Park Smart Pilot Has Cut Traffic in Park Slope, DOT Finds

fifth_ave_delivery.jpgDouble parking on Fifth Avenue is one sign that the price of parking is too low. Photo: Ben Fried

They call it No-Park Slope for a reason: At many times of day, motorists looking for a legit spot in this Brooklyn neighborhood wind up cruising the streets endlessly in frustration. Because on-street parking spaces are some of the cheapest real estate in the city, drivers snap up the bargain and create parking shortages, leading to excess traffic and double-parking. In the end, everyone pays for the cheap price of parking: motorists who lose time, pedestrians and cyclists endangered by excessive traffic and double-parking, and bus riders delayed by congestion. Now it looks like there’s some relief in sight.

NYCDOT’s Park Smart program, which raises the price of on-street spaces when demand is highest, has helped more people find parking in Park Slope while relieving the traffic caused by cruising for a space, according to new data released by the agency.

In Park Slope, the only Park Smart pilot area outside Manhattan so far, meter rates went up 75 cents per hour along parts of Fifth and Seventh Avenues between noon and 4 p.m. (when curb spaces are scarce and traffic is intense), bringing the total to $1.50 per hour. The goal is to increase parking turnover, freeing up spaces sooner so motorists spend less time searching for a spot. 

The Park Slope changes took effect in April 2009, so for an apples-to-apples comparison, DOT set out this April to measure the changes on the neighborhood’s main commercial corridors.

As intended, during the peak period, the average amount of time that drivers parked in the pilot area decreased significantly, according to DOT’s analysis [PDF]. On Fifth Avenue, the average time that a car occupied a given spot dropped from about an hour and ten minutes to 58 minutes: a 17 percent drop. On Seventh, the drop was even larger: 23 percent. (It’s worth noting, though, that you’re only allowed to stay at these spaces for an hour; changes in enforcement could be a factor in addition to price.)

Higher turnover means more customers for the shops and restaurants that line each of those corridors. DOT surveyors counted a 17 percent increase in the number of unique vehicles parked along Fifth and an 18 percent increase along Seventh. With more cars using the spaces for shorter times, the overall occupancy of parking spaces along each corridor remained essentially unchanged.

In neighborhoods like Park Slope, where a Transportation Alternatives study
found that more than half of all traffic consists of endless cruising
for a free space, Park Smart also serves as a
congestion killer. During the peak period, traffic volumes dropped by
five percent on Fifth and nine percent on Seventh. Traffic is down even as more people are able to reach Park Slope by
car, a rare combination.

"The city is doing the right thing," said UCLA professor and parking expert Donald Shoup, praising the willingness to use meter prices to affect the broader transportation system.

DOT has not stated a specific goal for the Park Smart pilot areas, though, which Shoup said makes it impossible to properly assess the program. He recommended following the lead of California cities, which have made an occupancy rate of 85 percent their target. "That leads to one or two open spaces per block," he explained, "so that the parking is both well-used and readily available." On Seventh, the occupancy rates remained above 90 percent after Park Smart’s implementation. 

Though some local merchants have protested that the higher prices have driven customers away, the facts suggest that Park Smart has brought more potential shoppers into the area. Moreover, just over half of all parkers told DOT they weren’t even aware they had paid a higher rate. (Of course, most Park Slope customers aren’t looking for parking at all. DOT found that only 15 percent of people on Fifth or Seventh had driven there, while a full 68 percent had walked.)

Looking at the data, Shoup guessed that the price was still too low. "If
40 percent are very frustrated with finding parking and over half
didn’t even notice the price go up, you should nudge it up a little
further," he suggested.

Further rate hikes during peak hours (or replacement of free alternate side parking on side streets with meters) could likely cut traffic even more. At $1.50 per hour, it’s still a huge bargain to cruise for an on-street space rather than pay for a garage.

