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Editorial: Why Raise Fares When Metro’s Building Even More Free Parking?

Foothill Gold Line's Azusa-Alameda Station not-so-innovative site plan - 200 more parking spaces coming on line next year. Source: Gold Line Construction Authority website

Foothill Gold Line’s Azusa-Alameda Station site plan means 200 more surface parking spaces due to open in 2015. Source: Gold Line Construction Authority website

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an editorial asking Why Raise Metro Fares While Giving Away Metro Parking? At the time, I totaled parking for Metro’s BRT and rail lines at 19,450 parking spaces. Despite Metro’s plan to increase transit fares, the agency has no plan to increase parking charges. Metro gives more than 9 out of 10 spaces away for free. I did a conservative estimate of Metro’s parking revenue potential to be at least $3.5 million per year.

Turns out that it gets worse. Or better, depending on your point of view.

Metro’s building lots and lots of lots.

There are 2,435 more Metro parking spaces under construction. When the Gold Line Foothill extension opens in 2015, Metro will break the 20,000 mark with 1,525 new parking spaces. Also in 2015, Expo phase 2 will add 580 new parking spaces. In 2019, the Crenshaw Line will add 330 new parking spaces.

Metro’s overall total rail/BRT parking spaces will climb to 21,885. Using the same very conservative assumptions, I estimate that, with the additional spaces, Metro’s parking revenue potential will be at least $4.3 million per year.

After the earlier article, via Twitter and via the Source, Metro responded with the “doesn’t go far enough” argument:

Of course, $3.5 million doesn’t cover the projected budget shortfalls that Metro is projecting and using to justify the fare increases (the shortfalls begin at $36 million in FY 2016 and then rise).

I’ve always found this sort of assertion to be disingenuous. It’s sort of like being in a boat that’s leaking in five places, and refusing to fix one hole, because it doesn’t fix all of them at once.

Read more…

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Editorial: Why Raise Metro Fares While Giving Away Metro Parking?

Metro's La Cienega Expo Line Station parking lot: 476 spaces, all free, all the time

Metro’s Culver City Expo Line Station parking lot: 586 spaces, free for drivers who get there early enough, but not free for Metro to build, operate, and maintain. Metro is proposing to raise rider fares, while continuing to let cars park for free. Photo Eric Bruins

Metro is proposing to increase, or restructure, its $1.50 base transit fare to $1.75 later this year, with further increases planned in 2017 and 2020. Metro anticipates that this will increase its fare recovery – the percentage of operations costs that are paid for by fare revenues – from 25 percent to 33 percent. Metro foresees that this fare increase will “deflect” riders; a small percentage of people who currently take Metro will opt not to ride.

Officially, Streetsblog Los Angeles neither supports nor opposes Metro’s proposed fare increase. We hold that robust transit service is needed, and that fares need to be affordable, and that those two important ends can be in conflict. When inflation drives operating costs up, at some point, it can make sense for agencies to increase what they charge for what they provide. Reasonable fare increases are generally preferable to significant service cuts.

I am not going to wade into all the issues in the fare increase, but want to explore another revenue source that Metro doesn’t seem to be paying attention to: parking.

Metro has large amounts of parking that it gives away for free. For more than 90% of the spaces it owns, Metro’s parking “fare recovery” is zero percent. Parking revenue isn’t likely to cover the entire operating deficit Metro is asserting, but it can amount to millions of dollars, enough to delay or soften fare increases.

Charging for parking will also deflect a small number of the riders who drive (driver-riders are a small percentage of Metro’s overall ridership – fewer than 10 percent), but, if revenue is used to offset fare increases, parking charges should lessen overall deflection. In some cases, charging for parking and keeping transit fares reasonable could deflect some drivers out of their cars and on to buses, carpools, bikes, and walking.

I recently attended a meeting where Metro staff presented their fare increase proposal. When I asked if Metro was also looking at parking revenue, Metro’s presenter responded that Metro didn’t have much parking, and that it fills up quickly anyway – as if that meant there wasn’t anything that could be done. On the contrary, this high demand shows that Metro’s parking is a revenue opportunity. The Transit Coalition’s Bart Reed confirms that “[Metro Red Line] parking for free is gone by 7 a.m. in the valley.” Streetsblog’s Damien Newton states that, at “Culver City [Expo Station] after morning rush hour, I generally see people cruising for parking. There’s no space.”

What’s wrong with free parking? Isn’t that good?

Read more…

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March Transpo Committee Recap: SRTS, Counts, Parking and Commish Bayne

Yesterday’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee meeting featured a number of livability issues that deserve more in-depth attention: Safe Routes to School, bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts, parking privatization, and more. SBLA will do a brief re-cap, and will track and report on these issues more in the future.

