Photo by mzarro on Flickr.

DDOT has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on neighborhood improvements thanks to the performance parking zones, and new reports on the Ballpark and Columbia Heights performance parking districts propose adjustments both up and down for meter rates. DDOT has collected almost a million dollars from parking meters in the ballpark performance parking district to date. Over $800,000 has been spent or dedicated for projects including BigBelly Solar waste collection systems, benches, historic district signs, and bike racks. In 2011, with revenue generated by performance parking, DDOT plans to install three or four Capital Bikeshare stations, install an information kiosk at the Eastern Market metro plaza, and perform a transportation study for the Capitol Riverfront district, which will include a study of the M Street corridor for streetcars.

In the Columbia Heights area, DDOT has collected $52,000 from meters and is going to dedicate funding to traffic calming sidewalk bulb-outs, replacing concrete and brick sidewalk surfaces, and upgrading foundation walls. DDOT has also provided funding to streetscape projects for Park Road and the Farmerss Market.

The legislation to create the performance parking districts requires that DDOT periodically measure occupancy and adjust prices if blocks are too full or too empty. In the past, DDOT has been reluctant to follow through, but in this new round, they will. Some crowded areas are getting parking meter price increases, and some crowded areas will stay the same.

DDOT found that the parking lot underneath the Southeast Freeway on 8th Street SE in Barracks Row only collects about a dollar a day per space, and proposes reducing the price to 75¢ per hour. This is an appropriate change, and should allow people parking in the area a cheaper option than parking on the main commercial street. DDOT should also consider increasing the time limit for this lot to four hours until 5 pm and unlimited afterward. That would encourage people with longer anticipated stays to use it, thus leaving the more convenient spaces for people with shorter term needs.

Although many areas in the performance parking zone had measured occupancy above 100% (made possible because of illegal parking and smaller than average cars), DDOT does not propose increasing the meter rates in many areas where the occupancy is high. For some blocks near the ballpark, between M, South Capitol, and 2nd streets and the Southeast Freeway, DDOT proposes increasing the rate. This is a big improvement from the last performance parking report for this zone published in 2009, where DDOT recommended raising prices for blocks having high occupancy, but specific blocks were not identified and the prices were not adjusted. The report lists this area having maximum occupancy only at 86% during Nationals ball games, but that is actually the figure for all blocks, including resident permit parking. To improve understanding of their recommendation, DDOT chould list in a separate table the metered blocks and their occupancy, and whether they have been included in the proposed price increase.

For some areas with very high parking occupancy, such as 8th street and Pennsylvania Avenues SE, DDOT is not raising rates. An official responsible for parking policy told me that they wanted to avoid adverse impact on District businesses during the economic downturn and had attempted to use other means such as time limits to manage occupancy rather than adjusting price. It appears that using time limits is not having the desired effect, because the blocks are all showing excessively high occupancy, and my visits to the area during the busiest times have confirmed that parking is very scarce in the area. DDOT is working on building community support for performance parking so that price adjustments can be implemented.

The local stakeholders are concerned about the effects performance parking is having on local resident permit parking blocks. The DDOT official pointed out the importance of being sensitive to the local community’s opinions, and I understand that, but I’ll also note that right now the visitors looking for parking on residential blocks are those that don’t want to pay for parking combined with those that are willing to pay but cannot find a metered space. If DDOT increases the prices on crowded blocks, at the very least the people willing to pay can find a space, and the extra money collected can help fund enforcement on local resident blocks. Once pay by cell is implemented more fully in the city, the closest resident permit blocks could be changed to resident permit blocks with visitors also paying by cell or walking to the main street to obtain a pay and display receipt.

In the Columbia Heights performance parking zone, DDOT found that all the multispace meter blocks had occupancy rates above 85%, which should lead to higher meter prices in the zone. DDOT proposes extending the meter hours in the zone to 10 pm, and increasing the prices on some blocks to $2.50 for the first hour, and $3.00 for each subsequent hour, with a two hour limit before 6:30pm and three hour limit after 6:30pm. This would be the highest street parking rate in DC. In the last performance parking report for this zone, DDOT recommended increasing the parking meter rates and hours, but the recommendation lacked specifics. At a public meeting in 2009, DDOT’s Damon Harvey stated that the adjustment would happen only after the streetscape project was complete, which it now is. The current report calls for making adjustments in April 2011. For the Columbia Heights performance parking zone, DDOT should be commended for now following through on adjusting rates according to occupancy, as the performance parking pilot legislation demands.

The report lists occupancy for each block as a number of spaces, number of cars parked on average and the maximum number of cars. This is a big improvement, which I recommended after the last performance parking report came out. However, to the extent that DDOT can communicate more information about parking, the occupancy should be reported as an average and a 90th percentile occupancy, which eliminates that problem that reporting a maximum might cause if the maximum is an extreme outlier.

Based on high occupancy, DDOT plans on expanding multispace meter installation to the waterfront area on Water Street and Maine Avenue. DDOT will also look into adjusting the rates based on curbside occupancy as it does elsewhere in the zone.

DDOT is getting closer to performing all the actions required by the performance parking legislation. They’re measuring occupancy, reporting the data, recommending rate changes, and spending the money locally. However, in many areas with high demand, prices are not increasing as they should.

Compared to the previous performance parking reports, I would say this report is a big improvement. Reporting the data on a block-by-block basis is tedious but important. The money is being spent on local improvements which help the pedestrian and cycling environment, and everybody becomes a pedestrian once they’ve parked. Unlike the previous report, which called for vague increases in prices, this report specifies what blocks will have changes and what the prices will be.

It should be noted that DDOT is running one of the only parking systems in the US where the occupancy is measured and reported, and the prices are actually being adjusted. The other such program is in San Francisco, and that program is supported by a fairly substantial federal grant.

Here are some recommendations for the next report:

  • Reinstate the table showing the revenue collected and how it is being spent
  • Separate out the occupancy table between blocks that have multispace meters and those that have other parking controls
  • Make a recommendation concerning the price for every multispace meter block
  • Obtain community buy-in to follow the variable price policy on very crowded commercial streets like 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.