Tagged: parking

It's wicked hahd to pahk your cah

I should have known it would not be long. Just last month I posted about the battle between the city of San Francisco and the app Monkey Parking, and now the kerfuffle has come East as Universal Hub reported today that Boston mayor Walsh is squaring off against Haystack, a parking space marketplace app not unlike Monkey Parking.

Same tussle, different coast. Street and metered parking is broken – largely because it’s too cheap, enforcement is too lax, and the pricing model is too static – and that gives rise to all sorts of badness. It also gives rise to entrepreneurs like Haystack trying to make it less bad and make a buck for themselves too. The entrenched incumbents – cities – decide the best thing to do is to attack the entrepreneurs not the underlying brokenness that enables their [jerky] business models.

I found this comment on UHub telling:

But owning a parking space after a storm or even the entire winter is just fine, right? I guess tire slashing isn’t considered private regulation around here.

Boston’s home-grown brand of ugly private appropriation of public parking spaces, winter space saving, gets exactly the opposite treatment from city hall.

Other alert posters linked to the work of Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA who seems to have studied parking quite a bit and written more than a little on the topic. I found this article called Cruising for Parking especially interesting. Shoup says that when parking is priced right, 1/8 of the spaces will be open, and the time spent searching for a spot will be negligible.

Parking and cruising by Donald Shoup

Currently in many Boston neighborhoods, about 0/8 of the spaces are available and the time that an open space remains open is negligible. How many jerky apps will it take for the city to read the research by Shoup and others, and act on it? In the mean time, I suggest the city allow the apps to operate in exchange for their data, which could be quite valuable to the effort to improve the parking situation for all.

Now whose back is the parking monkey on?

Via TechCrunch, I learned that the city of San Francisco is putting legal pressure on Monkey Parking, an app that lets people who are parked in public spaces get paid to leave by people looking for parking. At Jalopnik, the same news is covered with the headline, “Use SF’s Parking App For Dicks And Face A $300 Fine” take your pick. SF says that MP is selling public parking spaces, which by definition don’t belong to any individual or company. One might say that they’re actually selling the information about who is leaving a parking spot and when (after all, who’s going to stay in a spot much longer than needed just to make an extra few bucks?) but that’s not really what I think is interesting here.

What’s interesting to me is that Monkey Parking has put a real number to how underpriced metered parking is, even in San Francisco where meters can cost as much as $6 per hour in some areas at some times. When you choose to drive around in circles (or, as my grandfather preferred, to simply lurk at the top of likely a street and wait) looking for a parking space instead of just pulling into a paid lot or garage, you’re valuing your time, fuel, and wear and tear on your car lower than the difference between parking meter and parking garage prices. I’ve been over this before, two years ago. Monkey Parking’s data, if people are using the service enough to generate anything meaningful, would be an awesome heatmap of parking demand, and the position of their prices between meter rates and garage rates would tell us (and maybe the city of SF) a lot.

You know markets are broken when services crop up that threaten the status quo and bend or break the law. To be dramatic, I’d point to the trade in illegal drugs or human organs, but it’s just as easy to check the latest episode of Uber vs cities and/or taxis.

The first item on San Francisco’s parking meters page says, “Parking meters are used to create open parking spaces in high demand areas.” If that’s working so well, why does Monkey Parking even exist? Here’s my free advice for San Francisco: don’t sue the Monkey (ok, sue them, I don’t care, the whole model really is a “dick move”), become the Monkey. Raise the price of parking meters, ideally in a data-driven, real-time, demand-based way. (Your current test where the meter price in some areas is adjusted every 6-8 weeks is weak sauce.) Heck, make your own app that tells people how much time is left on a given meter or where the empty spaces are. And increase the penalties for overstaying or feeding meters, too. 

The only way to really “create open parking spaces in high demand areas” (besides building more parking, and you know I don’t want to do that) is make the metered spaces expensive enough – and enforcement effective enough and harsh enough – to change behavior.  If you know that metered parking will cost a lot, you might choose a different mode of transport or you might prefer to pull into a paid lot or garage, or if you do drive and pay up, you’ll have a good incentive to move along in a timely fashion.

When a bus stop stops being a bus stop

You may remember back in June when I reported that the MBTA was eliminating a couple of stops on the number 1 bus line, I wondered what would happen to the space freed up. Well, I’ve been watching those stops and seen no changes. Still no parking, still marked off, still signed as bus stops.

Sign's still there Street's still marked

Until last night, when I was riding the 1 bus back from Boston and asked the driver to let me off at one of those stops. The driver – operator 67743 – told me it wasn’t a stop anymore. I pointed out that I could see the bus stop sign and even a person waiting at that stop to get on.  Since Yom Kippur was nigh, she made an exception for us.