In fact, the numbers show that Park Smart is one of the very few arrows
in DOT’s quiver capable of putting a dent in traffic. And as the
only Park Smart pilot outside Manhattan, Park Slope’s example shows
that the program can work even where the transit network isn’t quite so
robust. 

"It looks like Park Smart is working from both a traffic management and a local business perspective," said T.A. Deputy Director Noah Budnick. "Cruising is a major problem in Park Slope and the pilot seems to be fixing it." Budnick called for future DOT assessments of Park Smart to measure whether the program has helped reduce illegal parking.

ParkSlopeParkSmart.pngDOT proposed extending the Park Smart zone from the light blue areas on this map into the orange areas.

With the stats telling a success story, DOT has proposed making the pilot permanent and significantly expanding the zone in Park Slope (see the map for details).

Shoup urged DOT to expand Park Smart to many more neighborhoods as well. "When you add up all that cruising, it does a lot of damage not only to the neighborhood, but to the whole earth," he argued. Guessing cruising was common across at least Manhattan, Shoup said "I don’t see how you can claim to be a green city if that’s happening everywhere."

In a presentation to Brooklyn Community Board 6 in June, DOT also called for extending the Park Slope pilot’s hours in addition to its borders. Finding that evening spaces were about as scarce as afternoon ones, DOT recommended extending the peak parking rate through the end of metered hours, to 7 p.m. Along the northern end of Fifth, which is dominated by restaurant parking, DOT called for extending Park Smart’s hours until 9 p.m.

The most controversial recommendation, predictably, was DOT’s suggestion of upping the peak rate from $1.50 per hour to $2.25. While Community Board 6’s transportation committee has recommended accepting DOT’s proposed expansion of Park Smart, according to district manager Craig Hammerman, the full board put off the vote about the rate hike until its September meeting.

  • Shoup says that the way to get merchant and neighborhood support is by reserving some of the increased revenues for improvements on the street. Are they doing that in Park Slope?

  • They aren’t doing revenue return here in NYC. My understanding is that setting it up would require a revision to the city charter.

    From what I’ve been told, several merchants are in favor of the Park Smart program, but they’re not always the most vocal about it. The fact that more people are filling the parking spaces should be sufficient evidence to win more merchant support.

  • Why does it seem that every time we try to implement sustainable transportation policy in New York, our hands get tied? Revenue return requires a revision to the city charter, bus-mounted enforcement cameras and congestion pricing require approval from the state legislature, etc. ad nauseum.

  • Boogiedown

    “…(or replacement of free alternate side parking on side streets with meters)…”

    BINGO. This should be done all over the city–and I say that as a car owner!

  • Another way to win motorist buy-in is to introduce more convenient payment options, i.e. pay-by-phone. When we interviewed Jimmy Vacca in May, he didn’t like the sound of Park Smart, but his eyes lit up at the mention of being able to pay by phone and receive a text alert before the meter expires. People hate paying parking tickets more than they hate paying for curb space.

  • Yes, I think that most people can (eventually) accept paying for a service (even if it was previously free) because they are at least receiving something in exchange for their money, whereas no one likes to pay a fine, which is at best a hassle, a negative exchange, and a form of punishment.

  • Evan

    I’d just like to point out that street parking in downtown Portland costs $1.60.

  • Joby

    There are still a lot of drivers in this city. As we are trying to change an entire culture of entitlement when it comes to driving in NYC it is important that drivers feel they are getting something for the extra money they are paying. Increasing turnover of parking spots is a great goal and increasing the price of on street parking is a great way to achieve this. Throwing in simple things like pay-by-phone and text message alerts would be a great way to get them to acquiesce to the higher prices. Having a sensor @ each parking space would accomplish two things, (1) drivers would be able sometime in the future find a spot quickly using the technology and GPS in their car (thus reducing driving around in search of parking), and (2) allow the smart deployment of parking enforcement agents to where they are needed at any given time (so you need fewer of them but they get more done).

  • Joby

    Also, as others have mentioned revenue return needs to be part of the mix. This way the money raised by the meters can go to LOCAL improvements rather than the city general fund.