SRTSmap

Map of the Top 50 LAUSD Schools with most need for safer routes to school. From LADOT SRTS Fact Sheet. Click to view entire fact sheet.

The Top 50 List You Don’t Really Want Your School On: Department of Transportation (LADOT) staff reported on progress made in the city’s Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program. In the past, for a number of reasons, the city of L.A. has been unsuccessful at receiving its fair share of SRTS grant funding. LADOT’s two new pedestrian coordinators have done a lot of work to begin to remedy this: building relationships with LAUSD and using actual data to determine which schools make sense to prioritize. This Transportation Committee meeting was the first broad public vetting of the city’s new data-driven list of 50 schools with “greatest need.” The 50-school list will be used to target some city applications for the upcoming state Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant cycle.

Advocates from about a half-dozen non-profits commented on this item, urging two main requests: more LADOT resources be directed toward SRTS, and SRTS efforts be more open and collaborative.

Committee members expressed some concerns (see below) over the criteria behind the 50 school ranking, but accepted it, pending full council approval. They requested that LADOT return to the committee in 60 days (after this ATP cycle submission) to further examine the criteria.

Most Likely to be Undercounted and Undervalued: City councilmembers requested that LADOT review their traffic count methodology to include bicycle and pedestrian data. LADOT staff responded with a draft policy, including an annual count, which moves forward to a vote of the full city council. It’s unclear whether city counts will augment or replace those currently conducted by L.A. County Bicycle Coalition volunteers, though the Bike Coalition’s Eric Bruins voiced support for city counts, stating that the Coalition “wants to get out of this business.” Read more…

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Digital Cities, Smarter Transportation – Conference Highlights

The Digital Cities, Smarter Transportation conference was held yesteday in Little Tokyo.

The Digital Cities, Smarter Transportation conference was held yesterday in Little Tokyo.

Yesterday, Streetsblog L.A. attended Digital Cities, Smarter Transportation, a one-day conference on “technology and the future of mobility, cities, and regions” hosted by the UCLA Lewis Center and the UCLA Institute for Transportation Studies.  Here are a few highlights from the proceedings:

  • SFpark San Francisco’s Innovative Parking Pilot:  San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) Alex Demisch presented on the technology and technological challenges behind SFpark. San Francisco is one of the first places on earth to actually attempt to manage the price of curbside parking toward Shoup’s 85 percent recommendation, and certainly the first to do this using real-time technology.  For the basics on SFpark, maybe start with this video, then follow with plenty of SBSF coverage and the SFpark website. Demisch explained the challenges – from managing huge amounts of data, to fully inventorying street parking (counting ~280,000 spaces and ~30,000 meters, plus all the street rules regarding which side parking is allowed at what hours of which day), to dealing with cutting edge electromagnetic parking sensors embedded in the streets. SFPark’s on-the-street pilot phase has ended (limited in part by the battery-life of in-street sensors) and is in the process of analyzing data, with reports forthcoming.
  • Metro Los Angeles’ Nextrip: Stephen Tu, Manager of Operations & Service Delivery for Metro, reviewed Metro’s popular Nextrip for everyday arrival information and use of social media to push notification during service disruptions. Streetsblog readers may be most interested in features he announced were under development: passenger count information (riders can skip one standing-room-only bus to get a seat on the less-crowded on following it), bike rack status (cyclists can know if the bus arriving has any space for bikes), and cell phone reception on Metro subway platforms (expected in 2016.)
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Rock Star or Comedian? Donald Shoup Takes His Parking Show to Berkeley

[UPDATE: Here is a link to a video of Professor Shoup's talk and here is a link to the Q&A portion of the evening.]

“Parking is the single biggest land use in any city,” said UCLA Professor Donald Shoup to a packed house in Berkeley last night, “and it’s almost completely unmanaged.” At the same time, “zoning requires a space for every car but ignores the homeless. In our cities, free parking is more important than affordable housing.”

Professor Donald Shoup, the stand-up comedian of parking

Professor Donald Shoup, the stand-up comic of parking. Photo by Federica Armstrong, courtesy TransForm

Shoup entertained the crowd of public officials, developers, students, and community members with his signature witty observations on the irrational ways cities plan and price parking.

“Parking is free for us only in our role as motorist–not in our roles as taxpayer, employer, commuter, shopper, renter, as a homeowner. The cost of parking does not cease to exist just because the motorist doesn’t pay for it,” he told the rapt audience. They had all come to hear the “parking rock star” talk about parking.

Given his polished delivery of dry one-liners skewering American parking policy that kept the audience chuckling throughout the talk, it’s more accurate to call him the stand-up comic of parking. But it’s his simple, rational, and yet radical-to-many approach to the storage of cars that has earned him a growing fan base of “Shoupistas” throughout the state and the nation.

