Tuesday, May 28, 2013

NYC Tries to Make Parking Smarter

NYC has notorious parking problems, and finding a spot can be very difficult.  This leads to plenty of illegal parking, and added congestion to NYC's already packed streets.  A study of one NYC neighborhood by Transportation Alternatives found that 1 in 6 cars were parked illegally, and over 50% of the street traffic was looking for a spot to park.  Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn's tenure has been marked with bold efforts to improve the function of city streets, including new solutions to persistent parking troubles.

NYC has an expanding community-based pilot program to re-examine and re-tool their parking management.  Called SMART Park, the program is inspired by the demand-management theories of Donald Shoup and aims to make parking easier, reduce congestion, and improve safety for New York motorists.  SMART Park is a series of targeted pilot programs developed with communities around the city.  Starting with stakeholder meetings and data collection through timelapse cameras, the program identifies areas where parking is a consistent problem.  Though each area is approached individually, common elements of the SMART Park program include increasing the meter price of parking, charging higher rates during periods of peak demand, reviewing loading zones, allowing longer parking times (up to two hours), and expanding meter coverage to later in the day.  The pricing system is progressive, such that the per-hour rate increases for longer parking durations.  For six-months the pilot programs are in place and monitored, then the data is analyzed and presented to local community boards and the business improvement district.  If the program has been successful and is adopted by the community, it can be made permanent.

Currently, two pilots have been completed and made permanent.  One pilot is being prepared to launch this spring, and another one is being proposed.  Reviews conducted by NYC DOT have found a slight increase in parking spot vacancy, though even at levels below 80% occupancy some drivers still consider parking "hard to find."  Unique vehicle turnover has improved substantially, and the average parking duration has been reduced.  Illegal parking is also reduced, and drivers generally are happy or neutral about the program.  In fact, many drivers surveyed didn't even know the parking charges had been increased.  This has lead many, including Donald Shoup, to suggest that the prices could and should be increased even higher.  Unlike similar programs around the country, there is no indication that increased revenues are dedicated to the local neighborhood.

NYC has also, just this month, begun experimenting with high-tech parking management techniques that give drivers real-time access to parking occupancy maps and the ability to pay for parking by phone.  Sensors embedded in the road monitor parking space occupancy, providing real-time parking availability by block though a smart phone application or website.  After registering online, drivers can also pay for parking using the smart phone app or though a phone call or text message. The system can alert drivers when their meter is expiring, allowing them to feed the meter from anywhere.  As part of NYC's continuing open data efforts, NYC DOT is posting the parking availability online as a live feed for developers to use and has a 40 day rolling archive available to researchers.

The new "Parking Availability Technology Pilot" program, introduced this month in partnership with PayByPhone, is so far available in just one pilot location in the Bronx with 177 spaces. Interestingly, this program is not part of the SMART Park program.  Unlike San Francisco and Los Angeles, NYC has implemented parking-monitoring and parking-pricing programs separately.  The promotional material for the new program explicitly mentions that no price changes are included in the pilot, so it is likely an intentional strategic decision.  However, it seems that this technology would be a logical addition to the SMART Park program.

What do you think?  Is SMART Park a good model for parking demand management, or should it be more aggressive? Would it benefit from the addition of more technology, or is the high-tech approach more hype than help?

Thoughtfully edited by Brett Lezon

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