  • Car Free Nation

    Why is DOT being so tentative with the pricing? Even with the program, parking is still very difficult. If the price were $5/hr or even $10/hr, I think we’d find more open spots, and people would find spots.

    And why limit it to commercial streets?

    On my block with free alternate side parking, someone has parked a non-working car for almost a year. Every week, they get out and push it across the street, and then on the next day, they push it back. If we charged even a small amount for parking, I’m sure they’d have it towed somewhere and thereby free up a spot for someone else.

  • MRN

    I don’t think SF-style parking sensors will work (at least, that’s the conventional wisdom) given the weather in NYC.

  • MRN

    also @joby et al,
    Given the massive budget shortfalls, parking revenue should probably continue going to the general fund (or wherever it currently heads), rather than some special fund for Park Slope and Greenwich Village (which would get instantly eviscerated in the press). The parking price is still below market rate so parkers don’t have much right to complain about the price. Also, the park smart rate is only in effect a few hours a day – they should raise the baseline rate also.

  • Joby

    @MRN I agree about the general fund if this continues to be in just those neighborhoods but in all reality this program should be expanded to many other neighborhoods including Bayside, Flushing, etc. Merchants will get behind this if they can see a benefit to their business and customers.
    Re: Parking sensors, maybe the tech they are using in SF wont work – however, if you are allowing people to pay by cellphone, presumably the cell phone networks will allow your data to piggy back on their network as well.

  • Anon

    But higher turnover translates into more car trips. Furthermore, if the goal is to make it easier to find parking, then that means DOT is making it easier to drive. Do we really want to make it easier for people to drive to pedestrian-oriented shopping districts?

    What about charging “market” rates for on-street parking, but doing it in a way that discourages short-term parking? This is essentially how private garages do it — often parking for 1 or 2 hours is practically half of the all-day rate.

  • zach

    Anon-

    Is the increased number of people driving to 7th ave, for example, going to be more than the number who are now driving around looking for parking, which is half the cars on the road during prime hours? Are twice as many people going to drive there? Your point is a good one, but the inconvenience of driving is more than the inconvenience of parking, and I can’t see the numbers adding up. Most people are quite happy to walk or take the train.

    Plus if fewer people were double-parked, buses would move faster, and more people would take them rather than driving.

  • Andrew

    In downtown Vancouver meters can be up to $6.00 a hour and they’re in effect until 10pm. It seems like there are always a couple of empty spaces which cuts down on peple looking for parking. You’re also been able to pay by phone for awhile now.

  • Brooklyn

    The NY1 report notes that the meter machines on Fifth Avenue accept only quarters. This is beyond stupid if you’re pricing at $1.50 an hour and up.

  • @Brooklyn,

    That NY1 story is many months old. There was a short-term software glitch when the Muni Meters were first installed. They’ve been accepting credit cards and NYC parking cards, in addition to good old-fashioned quarters, since shortly after that report aired.

  • JK

    NYC should look to get pay by phone on the street as soon as possible. Motorists like it and perceive value in it. DOT should introduce pay by phone as part of package along with peak hour metering, longer metering periods, and more spaces metered — especially what DOT calls “spur” parking, adjacent to retail avenues, as they’ve done on Fordham Road in the Bronx.

    Per Ben Fried, dedicating meter parking to anything would require a change in the City Charter and would be strongly opposed by the Mayor and the budget office. They fear what would happen if city revenue streams started getting earmarked.

  • zach

    If we can get the fed to stop minting dollar bills, dollar coins will be common and we can easily feed meters with them. If we’re going to pay six dollars an hour like in Vancouver, we might have to mint only five dollar coins as well. How great would it be to buy lunch with a single coin like our parents did?

    Apologies for running off topic.