The event was sponsored by TransForm, an Oakland-based advocacy group working for rational land use and transportation planning in California. TransForm has taken Shoup’s work to heart, using the principles he proposes as a basis for their GreenTRIP program that seeks to convince cities to allow housing developers to replace overbuilt, expensive parking with alternatives like car share, bike parking, and transit passes.

Shoup had a great time poking fun at pretty much everyone, including himself. He compared himself to a cat, sniffing and marking the tires of parked cars, while most transportation planners he likened to dogs, “running after and trying to bite at cars as they drive down the road.”

“I thought I could find something useful if I studied what cars do for 95% percent of the time, which is park,” he said.

He made fun of planners. “No planner can claim to have any training in parking policy,” he said. “Planners are winging it.”

The American Planners Association’s “Parking Standards” book lists parking requirements for land uses that look sensible at first glance—until you look at the connection to people, he said. As he spoke, a list of minimum parking requirements appeared on the screen behind him. Barbershop: two spots per barber.

“There seems to be some gender disparity,” he said [Beauty Shop: three parking spots per beautician]. “Even in religions institutions [Convent: ten parking spots per nun. Church: three parking spots per clergyman], and when you don’t have people, you have to base it on something” [Swimming pool: one parking spot per 25,000 gallons].

In many cities the size of a building is dwarfed by the size of its required parking lot. Minimum parking requirements “look scientific,” said Shoup, “but they’re not—it’s just pseudo science.” Read more…

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Jaywalking and Parking Tickets: The Livable Streets Litmus Test of 2014

Over our end-of-the-year break, there were two stories related to how the city thinks about its transportation needs which kept popping up in the news: the LAPD’s “Jaywalking Crackdown”** and the movement to restructure the city’s parking fees. The two stories were both treated as stories of regular people being harassed by a money hungry government.

While much of the mainstream narrative was the same, in truth the two couldn’t be more different. The stories are really about how Los Angeles residents see public space.

The parking reform movement in speared by a pair of advocates, one of whom happens to be the force behind getting the city to end its red light camera program, creating an advocacy machine to push against the city’s parking policies. They call the fees for illegal parking exorbitant, despite the fees being on par or lower than that in New York or Chicago and other major American cities.

The cheapest parking ticket in L.A. is a $58. In Chicago the cheapest fee is $50. In New York, it’s $65. The most common ticket in L.A. is $73 for “parking in a prohibitive zone.” In New York that costs scofflaw parkers $65. In Chicago it’s $75.

Some of their proposed reforms make sense, others are thinly veiled attempts to overthrow parking norms.

But the bedrock of this movement is a simple belief that making space for cars, and giving up a public resource to car owners at below market costs, is a primary function for cities in general and Los Angeles in particular.

Naturally, L.A. Weekly is very excited about all of this. As is the local television news.

The LAPD’s “Jaywalking Crackdown” in Downtown Los Angeles supports the notion that the public resource known as “city streets” are really just private space for automobiles. The LAPD cites safety for “cracking down” on people who step off a curb moments after a traffic signal goes from white to flashing red and make it across the street with time to spare. Even a precursory look at what’s causing crashes downtown shows that pedestrians crossing at crosswalks isn’t really a major safety issue, it’s cars turning either “right on red” or left after the signal has changed  without looking. Read more…

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City Remains Vigilant on Bus Only Lane Parking Scofflaws

Photo Dana Gabbard

To its credit, the City of Los Angeles is working hard to keep the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes (Bike OK!) open for business. Dana Gabbard grabbed this picture yesterday of parking enforcement hard at work.

Wilshire, south side of street between Coronado and Carondelet this morning at about 7:51 a.m. The car had a disabled placard! Didn’t get the traffic officer’s name as she jumped into her vehicle and zoomed off after snapping a photo of the license plate and putting the citation on the front window of the car.

Maybe this stricter enforcement will lead to better enforcement of no parking in bicycle lanes as well. Either way, it’s good to see the city making sure the Bus Only Lane isn’t “Parking OK” too.

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Donald Shoup Breaks Down Two Years of Data From Groundbreaking SFpark

Drivers were most sensitive to changes in parking prices in the early afternoon, and were more sensitive during the week than the weekend.

Donald Shoup may be known as a guru of smart parking policy, but even he has found a few surprises in the data collected so far from SFpark.

“The biggest surprise I got was that prices went up and down, but overall, they stayed the same. The average price actually declined by 1 percent,” said Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, the bible of modern parking policy. “That surprised everybody. People thought it was just a way to jack up prices, but the city specifically said, ‘We are going to set prices according to this principle.’”

