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.