  • MRN

    @zach

    In Canada, they have $2 coins. But really… I try not to carry much cash currency with me, regardless of if it’s coins or bills. Electronic options are the way to go. I know this would be an issue for those w/o bank accounts (although who with a [legal] car doesn’t have one?) but it’s still the future

  • This analysis is lacking a control group comparison. Traffic volumes are down 5-9%, but that could be common throughout the city (probably due to the economy) and may have nothing to do with the parking meters. The average parking duration is down and the number of unique vehicles are up, which is good for businesses, but since the average parking occupancy is the same I doubt it’s started to reduce cruising, ADT, or VMT yet.

  • Doug

    @MRN. Poor people who don’t have real banking services in their neighborhood don’t have bank accounts (nor credit cards). It’s been a huge issue for some time now, and is the reason there are so many check cashing places.

  • Jay

    Revenue return is an interesting idea, but I have concerns as it has the potential to create a vested interest for a BID to fight to protect parking spaces.

    Currently, merchants perceive an interest in keeping parking as a service they believe attracts customers. This perception, however, can be broken down with arguments, evidence, and experience with a customer base that relies on transit and bicycles. Even with the narrow concern about accommodating people who drive, as others have noted, more customers could have access with better turnover on the meters. No additional incentives may be necessary.

    With revenue return, however, the merchants would have an added motivation to fight to keep every parking space. This would protect the revenue base from the parking meters to provide them with their additional cleaning, streetscape improvements, etc. That would make it that much more difficult to persuade them to remove parking for something like a dedicated bus lane, a cycle track, or even a few neckdowns.

  • Alyssa

    In addition to increasing parking turnover with the Park Smart program I’m surprised NYC hasn’t implemented Restricted Parking Zones like those in other cities. Residents provide proof to the city of their address (lease or deed) and then pay a small annual fee (it was $40 in Seattle in 2007) to park in their neighborhood zone at any time. Outside users either paid for their parking or were only allowed 1 hr free between the hours of 8am-9pm (standard hours for Seattle’s system). Not only do motorists start paying for a fraction of the expense of maintaining thousands of miles of parking, (i.e. spaces for EMPTY cars) but they have a better chance of finding parking in their own neighborhood. Seems like a win win for DOT and residents.

    Also there needs to be more designated and enforced loading zones with specific hours for deliveries throughout this city. Double parked trucks are the number one reason why I’m nearly hit on my bike everyday.

    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/parking/parkingrpz.htm

  • Ian Turner

    John,

    It’s true that you can’t show causation without an RCT, which the government should do more of. But it’s wrong to say that this hasn’t reduced cruising simply because spaces are still full. If the number of vehicles are up because people are taking shorter visits, cruising could be reduced.

    –Ian

  • JamesR

    Alyssa, a resident parking program was discussed ad nauseum in NYC a couple of years ago during the congestion pricing debate. I think the idea at the time was to implement RPP in order to prevent suburban commuters from flooding transit-accessible neighborhoods outside of the pricing cordon area with cars during the work day. It’s an idea whose time will come sooner or later, just a question of when.

  • Albany has already addressed the potential problem of commuters flooding transit-accessible neighborhoods by making deep cuts to transit.

  • Raj Cherubal

    One point I learnt talking to an official in Singapore is that never use congestion charges, parking pricing etc. to raise revenue. Focus on the objectives of the policy and achieve them. People become cynical and revolt when they suspect that govt is doing this just to make money. Implementing congestion charges, Singapore govt actually lost revenue but achieved its goal of maintaining constant level of traffic in CBD. (Official said many Singapore citizens still don’t believe this).

    Shoup’s idea of using the revenue locally is an excellent one.Surely reduces resentment and heartburn.

  • Finally parking reform is starting to happen in NYC. Cruising for parking directly increase air pollution, noise pollution, and cancer rates. If the whole city adopted, we would have less congestion, more peaceful streets, and less deaths per year due to traffic accidents (which causes 2.2billion/year to the tax payers.) So we would also have a more balanced budget. Less congestion = less aggressive driving culture. Period. Nice post.

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