So, MBTA or Cambridge or whoever, what’s the deal? How are passengers who are not always-internet-connected otaku like myself supposed to know this change is coming up and that it has finally actually happened? (The stop is still shown on the interactive route map on mbta.com justsayin) And, since service to that stop has in fact stopped, why is the sign still up and what’s the plan for repurposing that real estate?

Here’s what I wrote almost three months ago, emphasis added.

…what will happen to the former bus stops? Will more (metered?) parking be created? Bike parking? Ghost stops where parking is prohibited but buses never stop? Pocket parks? Time will tell. 

This is not the way I like to be right. I’d say from the position of the fire hydrant that no more than one parking spot on the Clinton Street side could be created, but that would be something. Adding bike parking or something else more interesting would be something too. Not even bothering with a sign saying that the stop is no longer a stop, that’s the worst kind of business as usual around here.

Bus stop, T woes, stop goes, speed grows

Via the estimable newsmachers at UniversalHub, a report that the MBTA is eliminating some stops on 15 of the busiest bus lines in the city this summer. The idea is that snipping out some redundant stops and refurbishing others will reduce end-to-end trip time and cut back on bunching. One of the stops to be eliminated is right in front of limeduck world headquarters, but the T maps show it to be as little as 260 feet from the nearest stop, so I can hardly complain.

Kudos to the T for what seems to be a data-driven harvesting of low-hanging fruit. People close to the soon to be former stops will be inconvenienced, but probably only at one endpoint of their bus journey, and substantially all riders of these lines will reap benefits.

What the always entertaining comments at UHub don’t bring up (yet) is what will happen to the former bus stops? Will more (metered?) parking be created? Bike parking? Ghost stops where parking is prohibited but buses never stop? Pocket parks? Time will tell. Until then, watch this:

Free tree from a pocket park in a parking spot

In addition to National Poetry Month, April was also National Landscape Architecture Month. Who knew? Not I, that’s who, at least not until the very last day of the month when I noticed that two parking spaces on Portland street had been converted into a temporary park on the sunny side of the street.

Park in a parking spot Landscape Architecture Day

I parked myself on the bench and ate my lunch. I would happily have fed the meter if that were necessary, but the good folks at Stantec had done their permitting homework and the park was free and clear all day. And, they were giving away little pine tree seedlings!

People sitting in a public park that used to be a couple of parking spaces

This is not an isolated incident. There is a movement of a sort called park(ing) that temporarily (re)claims parking spaces as parks, and there’s even park(ing) day on the third Friday in September, so mark your calendar for 9/20/13 and stock up on quarters and astroturf.

Notice, by the way, what’s in this park, designed by landscape architects, that’s not in the North End pocket park I noted not too long ago: seating. Just a thought.

The meter price is too damn low

Today was Bunker Hill Day, and therefore Boston parking meters were “off,” meaning not that you could park all day for nothing, but rather that you could park for two hours at a time for nothing.  Parking was free but still time-limited.  I’m betting most motorists would have preferred to pay the going rate and get a holiday from the time limit.

That little nugget reminds me of one of my favorite transit policy rants: parking meters are too damn cheap.  (Apologies to Matt Yglesias and/or Jimmy McMillan)  This is not exactly new thinking – I saw it in the Boston Globe in 2007, The New York times in 2010, and on the excellent Marginal Revolution blog last year.

We all know parking meters are a lot cheaper than paid parking lots, but you don’t get a lot more value for your parking lot dollar, except perhaps in crummy weather. This is reflected in the well-known fact that an open metered parking space is rare in a desirable area, the easy to observe behavior of people driving around circling looking for parking, and in the not-uncommon practice of feeding a meter all day (in violation of the time limit) on the logic that the occasional ticket still works out cheaper than paying retail for parking. (The last suggests that parking tickets are too cheap or too sporadically enforced, or maybe both, but we’ll get back to that in a bit)

So what’s the harm?  The city is giving up revenue it might get by bringing parking meter prices up to market rates, but it’s providing a service to drivers and the businesses that depend on drivers for customers.  Maybe so, but all this circling around looking for a meter wastes time and fuel, adds to pollution, and increases congestion for all forms of traffic trying to use the streets in question.  That’s bad for the planet and bad for individual finances, health and safety.

Seems to me it’s just another way that those who drive get a free ride (sic) at the expense of both driving and non-driving taxpayers.   If cities were to charge market rates for metered parking – an ideal solution would probably also be time or congestion-based – drivers would bear more of the real cost driving.  Plus, maybe a few, knowing in advance the cost of parking, might switch to bikes or public transit. And maybe the rest would at least save a few loops around the block looking for parking, and save us all a few tons of carbon in the air. I couldn’t blame the city for using the extra parking meter money for car-centric services, but I’m thinking maybe some can also go to public transit and pedestrian and bike-centric improvements.  Just a thought.

