Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Technology Can Help Solve Parking Problems

A Boston Globe investigation last week revealed two important reasons behind the city’s legendary parking woes.

The first, and the main subject of the article, is the city’s failure to manage demand for parking. There is, the Globe revealed, no limit on, nor any fee for, the number of permits a resident can get for on-street parking. One man reportedly “has residential parking permits for 10 cars, including two Ferraris, a Mercedes, and a Porsche” – a surprisingly valuable stable of vehicles to risk on the famously narrow streets of Boston.

More surprising to me, though, was this quote: “‘It's frustrating when you come home from work and have to drive . . . for an hour to find a space,’ said Ryan Kenny, who chairs the North End Waterfront Neighborhood Council’s parking committee.”

This is the second reason the article reveals underlying Boston’s parking woes: There is also a supply-management problem.

The North End is one of the most walkable and transit-accessible communities in the country, so its residents are less likely to need to drive than people who live elsewhere.

For those North Enders who do need to drive, they no doubt encounter a limited supply of parking, but that’s a feature, not a bug, of the dense development that makes the neighborhood a cherished destination for tourists and increasingly prized location for young professionals.

The city, however, is not managing the supply well. It can be done.

In nearby Dedham, changes to the parking fee structure – without adding any more spaces – have dramatically improved the situation in the town’s center.

Technological tools – analogous to those that are revolutionizing other aspects of transportation – are also available to help make parking more efficient.

In San Francisco, for example, real-time monitoring from the SFpark system allows people to see which areas of the city have parking garages with lots of available spots, as well as where on-street parking is priced at different rates.

That allows drivers to minimize the time they spend cruising for a space [PDF]. Instead, they can drive directly to a place with plenty of available parking, or know in advance they will need to spend more to secure a spot in a high-demand area.

In fact, Boston itself has made a start along this line in the South End, using similar technology, powered by the Parker app. The app not only knows where available spots are in rea time, but can give a driver turn-by-turn directions to get there.

Solving parking problems takes attention to all three aspects of the problem: limiting demand by either capping the number of permits issued to each resident, charging for permits, or some combination of both; expanding the use of technological tools to better manage the supply of spaces that do exist; and reducing individuals’ need to drive by developing transportation options that reduce the need for individuals to own (and therefore park) cars. Next week we’ll have a new report out exploring the latter issue – watch this space.