Doing it right the second time around: parking returns to Council

It was a great pleasure watching the City Council’s Public Works Committee’s discussion of parking issues last Tuesday.

As most of you probably remember, the City Council voted to raise the hourly parking meter price to $2 and extend the operating hours of parking meters from 6 to 8 PM as part of this summer’s budget process. The changes, coupled with a widespread perception of increased aggressiveness in parking enforcement and one very angry business owner with a very large billboard, created significant outcry among both residents and business groups. In response to the vocal opposition, the Council agreed to revisit the parking issue.

At first, most Councilmembers insisted they would not be willing to roll back the parking meter hours unless they could find a way to make up the revenue from “within the parking world,” so that the rollback would not further impact City services. When it became clear that there was not some magic way nobody had thought of before to generate another million dollars a year from parking, they changed their minds, and consented to rolling the meter hours back to 6 PM anyway. The lost money was to be supplemented with a combination of parking enforcement measures backed by unrealistic revenue assumptions and revenue from a future billboard agreement. The angry people (most of them, anyway) went away, and Council meetings are once again relatively quiet.

Another part of the agreement to roll back the meter hours was that staff would conduct a citywide parking study to inform future parking-related decisions. On Tuesday, the Public Works Committee discussed what exactly that study will involve.

Staff’s presentation was great. They propose a departure from the City’s current approach to parking management, where parking is looked at not simply as a revenue source, but as a “tool to enhance economic and community development,” and looking at revenue generated by paid parking as only a secondary function, the primary function being that people coming to commercial districts always have a place to park.

To guide the study, staff proposed the following set of principles:

  • Parking should be actively managed to maximize use and economic development
    • Parking should be treated as an asset that works to bolster the economic vitality of neighborhood commercial areas
    • Parking should be managed to achieve an approximate 85% maximum occupancy per block, so that there will always be some parking available to shoppers and visitors
    • Parking should be priced to achieve usage goals (“market pricing”); market prices may vary by area, and by time of day
    • Whenever possible, a portion of parking revenue should be reinvested directly back to neighborhood commercial district improvements, potentially through a mechanism such as a parking benefit district
  • Parking should be easy for customers
    • Costs, rules and penalties should be easily comprehensible
    • A variety of fare media (prepaid cards, credit cards, cash) should be available
    • If possible, and where appropriate, time limits should be avoided in favor of market pricing
    • The role of tickets should be minimized in generated parking revenue; it should be easier to pay parking fees, which may lower the incidence of tickets
  • Parking policy and regulations should help the City meet other transportation, land use, and environmental goals
    • Pricing and policies should encourage a “park once” approach, rather than driving from store to store within a commercial district
    • Parking should be part of a multi-modal approach to developing neighborhood transportation infrastructure, which also includes bike, pedestrian and transit facilities

It’s an excellent, common-sense list.

Using these guiding principles, staff would spend the next X months conducting the requested parking study. It would go like this. First, staff would attempt to work with stakeholders (property owners, businesses, and residents) to identify their parking issues through a combination of public workshops, interviews, and surveys. Based on this, a set of pilot study areas would be selected.

This would be followed by a period of data collection in the pilot study areas, where parking inventory (on and off street) would be cataloged and parking occupancy in different areas and different times of day would be measured. The information would be used to “develop a parking profile that identifies when parking is actually being used – weekday/weekend, midday/evening – and who’s using it, and why.”

The parking profile would be then used to create a parking management plan, which would then be brought back to stakeholders for feedback and refinement.

In terms of a timeline, the stakeholder outreach period would begin this winter, and staff would return to Council in the spring with a set of policy recommendations and three pilot study areas. Data would be collected during the late spring, recommendations for hours, rates, and so on would be offered up for stakeholder feedback over the summer, and Council would look at a final proposal next fall.

But it wasn’t just that staff’s presentation and proposal were so good that made the meeting so enjoyable. The discussion among the Committee was great as well.

District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks was insistent that parking not be explored in a vacuum, but as part of a more wholistic and comprehensive transportation policy. Other Committee members agreed, and asked for a reordering of the study’s principles, so that the last one (about parking policy helping the City meet other goals) would become the first and most important.

Most of the conversation was focused broadly, although At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan raised a few specific issues, saying that the needs of delivery vehicles in particular should be looked at, and finding ways to encourage the use of transportation alternatives for employees should be a major concern, since a single parking space can accommodate multiple customers throughout the day if it is not being occupied by one employee.

