Neighborhoods and Parking Reform: Show Them The Money

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Now that the Legislature has said "no" to pricing streets, attention has turned to pricing curbside parking. It’s no secret that meter rates are ridiculously low. This is because the DOT has been told by generations of mayors to keep the price down in an effort to appease motorists. The cost of this ill-considered gesture is a plague of cruising traffic, rampant double parking, congested streets, and motorists with nowhere to park paying $600 million a year in parking tickets.

The challenge for Mayor Bloomberg’s DOT is how to change public attitudes conditioned by decades of artificially low prices. DOT has painful memories of City Council’s 2005 decision to overrule a mayoral veto and suspend Sunday parking meters. The legislation was passed without an environmental review, and has gridlocked shopping streets, while costing taxpayers $20 million a year in lost revenue.

There is a politically popular way to overcome resistance to higher meter rates. City Hall should guarantee some of the meter revenue to neighborhood pedestrian cycling and transit improvements. Washington, DC and LA are doing it and it works. Transportation Alternatives, a number of Business Improvement Districts and internationally recognized authorities like UCLA’s Donald Shoup have urged New York City to give it a try. Unfortunately, the same City Hall that urged lawmakers to have an open mind on congestion pricing has been adamant that the city’s practice of sending all revenue to the general fund is unchangeable. Unlike congestion pricing, the size and scope of a "revenue return" pilot program would be easily adjustable and could work as an opt-in program combined with Residential Parking Permits.

Admittedly, revenue return is just one part of a much larger equation. But the harsh reality for a reform-minded DOT is that while there are pockets of support, there is no popular hue and cry for higher meter rates. The way out of this political gridlock is to give neighborhoods a direct stake in local parking reform by reinvesting some parking revenue in new sidewalks, traffic calming and bus improvements the average person can experience and appreciate.

Photo: English Man in New York City/Flickr

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The harsh reality for a reform-minded DOT is that while there are pockets of support, there is no popular hue and cry for higher meter rates.)

    How about the oppositional approach a troll posted yesterday — leave the cars alone, but make bikes pay to park at the meters. If space is taken away from cars, perhaps that isn’t a bad idea.

    After thinking about it, I like the idea of parking meter-bike racks with the first two hours free (so as not to charge shoppers, bike messengers, and delivery people) and 25 cents for a day (or $5.00 per month or less for commuters).

    Those on the sidewalk would be free. But those on the extended sidewalk taking space from parking (as on Bedford Avenue) would carry the charge, with the revenues used to take more parking spaces for more bike parking, etc.

    The sales tax revenues from bike shops, and bike sales elsewhere, could be similarly used. The state probably wouldn’t collect that information, but the city could pass an ordinance requiring stores to report their bike sales directly so the share of the sales tax from that source could be estimated.

    So cyclists would be paying a small congestion charge, proportionate to their (limited) congestion impact and space needs, (limited) road wear and tear and (zero) pollution. Drivers with placards and access to free parking would not be paying anything. So the logical response would be to shift lanes to the paying customers.

  • JIm N

    Under this plan, who would get to spend the revenue? Community boards?

  • Good lord, don’t give the money to the Community Boards! Give it to the BIDs.

  • Shoupie

    Shoup said to give it to BIDs.

    That’s a good call.

    Community Boards would only p-ss the money away.

  • Shoupie

    Actually, to be more precise, they would be Parking Districts, though BIDs could theoretically take on this function.

  • John Kaehny

    A realistic approach is to direct 1/2 of the additional meter revenue to DOT for ped/bike/transit improvements in and around the metered street(s). This is pretty much what Washington DC is doing. In NYC, this would be in conjunction with the Neighborhood Parking Plans and Residential Parking Permits recommended by the Traffic Mitigation Commission as part of congestion pricing. Giving meter money to NYC BIDs or PIDs would raise questions about privatization of a public revenue stream, and oversight and governance: issues NYC tends to have more problems with than other places. I think the BIDs would do a good job, but the politics aren’t right.

  • Car Free Nation

    What I’d really like to see is for the city to charge for parking in residential areas where there is no fee, and consequently, no empty spaces. This encourages double parking and other antisocial behavior. We should have only 85% utilization on any given street.
    It would certainly push some people who have cars and don’t use them much, to get rid of them.

  • shoupster

    A couple of thoughts: wouldn’t an opt in program raise the same old arguments of surrounding neighborhoods becoming parking lots because an adjacent neighborhood implemented increased tolls? Even if it was Manhattan wide, wouldn’t council members from the outer buroughs claim that their neighborhoods would become the new most favored neighborhoods to park in?

    One thing the defeat of CP taught us is that we need to have all our answers figured out before we propose massive changes to the system. I love the idea of parking reform, but do not want to see it overturned in the same way it was for the so-called “pay to pray” incident.

  • John, I see your point about the privatization of the revenue stream, although NYers seem to have accepted the role and authority of BIDs without much protest, giving those entities some funding seems like a natural next step.

    Is the RPP proposal developed to ameliorate park-n-ride effects of CP still on the liveable streets agenda now that there is no CP? I don’t see the need, and there is a downside to giving on-street parkers a vested interest in curbside space. I wouldn’t give that up without a meaningful quid pro quo.

