One evening, I went to pick my wife up at work (it was her last day in that office and we had to move boxes out). Since it was getting late, the dinner plan was to eat out. I work at the Navy Yard, and one of my favorite nice lunch spots is The Old Siam, which is essentially at 8th and E SE, at the north end of the 8th street “Barracks Row” area. The vast majority of parking meters in that area are under the “Performance Parking” system, where meter rates are supposed to adjust based on demand, with a goal of providing some parking space availability.
According to a recent report by DDOT, there aren’t any blocks in the ballpark zone that need higher rates. My experience trying to visit this area at 7pm on Friday doesn’t match this report. My wife and I circled about a mile, and we must have passed about a hundred full metered spaces, one instance of double parking, and a few instances of waiting in non-legal spaces.
After driving nearly a mile looking for a parking space, my wife and I decided to give up. As we drove out, we noticed that the meters on M street (which charge the same price or perhaps 50 cents cheaper) were completely empty, but that was far to walk with two kids. We drove to Pentagon City to eat and paid $2 for an hour of parking. We would have been willing to pay the same or maybe a little more to park on 8th for dinner.
While I understand that this might have been an anomaly, I’m guessing it’s not. According to the performance parking report (PDF) for the Columbia Heights zone, DDOT stated that only three multispace meter blocks have occupancy above 85%. However, it appears that this is based on average occupancy, rather than maximum occupancy.
It’s important to adjust meter rates based on maximum occupancy because the goal of performance parking is to ensure that a parking space is always available on each block. If the rates are adjusted based on average occupancy, all that ensures is that the overcrowded parking during peak times is balanced by relatively empty parking during some other time of the day. If demand throughout the day is highly variable, it’s probably better to have two tiers of rates or some other way to offer discounted parking during off-peak times. The Port of San Francisco has two tiers and highly varied prices by location in order to better match prices with demand. Their maximum is $3 per hour (4 hr. max), and the minimum is $0.50 per hour. Some spaces are available for $1.00 per hour for a maximum of 12 hours.
Having the parking meter fees too low but with no spaces available is like a grocery store that offers heavily discounted bread. Sure, it’s a great deal, but they never have any bread. Eventually, you give up going to that store and to to a more expensive store that you know always has some bread available. That’s the point of performance parking, making sure that there’s always a space available.
My recommendations for DDOT are to report the data they’ve collected about the performance parking zones on a block-by-block and hour-by-hour basis. Rather than use the average occupancy to determine what areas need price changes, they should look at either the maximum occupancy, or throw out maybe a couple of outlier hours and look at the nearly maximum occupancy. If even at the peak, the blocks are still empty, the fees should decrease. But if at the peak, people are finding the spaces all full, then a meter fee increase is justified.