Demand-Based "Smart Parking": Watch How It Works

SFpark Overview from SFpark on Vimeo.

You may have heard recent stories about San Francisco’s bold experiment with demand-based parking, a two-year pilot project that launched two weeks ago (see links to stories at end of this post).

This new project collects and distributes real-time information about where parking is available so drivers can quickly find open spaces and get off the road. It also introduces “demand-responsive” pricing to encourage drivers to park in underused areas and 15 City-owned garages, thus reducing demand in overused areas. The video link above shows you exactly how it works, and here are some other features:

  • New parking meters will accept credit cards
  • You will be able to look for an open parking space via computer or smart phone
  • Data on parking availability will also be available via 511, text messaging, signs, and new electronic display signs at high-volume spots throughout San Francisco

While parking rates may increase in high-demand areas and at high-demand times, they are expected to decrease where and when demand is low. As for price fluctuation, prices will never change more than 50-cents at a time, and never more than once a month.

According to SFpark, circling for parking accounts for approximately 30% of city driving, and reducing that traffic by helping drivers find parking benefits everyone on the street. While some cities have already implemented some elements of demand-based parking, San Francisco is the first city to deploy comprehensive technologies and policies. (Seattle is rolling out real-time parking information and guidance around Labor Day).

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Urban Partnership Program is funding 80% ($19.8 million) of the pilot project. The other 20% comes from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SF Muni).

As we often do, we wanted to delve into our Archive to see how age-old issues were treated long ago. We’ve previously written about Los Angeles’ growing pains stemming from more and more people coming into downtown as the outlying areas expanded due to annexation and population growth. Parking problems grew in tandem alongside congestion and frustration: As noted earlier, vehicle registration in Los Angeles County quadrupled between 1914 and 1922 alone.

By the mid-1940s, two in-depth parking studies were conducted for downtown Los Angeles. In 1944, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission issued a report titled Business Districts (36p. PDF). It includes several interesting findings, including the result of a survey of 222,000 industrial workers in 1942 which revealed only 8% of them used “public or mass transportation” in going to and from work.

This document compares the Los Angeles Central Business District with the business districts of Long Beach, Pomona, and Westwood Village in detail to provide a frame of reference when measuring movement of vehicles and pedestrians. Some great maps are included, showing block-by-block the types of businesses in the downtown areas as well as pedestrian traffic in downtown Los Angeles (click to enlarge).

The following year, the Downtown Business Men’s Association published the Downtown Los Angeles Parking Study of 1945 (47p. PDF). It delineates “Downtown” as that area bounded by Sunset and Pico Boulevards to the north and south, and by Figueroa and Los Angeles Streets to the west and east. This study shows downtown “types of buildings” (e.g. brick, concrete, wood frame) and the number of gas stations in downtown Los Angeles in 1944 is quite an eye-opener.

The study proposed that 6,750,000 square feet of “properly located ground” should be provide adequate parking to avoid choice parking areas being gradually absorbed for other purposes. For more immediate action, the Executive Committee of the Association recommended that a corporation (which they would control) be formed which would have the authority to rent, lease or otherwise acquire to operate parking facilities for the benefit of the District.

City leaders in 1945 Los Angeles obviously didn’t mention anything remotely similar to San Francisco’s pilot project. Their focus was on supply meeting demand, not supply priced for demand.

Resource list:

High-Tech Parking Meters Premiere In S.F. (San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 2010

San Francisco: A Free Market In Parking Begins (Human Transit, August 11, 2010)

San Francisco Rolls Out Supply-And-Demand Pricing For Parking Meters (GOOD, August 6, 2010)

San Francisco Spends $25 Million To Test “Goldilocks” Parking (NPR, July 27, 2010)