Kaplan went on to suggest that before the parking study is completed, the Council work with their State lobbyist to change some State laws in ways that could help the City better manage parking, and also help financially. She noted, as many people have over the past six months, that much of Oakland’s on-street parking supply is occupied by cars with disabled parking placards, many of which are clearly not legitimate. This City’s ability to enforce against this problem is limited, but perhaps the problem could be ameliorated to some degree by the removal of the primary incentive for such abuse – free parking.

Personally, I’ve never thought it made sense to not charge cars with disabled placards for parking meters. The point of the placards is to give those with limited mobility better access to close-in parking spaces. Anyway, it turns out that it’s State law that mandates disabled parking be free, so Kaplan suggested we work to get that changed.

She also raised a second State issue, which is that Oakland is currently forced to use two separate vehicles (and therefore staff) for street sweeping – one to sweep and one to give tickets, because of limits on how tickets can be issued. In order to adopt a money-saving model like that in place in Washington DC, where only one vehicle is used and tickets are issued automatically through cameras on the street sweeping vehicles (similar to the process for red-light cameras), State law would also have to be changed.

After the discussion, the Committee asked staff to return to the next meeting on December 15th with their requested revisions and for further discussion. I was sad about the rollback of the parking meter hours in October, but I’m very happy that at least this time, the Council seems committed to a thorough, evidenced-based process for making parking policy changes.

There are no links in this post at the moment due to severe internet connection problems. I will come back and add them when I can, hopefully tonight, maybe Saturday morning.

30 thoughts on “Doing it right the second time around: parking returns to Council

  1. Mike Spencer

    I read this and think: So this is how people in government go about making sure they have enough work to do and to give themselves job security. Like the City has never taken this stuff into consideration before and we need another study?

    Roll back the hours to 6 pm–seems fair–and be vigilant in enforcement on meter violations. How many workers are going to be doing this study and what is the cost of that?( I got booted a few weeks ago and learned a painful lesson. The lesson is I better have a ton of change, a bank card or only use lots that don’t have meters. The aggressive enforcement is working.)

    Oakland should know the price points by now and how this should work. Seems that .25 for 10 minutes or $1.50/per hour is fair, not quite as much as San Francisco but more than most places.

  2. KenO

    Sounds like promising stuff. Can’t wait for peak/congestion type street meter pricing.

    I’m most irritated when I can’t find a parking spot, so pricing should be based on demand. Think back to the days of let’s-flip-this-house.

    If lots of people want that particular real estate, let them bid on it.

    Why not with parking spaces?

    Sure, that brings in equity issues, but there’ve always been rich and poor and always will be, and there just isn’t infinite room for everyone to park their cars all over Oakland. Nor is there infinite gas or money to pay for the gas.

    Less driving means more exercise anyway, and we all need more of that.

    Good to see council putting in place policy based on data and research.

  3. Ralph

    Mike, you would think the city would have the type of data described above but it doesn’t, which is why council could not stick to their guns earlier. Any time, one says the price seems right without evidence, you are begging for a fight. Our council is a bit weak in hte knees so they buckled at first, but they are coming back strong for round two. Personally, I am all for regular ticketing of deadbeats. It is a good and effective message, but some Oaklanders and with the support of the media made it feel as if the world had ended when in reality the analysis indicates fewer tickets were issued this year (Jul – Sep).

    Now if we could just get those state laws changed. I could be wrong but I have always interpreted that pesky law as saying on average a disabled person is going to earn less than a non-disabled person, thus they should not have to pay the meter. Because, honestly, the law makes no sense, so there must be some equally nonsensical explanation for why it is.

  4. Robert

    The proposal and list actually seems pretty good, with a few things to note. First there aren’t any goals articulated for parking, and the proposal does not indicate that those goals are going to be identified in the study.A goal might be how many times we want a parking space to turn over, or how long an individual customer might occupy a space, or how long it takes to find a space. While it might not be possible to identify those goals before hand, determination of those goals should be one of the required outcomes of the study.

    There is no indication that metrics for the pilot program are going to be identified to measure how we are doing in reaching the goals. Ideally local business activity would be a metric, but other metrics such as number of unique customers in a district might be alternatives. Again, those don’t need to be identified in the proposal, but the identification of the metrics needs to be a required outcome of the study.

    Thirdly, while the 85% number might seem to many like a goal, in reality it is a specific target for a specific measurement (parking availability) to measure compliance with some unknown goal (time to park?, business activity?). Although 85% might be a good starting point given available literature, the final target is something that properly come out of the pilot study. Assuming that goals and metrics were developed beforehand.

