Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stakeholder Input on Parking

City Manager Eric Anderson's presentation yesterday to members of the Tacoma City Council really just began the public process to develop a final action plan for City of Tacoma leaders.

The Transit & Parking Committee has reworked its stakeholder recommendations, and the most important findings are as follows:

  • As downtown Tacoma continues to grow and increase in development density, the City needs to maximize the effective deployment of transit services and other commute options, and to maximize coordination between transit services and parking operations;

  • An effective downtown transportation plan should be developed that considers pedestrian, bicycle, carpool, vanpool, bus, rail, Flexcar and parking as coordinated elements of a strategic transportation system;

  • Consistent, robust communication with stakeholders—the users of transit and parking services downtown, as well as equally strong communication between agencies and between City departments—will be critical to successful implementation of such policies; the City, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and downtown stakeholders should institute a Downtown Transit & Parking Panel to foster regular communication and facilitate collaborative decision-making among parking facilities managers, parking enforcement personnel, commute trip reduction specialists, transit providers, security professionals and a broad representation of stakeholders;

  • By 2020, Tacoma’s downtown area is projected to add 11,600 jobs (an estimate from the Puget Sound Regional Council); at the current level (roughly 5%) of transit use, accommodating this growth will require creation of 11,020 new parking stalls--by way of comparison, this is nearly five times the number of spaces currently existing at Tacoma Dome Station--but increasing transit use by just 4% over the same period would save the community more than $9 million.
The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee is also working with the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber to launch a new program: Destination Downtown Door-to-Door. This program will build momentum—augmenting current CTR programs that already promote use of excellent local and regional transit services—to promote awareness and utilization of commute options.

The full set of recommendations will be out later this week.


  1. An effective downtown transportation plan should be developed that considers pedestrian, bicycle, carpool, vanpool, bus, rail, Flexcar and parking as coordinated elements of a strategic transportation system;

    All good ideas and aspirations.

    The next question is what ordinance does the Tacoma City Council need to pass to implement a "best method" approach and what portion needs to be left to the Parking Advisory Committee and city staff.

    The model Professor Shoup recommends is for the city to implement a model ordinance
    which reflects the agreement as the methodology of setting the parking rate at a level to creat a 15 percent vacancy.

    Otherwise, each adjustment of the parking rate in an area of downtown has to come before the city council which will make it impossible to meaningfully regulate according to market demand.

    Setting Parking Zones

    The city staff already has the technology to monitor parking occupancy rates. They should do so and make the data available online for the public. This will re-assure the public that parking rates are being set based on an agreed and appropriate methodology and that the city is not overcharging.

    Then zones can be determined based on areas which have similar parking demand. (Olympia has 4. Two which are free, two which charge for parking.)

    Setting Parking Rates

    In the zones with the high demand and which have an occupancy over 85 percent, pay stations can be put in charging a very low amount to get everyone used to them and to make sure the price does not overhsoot the demand. $0.25 per hour should be the starting rate.

    The occupancy rates are then monitored. If occupancy is still above 85 percent, the price can be raised until it hits an 85 percent level.

    Role of Parking Commission

    The Parking Commission with the various stakeholders should remain intact and advise the city staff as to the area in which charing for parking is appropriate, areas which should be free and when rates should go up or down.

    They should make a recommendation on a periodic basis (quarterly?)

    The Parking Commission's role should be to interpret the occupancy data and implement the City of Tacoma Parking ordinance.

    For a model implementation of a parking system, see:Redwood City’s Free-Market Parking Meters

  2. Here's the article:

    One solution is free-market parking. Set parking meter prices so that 85% of spaces are occupied and 15% are open at any given moment. This idea has been getting more attention lately, and Redwood City, CA is the locality that has put the most advanced implementation into action.

    Dan Zack is the downtown development coordinator for Redwood City and developed and administers the city’s downtown parking program. He wrote in a March 27, 2007 listserv post:

    We have only been fully operational for three weeks, however the early results are looking good.

    We never had an overall parking shortage, but our prime areas were always chronically congested, with the frustration, cruising, and complaints of “this place has no parking” that parking congestion entails. However, within a few blocks there were always plenty of spaces. We had an odd system in which Broadway (the main drag) was free, while side streets and garages were metered. So people were actually given no incentive to walk a little bit — they were actually penalized for it!

    We were willing to bet that people would be willing to walk if there was a reward. So we set up a system in which the main drag is 75¢ per hour, side streets are 50¢ per hour, and lots/garages are 50¢, 25¢, or free depending on their desirability. We were so confident in the ability of prices to effectively distribute people that we eliminated time limits. Time limits were difficult to enforce and resulted in a very inconvenient system for customers, while employees easily evaded them and sat in prime spaces all day.

    Pricing curb parking by street is really the key to Redwood City’s strategy. Here is a map of the city’s parking prices as of March 10, 2007:

    Zack describes the results of the parking strategy:

    Also, we borrowed a page from Pasadena’s playbook and have dedicated all surplus parking revenue (after parking expenses are paid) to increasing cleanliness, safety, lighting, street furniture, and other amenities that will make Downtown a nicer place to live, work, eat, see a band, and shop.

    That last paragraph brings up an important point about political acceptance. Try proposing higher parking rates, and people will react as if their cars are being confiscated. For free-market curb parking to win acceptance, the benefits to the affected businesses must outweigh the costs.

    In Pasadena, CA, parking meter revenue goes directly to the downtown business improvement district, bypassing the city’s general fund entirely.

    At first the merchants went crazy about the cost increase. When we told them about how there will be no time limits, that we’ll be power-washing the sidewalks, they were in. When we had a City Council meeting, merchants came to support it.

    New Tech

    New parking meter technology is making Redwood City’s parking extremely flexible and convenient. From his desk, Zack can monitor vacancy rates and change the hourly price for downtown spaces. The system is easy to use: Customers simply enter their parking space number and pay. The city’s 40 parking meters have WiFi connectivity so that customers will get real-time credit card authorization, pay-by-cell-phone integration and the ability to add time at any pay station, from any location. Zack says,

    In summary, Redwood City’s program is shaping up to be a best practice in parking management. From all the reports to date, it’s an approach that nearly all downtowns could benefit from.