  • bureaucrat

    i agree we should be wary of residential parking permits or any kind of parking permits, especially if they are neighborhood-specific. it gives the public a sense of ownership over what is, in the end, public space.

  • Spike

    I don’t think it makes sense to discourage people using parking meters by vastly increasing the cost. People using parking meters are shopping, going to the doctor, dinning out and so on. These people are often poorly served by public transportation. They may be trying to carry large packages, ill, or be in town late into the night when public transit is unavailable or rare to the suburbs. I supported the congested pricing plan which was designed to discourage commuters that have will usually have access to good public transit, although I didn’t understand the motivation for the high rates for delivery trucks. (Do you want to eat? then you have to have delivery trucks).

    The people who live outside Manhattan are New Yorkers too. Many who write to this blog clearly are wealthy people who reside in west village or soho, etc. who clearly don’t want the riffraff from the suburbs invading “their” space.

  • Dave

    Increasing parking meter rates will do nothing unless it is accompanied by parking permit policies that make sense. Otherwise you will simply drive people from the meters to circling looking for a free space.

    In Manhattan where garages are plentiful limit parking to two hours like Philadelphia and Boston. If you want to visit someone and stay longer…put it in a garage.

    Then not only increase meter rates but eliminate some meters to set aside delivery zones on every block to limit double-parking by delivery trucks.

    In the outer boroughs where there are fewer garages, you may have to sell day-passes to visitors and tweak the meter rates as well.

    The increased meter revenue should go to the city who pays to pave, police, and clean the streets. There aren’t BID’s everywhere and the CB’s would only squander it on more NIMBY-rhetoric.

  • JF

    People using parking meters are shopping, going to the doctor, dinning out and so on. These people are often poorly served by public transportation. They may be trying to carry large packages, ill, or be in town late into the night when public transit is unavailable or rare to the suburbs.

    Hoo boy. I guess anytime we mention anything that might involve anyone paying more for using their cars, we’re going to get this kind of response. Won’t somebody think of the poor suburbanites?

    Ill? WTF, Spike? When I feel ill or have large packages, I don’t use a parking meter – because, like the majority of New Yorkers, I don’t have a car! Are you going to pay for my cab fare? I didn’t think so. If people are in town late, let them park in a garage.

    In addition, let me just say that after congestion pricing was killed with these sob stories – many of which were blown way out of proportion, if not outright false – I’m not feeling very sympathetic. If you’re poorly served by public transportation, chances are very good that you chose that – don’t make me suffer for it.

    Otherwise you will simply drive people from the meters to circling looking for a free space.

    Parking meters are for short-term visitors, right? Well, spend any time near parking meters and you’ll find that many of them are used by people who aren’t just coming and going. Lots of shopkeepers park their cars right out front and feed the meter – and then complain that there’s not enough parking for their customers! One merchant I know told me that someone asked her to feed the meter while he parked his car out front … and went to work all day in Manhattan.

    Shoupian parking pricing is designed to deter that kind of use so that the meters can be put to their intended use: short-term parking for shopping and dining.

  • Jan

    “Spend any time near parking meters and you’ll find that many of them are used by people who aren’t just coming and going.”

    If you spend that much time by parking meters you need to get a life.

    JF, you put down Spike for generalizing and then you do EXACTLY the same thing. You make general statements that support (ha!) your position.

    “One merchant I know told me that someone asked her to feed the meter while he parked his car out front … and went to work all day in Manhattan.”

    Wow, if one merchant you know told you this, then if we generalize, hundreds and hundreds of merchants must be experiencing this, right?

    “Lots of shopkeepers park their cars right out front and feed the meter – and then complain that there’s not enough parking for their customers!”

    Where do you come up with these generalizations? Where? Because you’re looking for it and when you see it you say aha, see, there it is, another one to add to my enemy list. It is generalization after generalization. It doesn’t help.

  • JF

    Go away, Jan. Like many, I have no reason to believe that you care about liveable streets.

  • zach

    I have a friend visiting from car-loving LA. He is floored by how much more free on-street parking there is in NYC than in LA.

  • JK

    Philosophically, I agree with concerns about RPP’s creating yet another motoring entitlement. Practically though, they are crucial to allaying concerns about displacing traffic when meter rates are raised. At the moment, DC has probably the most advanced curbside pricing experiment in the country going and they explicitly connect Shoupian metering to RPPs. We can’t be afraid to try new things, including RPP’s. Experiments are usually easier on smaller, incremental, opt-in basis.

  • NYC should meter all the spaces but allow long term parking on the side streets and let residents buy munimeter scrip at a discount. Monetize the benefit they are getting so there is transparency. Then let the residents compete in the political process, along with all the other claimants on the public fisc, to protect their “entitlement” to cut-rate meter scrip. As long as parking is free, curbside parkers get to pretend that giving away 10%+ of the public land to them somehow reflects the state of nature.

  • ChipSeal

    Why not eliminate curbside parking and open up the public space for all road users?

  • Chip, I thought your question was worth a long answer, but briefly: when people are driving more than 15-20 miles per hour, curbside parking improves pedestrian safety.

    http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2008/04/curbside-parking-cant-live-with-it-cant.html

  • bicyclesonly

    There is also the issue of political feasibility, which is front and center after the CP debacle.

  • Is it just me or are there a lot more of these parking boots around lately? I’d love to see any tangible sign that DoT and NYPD are cooperating.

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