    Finally, there is no way this proposed study should take $200,000. It is a weeks worth of work to review other cities and the literature, another week to talk to business groups in the various commercial districts, and then a week to write it up. Even in Oakland a month’s worth of work doesn’t cost $200,000. This is the sort of relatively small project that is usually given to some department in a company to do in their ‘free’ time, with no budgeting cost at all. And face it, San Francisco just completed a similar parking proposal, and the general stuff in that could all be copied.

    While I would agree with Desley Brooks that this should be part of a larger transportation element, to merge with transportation goals, waiting for that will only mean that this parking study won’t happen in our lifetimes. Even with the limitations above, starting this study, and starting the process to arrive at a rational parking strategy, is too important for the city to wait.

  5. len raphael

    proceed w caution on eliminating alt side of street meter maids/men. the same people enforce parking permits. they might also be augmenting OPD as eyes on the street.


  6. Robert

    Ralph, fewer tickets with more parking enforcement personnel should be a fascinating lesson for the city administration to learn from.

  7. Born in Oakland

    $2 per hour to park in Oakland? You need a fistful of quarters to feed the meter. (Sorry, but we still have the old ones in the flats.) Pay with a credit card on the new machines…..minimum 2$ charge, but you only wanted to stay for 45 minutes. Better have fistful of metal then. Oh, but we are encouraging alternative transportation to the auto in our fair City. Sorry again, but this is not the way to do it. Drive your car when needed, shop in Alameda or Emeryville and get some real value for your auto use. You just won’t feel as smug about it as when you park in Oakland.

  8. Ralph

    Robert, you omitted one key piece of work, people actually sitting on the street doing the analysis of parking and utilization. Business owners can not provide reliable data. You will need to send people out during the base phase and test phase.

    The people screaming about the increased enforcement were so far from the truth it wasn’t even funny. At least one mtg, council try to inform them the number of tickets issued over the same period prior year tell a different story. What I don’t know is how many of the tickets were for violations for which tickets were rarely issued in prior yrs. That is probably a greater source of the outrage.

  9. Robert

    Ralph, what you are describing should be part of the pilot project, not part of the initial study. The conversation with business are to establish goals.

  10. Livegreen

    I don’t understand why they chose machined that don’t take $ bills… When you don’t have enough coins a credit card is a pain…

  11. V Smoothe Post author

    I have never understood this complaint. Machines that accept both coins and credit cards are no less convenient than the old meters which only accepted coins. There is an additional method of payment available, and no method of payment removed.

    Anyway, the reason the machines don’t take dollars is because when it rains, people’s money gets wet and then they stick the wet bills in the machine and the machine breaks. Basically, they are unbelievably expensive and staff-intensive to maintain. Why we have machine that don’t take Translink, on the other hand…that one bothers me.

  12. John Klein

    I really like the new machines. Many of them lately were reprogrammed so that you can pay in both 5 cent and 25 cent increments using a credit card – that is pretty convenient. Yes, it’s a pain to use coins especially if you leave the house without sticking a few in your pocket.

    I can say without hesitation that I now think about parking, the cost, the availability, where the best two & four hour zones are, to skip the one-hour zones, etc., in making decisions about where to go out to eat or to a coffee shop. It is definitely a consideration for me.

    The cost of parking also directly affects how long I stay at a coffee shop, restaurant, store, or even a meeting. If time is short, panic sets in and I simply won’t linger. Alameda has a new municipal parking structure that is only 50 cents an hour. Four hours parking in Alameda costs the same as one hour in Oakland. That’s a big load off your mind if you want to just sit for a good while.

  13. livegreen

    V, I wasn’t comparing to the old. I was just saying it would have been convenient to accept bills too. BART machines do it, $ changers at the laundry do it, even cola machines do it. It is NOT new technology.

    Most machines these days that accept money do it, just not our meter machines.

    I do agree they’re better than the old, and the wet bills makes sense. Though I bet if they put their minds to it, the engineers who designed them would have come up with a quick solution for that too…

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    The big difference between all those types of machines and parking meters is that parking meters are outside and unshielded. So people are handling their money IN the rain.

  15. livegreen

    Understood. Like I said, that seems like a solvable problem. A couple pieces of plastic in the right spot…

  16. Patrick

    Don’t you think that if the new meters accepted cash they’d be a target for theft (which would involve their destruction)? I wish we could pay for everything with a cellphone – like in France.

  17. Ralph

    Robert, it says that they intend to conduct a pilot study.

    LG, when you consider the dynamics of getting taking a dollar bill out of your pocket, purse, wallet, billfold, you are talking about a huge piece of plastic.