SFpark, which uses “smart meters” and ground sensors to measure parking occupancy and adjust prices accordingly, is providing valuable lessons for San Francisco and cities around the world that want to reduce the amount of time drivers spend cruising the streets for a parking space.

The growing body of data collected from the program is shedding more light on the complexities of parking demand. But overall, Shoup says, it’s providing hard evidence that raising and lowering meter prices is an effective way to keep enough parking spots available for drivers who need them — and to help ensure too many spots don’t sit empty.

Donald Shoup at the launch event for SFpark in 2011. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Keeping, say, one parking spot open on every block “will make the transportation work best — it’ll reduce cruising, speed up buses, reduce air pollution,” said Shoup. “It’s easy to explain [a goal] like that — we’re aiming at what you want to see.”

In a recent report [PDF] published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Shoup and UCLA doctoral student Gregory Pierce explain that since SFpark managers began adjusting meter prices in August of 2011, the “elasticity” of parking demand — the degree to which price changes affect parking occupancy — has varied across different locations and times of day (due to different trip purposes, they surmise), and that drivers changed their behavior most profoundly after the second price adjustment, possibly due to a spike in awareness of the program. As prices have been refined, elasticity has declined.

Prices appeared to have the lowest impacts in highly residential neighborhoods like the Mission and the Marina, while retail districts like Fisherman’s Wharf and the Fillmore saw the most drastic adjustments to new prices, according to the report.

Read more…

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City Council Allows Parking at Broken Meters, Media Celebrates

The public outcry about the city ticketing drivers parked at a broken meter was always a media-created tempest in a teapot.

Even the office of Mike Bonin, the City Council Member who wrote the legislation that repealed the city’s 2010 and 2012 ordinances banning parking at broken meters admitted that after the city completed changing over all of its 38,000 meters in January, the city has issued a grand total of zero tickets for parking at a broken parking meter.

So today’s action, a 13-0 vote, to allow parking at broken meters is all about the publicity. This is a new City Council…one that cares about being fair and the perception of being fair.

And it’s working, L.A. Weekly’s usually caustic Dennis Romero is already celebrating the new policy, even as his article admits that it won’t actually change the status quo at all. LAist is similarly thrilled. I’m sure the television news will breathlessly cover this non-event as well this evening.

The City Council vote pre-empted a motion that was moving briskly through the legislature in Sacramento to ban laws banning parking at broken meters by Asm. Mike Gatto. Gatto is probably heartbroken that Mike Bonin and not Mike Gatto will be the hero who freed parkers from this onerous burden to park at parking meters that weren’t broken which almost never happened anyway.

But here’s the thing. The policy of banning parking at broken meters was never about targeting car drivers or revenue enhancement, as the media often claimed. It was about discouraging vandalism of meters.

And by that standard, the policy was a tremendous success. Read more…

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How Flexible Parking Requirements Spur Economic Development: Lessons from Santa Monica

WilshireStreetView.jpg

Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica serves as a border between standard parking requirements (left) and flexible parking requirements (right). Photo via Google Maps. Click image to go to Google Maps.

Editor’s Note: Streetsblog Los Angeles founding board member Carter Rubin recently finished his Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at UCLA. In the following article, he recaps the findings from his capstone “client project” for the Urban Design Studio at the L.A. Department of City Planning. His research adviser was the inimitable parking guru, UCLA Urban Planning Professor Donald Shoup. You can read the report in its entirety here.

It’s hard to imagine today, but Santa Monica’s commercial areas – now home to Silicon Beach, tourism and bustling retail – were sleepy, underperforming and shabby just a few decades ago. In an effort to revive its commercial heart in particular, the city approved millions in funding for municipal parking structures in the heart of downtown. These garages still stand today on streets parallel to the Third Street Promenade.

City leaders hoped that this would create a convenient means for potential patrons to reach the Promenade, allowing them to park once and do all their subsequent shopping, dining and recreating on foot, thus keeping the streets clear of excessive car trips. More easy parking seemed like the obvious fix, but those garages alone weren’t enough to generate the commercial transformation Santa Monica sought.

What Santa Monica needed – and eventually got – was a different kind of parking change. The critical policy was to create a by-right process allowing developers to build, and businesses to operate, with less on-site parking. It was a dramatic break from what is typical of virtually every city in America: require every business to provide abundant on-site parking, free of charge to all its patrons, regardless of whether or not the business deems it necessary.

This new policy would ultimately allow small-scale developers and entrepreneurs to find and implement the most successful uses for those properties without having to worry about whether meeting the expensive minimum parking requirements was practical or cost-effective.

That was the change that would ultimately lead to a vibrant commercial district generating significantly more revenue for schools, libraries, transit and other municipal services.

Santa Monica’s Parking Innovation Read more…