SF’s Parking Experiment to Test Shoup’s Traffic Theories

SFParkPilot_Cropped_small.jpgSF Park Pilot Areas – Richmond and West Portal control areas not featured

The Municipal Transportation Agency’s federally-funded parking experiment, SFPark, is shaping up to be the most powerful tool remaining in the city’s traffic-busting
toolbox considering the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s criticism of congestion pricing and Mayor Newsom’s recent tempered support for the plan.

SFPark is the largest dynamic parking demand management project in the
world, with 6,000 curbside
parking spaces and 11,500 off-street spaces in city-owned garages. The pilot will last for a year-and-a-half and focus on seven
target areas, most in the downtown business district and tourist areas
along the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Assuming
the time line isn’t delayed, the MTA will release a request
for proposals by the end of
January for vendors to install the technology required to map parking
patterns in the pilot areas.   With $19.8 million in federal funding
from San Francisco’s Urban Partnerhip Agreement
set to roll into city coffers in February, the MTA will install meters,
sensors and networks within two months and start collecting baseline
data in May.  After sixty days, parking managers will start adjusting
parking rates, which by law can be raised by no more than $.50/hour
every 30 days in the pilot zones; the control zones will not see any
change in pricing throughout the trial.

Jay Primus, the
MTA’s SFPark project leader, believes the public outreach
that has already
occurred with businesses, transportation experts, environmental
advocates, and community stakeholders will facilitate its
acceptance. If the pilot works as projected, Primus said the MTA expects the rate of parking fines will be reduced.  Though San Francisco’s parking fines are 57% of parking revenues (PDF, page 3)–a far cry from New York City’s parking woes, where parking fines are half a billion dollars annually
and more than 500% of parking revenues–the agency hopes to fulfill its
mandate to voters to improve the management of city streets

"Part of [SFPark] is to continue to realize the original promise of the MTA," Primus said.

SFPark_Billboard.jpgBetter parking data should reduce traffic from cruising.

The theoretical framework of dynamic parking management was popularized by Donald Shoup in 2005 with The High Cost of Free Parking, a nearly 800-page parking and land use bible.  Shoup’s dynamic management principles borrow from the example of telecommunications systems operating during peak load capacity periods.  Like telephone lines, parking in a city is essentially a fixed supply, though demand can fluctuate wildly by time of day and location.  When there is more demand for parking than supply, drivers waste a great deal of time and fuel looking for scarce spaces. 

Shoup argues that parking managers should price parking in accordance with market demands, raising the cost during peak usage periods and lowering it when there are surplus vacancies.

Shoup demonstrated that because of curbside saturation from under-priced parking, drivers in a 15-block area in Westwood, Los Angeles, traveled the equivalent of two round trips from the Earth to the Moon and burned over 47,000 gallons of fuel each year looking for parking.  In Park Slope, Brooklyn, Transportation Alternatives found that  45% of traffic is circling the block looking for a place to park.

Most advocates, like Tom Radulovich of San Francisco’s Livable City,  hold out hope SFPark will deliver as advertised:

The way we manage on-street parking creates shortages and the
political response is to create a lot more off-street parking.  It doesn’t fix the on-street problem, but drives up the cost of
building, makes housing less affordable, and generates more traffic.  Hopefully SFPark will show San Franciscans that the solution to the problems with on-street parking is not to require more off-street parking but to manage on-street parking better.

  • Hopefully this program will increase the turnover rate of parking in shopping areas so that people don’t drive around looking for parking. Also, hopefully people will start to see the real cost of parking. In London, long before they started their congestion charge, they began to control all parking (on-street, public/private garages, and home spaces). They began to limit the amount of parking built and charged a market rate for the rest. Luckily, they had a good transit system that afforded people a viable alternative after parking was limited. After years of this, London was fairly ready for the congestion charge we see today.

  • It’s interesting to hear this concept actually being pursued, for it was in 2000, when I had a roommate who had a background in city planning, when I was introduced to the idea. At the time that roommate was a strong believer in the idea that the low cost (via the parking stickers) of curbside parking was an insane and unsustainable way of operating, given the high cost of land in S.F. His idea was to actually create more single land, one-way streets to allow for removal of parking and expansion of housing. A bit more extreme than the current proposal but best utilizing the land. Maybe it IS time we decrease out subsidy of the automobile. I know permit prices have gone up since 2000, but so have land costs.

  • it’s your world!

    Imagine a world where the costs of running an efficient mechanized transportation system are born entirely within that system. The cost of providing infrastructure for cars and transit and bike lanes are all covered by the charges applied to each one. And prices are set so that the fastest, most comfortable way costs more than the slowest, least comfortable way. The cost difference should reflect the convenience and other things like environmental friendliness.

    Right now, I can drive to the Mission from the Haight and park for free for at least two hours during the day and all night long. Driving is fast and comfortable and I pay only a few pennies for gas. (Remember sunk costs don’t count.)

    If I take the 33 or do some transfer thing with the N and the 22, it takes me at least three times as long and it isn’t very comfortable. The cost for a round trip is $4.

    A taxi ride would set me back $14 but would require me to wait for the taxi or try and get lucky on Haight Street.

    So the most comfortable, fastest option is also by far the cheapest. Guess which one I choose?

    This is out of whack. The price of parking should be set so that I pay three times what I would pay to ride the bus — $12 and only somewhat less than a taxi ride.

    Priorities, people. Priorities.

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