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John Petro

The City Council Challenges Bloomberg with Parking Populism

So much fuss over five minutes.

It seems that the City Council, emboldened by Mayor Bloomberg's narrower-than-expected election victory, has decided to take a stand. Unfortunately, instead of pushing for a major progressive victory, they're voting for a law that says you don't have to follow the law... for five minutes.

In what could be one of the most ridiculous moves of the year, the City Council passed legislation that would give drivers who park at Muni-Meters a five minute "grace period" after their meter has expired.

According to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, it is "unfair" to get a ticket "just two or three minutes past the time" when your meter expires. This is absolute nonsense. Everyone hates getting parking tickets. They're annoying, but they aren't unfair.

A progressive City Council would look at parking completely differently. Instead of allowing drivers to bend the rules, the Council should ensure that there is adequate turnover at metered spaces. Because street side parking is under priced, very few parking spaces are available at any given time, resulting in cruising. Drivers cruising for a parking space make up between 28 and 45 percent of traffic on some New York City streets, leading to increased congestion, pollution, and gasoline consumption.

According to parking guru Donald Shoup, all this cruising can really add up.

Even a small search time per car can create a surprising amount of traffic. Consider, for example, a congested downtown where it takes three minutes to find a curb space and the parking turnover is 10 cars per space per day. Each curb space generates 30 min of cruising time per day. If the average cruising speed is 10 miles an hour, each curb space generates five vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per day. Over a year, this cruising amounts to 1825 VMT, greater than halfway across the United States, for each curb space. Because this cruising adds to traffic that is already congested, it makes a bad situation even worse.

By raising prices for street side parking, and enforcing the parking rules, we can ensure that a certain percentage of metered spots are available at any given time and eliminate the cruisers. While drivers would be paying more for parking, they would end up saving time, gasoline, and frustration in return.

The city implemented a pilot program in two neighborhoods, called PARK Smart NYC, which raised the hourly rate of parking meters during peak business hours. Results from the pilot's first neighborhood found that parking availability did increase with the higher peak-time rates.

San Francisco is taking parking to an entirely new level, though, with SFpark. When the program is fully implemented, drivers will be able to access real-time information on parking availability and pricing. The program will use dynamic pricing to shift demand from blocks that have no parking spaces available to those that do.

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Posted at 5:18 PM, Nov 16, 2009 in Urban Affairs
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