the revenue from parking meters could buy bicycle racks or other amenities.
The District: Obviously in a lot of parking areas the revenue gains are substantial. If the revenue is spent wisely, improving DC’s commercial nighborhoods and destinations, DC’s bottom line in other areas such as sales and property tax revenues could be improved as well.
Local businesses: In areas that suffer from on-street parking shortages, it’s hard to argue that cheap but overcrowded parking somehow encourages more customers to come and shop than more expensive but available parking. If anything, the expectation that parking will be hard to find is a bigger deterrent than any price. Consider: Adams Morgan on-street parking is 50 cents per hour and free during evenings. Does anyone expect to drive to AM during peak evening hours and find a place to park for free? When parking is underpriced or kept free, the experience in other cities is often that employees or owners park in the convenient spaces and shuffle their cars around to circumvent time restrictions. Plus, there are some areas that have lower demand that could benefit from having lower prices or fewer restrictions. In those areas, the current parking policies are hurting local businesses.
So what’s the biggest argument against performance parking? Is it that the idea is relatively new and hasn’t been tried much before? That collecting the data and adjusting rates is more complicated than just deciding the hours and price by fiat? That there’s a more fair way to allocate street parking space other than who’s willing to pay to use it?
Coming up: What should DDOT do next?