  18. dto510

    The discussion was certainly heartening, and the proposal is a good one. I don’t know if we need to tackle the entirety of city transportation policy to get a good parking policy, but as someone who has actually done an Oakland parking study, I know that the City can do a better job with the right information.

    What I see missing is a recognition of the enormous costs of using so much of our limited public right-of-way on car storage. City parking policy should be explicit in encouraging the use and development of off-street parking over on-street parking. But parking policy must also balance the provision of necessary parking without subsidizing or encouraging unnecessary car trips.

    Robert, regarding your first comment, many of the issues you identify are going to be addressed by the study, which will determine the goals for parking. The 85% occupancy target for parking is well-established, and it’s my observation that in many places at 15% vacancy rate would mean 2 – 3 open spaces in eyeshot (two blocks), which seems like enough. On the other hand, we can’t have parking be so plentiful that it discourages alternative means of transportation, or unfairly impacts bicyclists and pedestrians.

    This study will be interesting. I think some people will be surprised by mode-share information, like how much parking is being taken up by workers, and how many customers use alternatives to the car to do their shopping. Some good data should also help the City realize the value of really basic efforts like signage.

  19. Quercki

    a “more holistic… transportation policy” means that it is POSSIBLE to get anywhere in the city in a reasonable amount of time reliably.

    When I bought my house in Crocker Highlands/Trestle Glen, I handed the real estate agent a bus map and told him that I was only willing to live on bus lines. The house I chose had bus service 1/2 block away every 15 minutes all day. Now the closest bus stop is 2 blocks away, and the bus only goes to SF during commute hours. Here’s the current schedule.

    dto510, some of us have to drive whether we want to or not. I’d rather take the bus, but it’s not possible.

    Also, I’m not sure how to learn to ride a bike in hilly, high traffic areas. It seems too dangerous. I have a friend who rides in non-hilly areas who spends a lot of time recovering from bike accidents.

  20. Quercki

    V, thanks for attending the meeting and giving us such a good report.
    I’m finding myself thinking about whether the principles are actually workable–for example, if there are 1-2 empty spots in eyeshot, how will this encourage shoppers to park once?

    Oops, I just missed the “edit” window on my previous post. We were looking for a house “south of the Bay Bridge,” not just in Crocker Highlands.

  21. gem s

    It really bugs me that they rolled back the parking hours and instead are being insanely aggressive about ticketing for any and all other offenses. This shifts the burden of paying the difference onto Oakland neighborhoods.

    I live in a dense neighborhood next to downtown. I ride my bike and take Amtrak to Davis for school, use BART most often to get into the City, and drive my car with my tools to my gardening job 2 days a week. My apartment is old, there’s no parking. Still my car is parked on the street 5 days a week. Two weeks ago I got a 55 dollar ticket for being parked over a white line. The new markings they painted on part of the block next to the Essex to separate parallel parking spaces? That’s the white line they were talking about. Because for years people have parked tightly on that block, they continue to do so, ignoring the brand new, space-wasting and arbitrary marks. I did too, and got dinged for it. This is complete bullshit. I know and understand why cars need to be moved for street cleaning, but enforcing lower density parking practices based on nothing more than the decision to paint some unnecessary lines is stupid. Do they want fewer cars taking up more parking space and the space around them?

    I know parking enforcement doesn’t t ticket this way where the new meters are because the more cars jammed onto those blocks, the more money they make (well, up until 6pm, anyway). Thanks to greedy business owners I get a stupid ticket enforcing a ridiculous practice, while people in Grand Lake save four bucks. I don’t think I will ever be pleased how parking and transportation issues are handled in this city- they are all based on 20th century thinking. People who leave theier cars at home should be encouraged to do so, not the other way around.

  22. Born in Oakland

    Too bad parking tickets aren’t tax deductible! I am now viewing them as a “donation” to a broke(n) city! I, like Gem S., have received tickets for parking that was always deemed “legal” before.

  23. Robert

    Ralph, I can see where you are getting the idea that the pilot program is part of this study. “Select/apply principles/policies to pilot areas Summer 2010” That is not how I read the bullet point, and I also do not think that it is in any way possible to conduct a meaningful pilot program in 3 months. (A pilot program, at least one along the lines of SF’s, will require several adjustments to parking prices during the course of the program. This just won’t be possible in a 3 month window. A year long pilot is more realistic.) But this confusion is part of the lack of defined goals for this parking study, see below.

