Photo by wallyg.

Many blocks of parking in the ballpark area, Pennsylvania Avenue, and 8th Street could see higher meter rates, according to a report released by DDOT earlier this month. On the flipside, some spaces were so underused that DDOT removed the meters.

After 22 months of operation, DDOT released a report on the ballpark performance parking pilot. Similar to the Columbia Heights pilot report, DDOT contracted help from the Council of Governments to drive a specially-outfitted car around the neighborhood to collect occupancy data.

DDOT points out some high-demand blocks based on their maximum occupancy.  In my article about the Columbia Heights district, I recommended that DDOT highlight blocks based on maximum occupancy instead of average occupancy since there was a need to keep a space open per block even during the peak demand times. It looks like they have adopted this idea.

The report shows that the multispace meters, installed at a capital cost of about $1M, are likely to recoup that cost by the start of baseball season after just 24 months of operation. After that, 75% of the meter revenue will be available for non-automobile transportation improvements. The meters are currently collecting about $75,000 per month on average.

DDOT says that an advisory committee is working with Councilmember Wells’ office and DDOT to select projects for the funds. The proposed projects include 25 bike racks, pedestrian signs, wayfinding maps, park benches, recycling bins, planning funds for an M Street cycle track, and real-time transit information displays.

The occupancy data shows that parking in the area is mostly under-utilized.  On Nationals home game days, more than 3000 spaces in the pilot area are on blocks that have less than 50% maximum occupancy. Some blocks reported less than 10% occupancy at peak. For example, even during Nationals baseball games, DDOT did not observe any cars parked on Virginia Avenue SE between 2nd and 6th. DDOT stated that those meters have been relocated.

On the other hand, major commercial corridors like Pennsylvania Ave SE had too many cars for too few spaces. Like the 14th street corridor in the Columbia Heights district, Pennsylvania had over 100% occupancy for the 200 through the 600 blocks.

I would expect the same result for the 400 through 600 blocks of 8th Street SE, but unfortunately DDOT aggregated those blocks together with much less popular blocks on 8th south of the freeway.  The whole length of 8th is reported as 80% occupancy, but based on personal observation and comparison with nearby blocks, it’s probably better described as over 100% occupancy for the blocks closest to Eastern Market, and below 80% for the blocks south of the freeway.

DDOT collects and reports this data to guide decisions on performance parking pricing in the pilot area.  That’s why it’s frustrating that the performance parking blocks aren’t identified or separated out in the occupancy data tables.  It’s hard to tell whether low-occupancy blocks are meters that need to have their rates lowered, or they’re residential permit parking blocks without many residents.  The same goes for blocks with very high occupancy.

For the next report, I would recommend to DDOT that they report the performance parking meter controlled blocks in a separate table, on a block-by-block basis, with a specific recommendation for the meter price for each block (increase, decrease or stay the same).

The performance parking idea has great potential for reducing congestion and driver frustration, promoting access to parking, and providing revenue for improvements in the local area.  It’s important that DDOT learn all it can from these pilot programs.  When the time comes to extend the program to more congested areas like Downtown, Adams Morgan or Georgetown, DDOT needs to have experience measuring, reporting and reacting to parking occupancy data and how customers respond to price changes, to minimize any disruption associated with performance parking.

Ultimately, performance parking belongs downtown.  It’s the most congested part of the city, with the biggest disparity between on-street and off-street parking prices, and therefore has the most incentive to cruise for a cheaper parking space rather than just pay for garage parking. 

Downtown also has the greatest potential for revenue that can provide other transportation options besides driving.  Based on rough figures, the parking revenue from a commercial corridor can pay for most of the operating subsidy for a streetcar or bus line along that corridor.

If DDOT can prove the viability of performance parking in the ballpark and Columbia Heights districts, extending the policy to other areas will be more likely, and businesses, residents and visitors to crowded neighborhoods will enjoy less congestion and more attractive amenities like clean sidewalks, street trees, and transit options.

If DDOT can’t figure out how to make performance parking work, either by keeping the prices so high the blocks go empty, or keeping the prices so low that customers avoid crowded areas, there’s little chance stakeholders will request an extension.

Again, thanks to DDOT for providing this report.