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.