    Dto, I agree that most things I mentioned as parking goals can be defined in the parking study, and indicated as much in my comment. But this proposal needs to be explicit that that definition of those goals is going to be an outcome of the parking study. Another required outcome is a formal recommendation, based on information gathered during the study, that a pilot program is going to be performed. While I think everyone is assuming that the pilot will happen, there is no documentation in the proposal of the rationale for performing that pilot. Perhaps more importantly, the parameters to be evaluated during the pilot, and the criteria that will be used to evaluate the pilot, have to be defined. That is a required outcome of the study, but it is nowhere indicated that it will be done. Things such a sminimum and maximum praking prices to use in the pilot need to be set, whether the pilot will extend into evening hours, how is parking utilization coing to be determined (kiosk data or street counts), etc.

    “City parking policy should be explicit in encouraging the use and development of off-street parking over on-street parking.” I sense that you feel that this should be part of this parking study, while I think that it is better part of a transportation policy. But either way, the lack of definition of outcomes for this parking study allows staff to take either route, or a third path, at their whim. Almost certainly leaving some dissatisfied with the study report.

    “85% occupancy target for parking is well-established…” It is my understanding that the 85% number comes from a single transportation researcher. In which case it is not yet well established. I could be wrong about the number of sources however. The 85% occupancy is about 1 out of 7 spots being empty. In parallel parking situations this would mean a couple of empty spots per block. And I agree that this seems about right. But in diagonal parking, this means 4 or 5 spots per block, which seems excessive. And this is why I think that an operational measure on parking availability should be incorporated if at all possible, although it will clearly be more difficult that counting empty spaces. But again, parameters, measures and evaluation criteria for the pilot need to be established in this initial parking study.

    My concern is not about the activities suggested in the proposal, but in the lack of procedural control on the process. Each step in the process, parking study, pilot, and full implementation, needs to have established goals that will allow a determination of whether/how to proceed with the next step.

    If Ralph is right and this proposal includes the pilot program, then the setting of goals for the parking policy does need to take place now in the proposal, because the setting of these goals is an inherently political process. And if you wait to after the pilot is completed, it will be too late to factor in any changes in the goals from the political process into the pilot program. I think that this is another reason to split the parking study from the pilot program, since otherwise council will be setting goals without information. Staff needs to translate the policies in the proposal into measurable goals so that the pilot program can then be designed properly.

  24. gem s

    I’m talking specifically about Allen Michaan, whose business has a significant chunk of parking attached to it, yet he was one of the people who spearheaded the effort to roll back parking times. If you don’t think he’s greedy, look into his efforts to shut down the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market- a boon to the district if there ever was one.

  25. Becks

    Robert (and others) – if you have ideas of what else should be included in the study, email them to the Public Works Committee before their meeting on the 15th. Nancy Nadel, Rebecca Kaplan, Desley Brooks, and Pat Kernighan are the members of the committee.

    I think the study is headed in the right direction and was also very impressed by the in depth discussion on the study at last week’s committee meeting.

  26. jack b dazzle

    GEM S

    I don’t agree with Mr. Michaan or his politics, but he surely is a unique character that adds something special to Oakland. I would not call him greedy at all, especially since so many people seem to agree with him.

    If he were greedy, he would move his business to emeryville like everyone else and not deal with all the craziness of our city.

    Greedy can be used to describe a city charging 55 bucks for a parking ticket.

  27. Drunk Engineer

    The idea of studying parking demand is all well and good, but it is inevitable that cash-strapped Oakland will revert to squeezing out more revenue through overzealous enforcement. There is inherent conflict-of-interest when the city is both enforcer of parking laws, and sole beneficiary of any financial windfall that results.

    The ones hardest hit actually aren’t the merchants, but those of us who live in Transit-Oriented neighborhoods near commercial districts. In my case, I live half block off Telegraph and pay out hundreds of dollars each year in completely bogus parking fines. My house, incidentally, has off-street parking (driveway) — and yet the ubiquitous parking officers still figure out a way to write a ticket if you take too long to back out, or pull in, temporarily block a sidewalk, or just dropping somebody off at the curb.

    This kind of abuse used to happen with speed enforcement. After localities got way too clever with speed traps, the State changed the rules such that any fines collected by local law enforcement go into the State General Fund. That eliminated the inherent conflict-of-interest (perhaps too well, given the lack of speed enforcement these days). Really, the same thing needs to be done with parking enforcement. That would certainly reduce revenue cities are collecting from double parkers, but at least they would be restricting their enforcement efforts to areas and situations where there is legitimate need, as opposed to what we have today (i.e. highway robbery).

  28. Robert

    becks, thanks for the list of members of the PWC. The email was in progress, it just takes a little time to go from the random thoughts suitable here to something more organized to give to the council members.