Bonus round: what do you do when you get back to your car to feed the meter and discover you’re late and you’ve gotten a ticket?

I can say from experience that at least some people sheepishly pocket the ticket and feed the meter.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to just leave the ticket and keep your quarters?  I don’t think you’re likely to get another ticket within the hour.  I’m not even really sure if you could.  I mean, how many times can you be fined for the same offense?  Maybe it’s a new offense every two hours.   (I can say that in one incident I observed, a car left at a Cambridge meter for ten hours without paying once gathered only two tickets. Never you mind just how I observed that.)

Following the “meters are too damn cheap” logic, if the purpose of parking meters is to prevent “hoarding” and make the common resource available to more people, then shouldn’t tickets for going overtime or not paying be designed to keep that flow going?  Seems to me the fines should be steep enough to give scofflaws and gamblers pause, and also increasing over time, like overdue library book fines, so that even after you’ve gotten a ticket, you still have an incentive to get moving sooner rather than later.

It also puzzles me that the city would boot a car, essentially destroying a parking space for hours or days, when towing would liberate that space for others to use right away.  But that’s more than enough puzzlement for one Bunker Hill Day.  Be careful out there, whatever mode of transit you choose.

Can snooty waiters save independent cafes from iPads and city planners?

I went to check out the newish Dwelltime Coffeebar and Bakeshop in the newly-hopping Broadway zone of mid-Cambridge.  Whilst enjoying an americano, smooth and served with a glass of water like they do in civilized nations, and a whole wheat bacon scallion scone, not too large, crisp and savory, all for a bit more than $5, I took notice of two notices.

First, the are going to turn off their wifi during lunch hours to reduce, well, dwell time, and to avoid becoming a co-working space.  Second, they have a petition going to get the Peoples’ Republic City of Cambridge to allow them more than 20 seats, a number to which they are limited because they have no off-street parking.   Are these things related?

Item 2, crap anti-business elitist NIMBY zoning

There’s a bus stop out front and the place is 4 blocks from the red line, but somehow the city thinks that the business needs to provide parking.  And the penalty for not providing parking is to be restricted to perhaps half the seating capacity it could serve.  Certainly the last thing I want in my precious Cambridge neighborhood is a cafe full of people.  Ugh, the thought of it.  I’m sure the only reason the neighbors tolerate that school across the street, teeming with germy children and no doubt swamped with SUVs at dropoff and pickup times, is some kind of grandfathering.  Awesome pro-business stance there, Cambridge.  An empty storefront across the street from a school is a much better idea.

Item 1, people who sit in a cafe all day

Before Dwelltime opened, I remember hearing a piece on the radio in which the owner talked about reducing the number of electrical outlets to prevent people from setting up camp all day.  I laughed.  Maybe that will slow down some people with crummy computers, but you can easily go four hours on a modern laptop, all day with an iPad, and as long as your supply holds out with an actual book.  So now they’re throttling wifi to keep people moving?  Again, that’ll hold off some people, but it won’t hold off technological progress.  Tablets, phones and hotspot devices let you skip the cafe’s wifi, as I am doing right now with a personal hotspot from my phone connecting me to a 4G data network.

It’s a social, behavioral problem, and restricting the tech, even if it could really work, won’t do the job.  High unemployment, scads of students, cheap technology, and a sense of entitlement will keep people camping out all day at cafes.

So, what to do?

Obviously the need to turn over the tables faster is exacerbated by having fewer tables than you might “naturally” have in the space.  At the same time, having people move through quicker would mean parking spaces would also turn over faster. Most of the parking nearby is resident or metered with a two hour limit.  If metered parking really worked, it would probably cut back a little on the all-day cafe types, but I’m guessing many of them are walking or taking transit.  I’ll leave the zoning thing alone for now except to say that the city needs to price street parking appropriately and let the cafe live or die on its own merits. For the all-day cafe dwellers, I suggest…

A modest proposal: waiters

People sit in cafes all day because they can.  Passive-aggressive moves like restricting power outlets and internet won’t cut it.  You need to make those people pay up or move on, and I think table service is the way to do it.  If I get a single coffee at the counter and hunker down for six hours, nobody’s coming over and asking me to buy more stuff to earn the right to stay or telling me that another party is coming in and they need the table.  But that’s exactly what waiters do in restaurants.  The better ones are less obviously obnoxious about it, but they all do it. “Anything else for you sir?”  Subtly-yet-pointedly leaving the bill.  You know the drill.

They way I see it, a skilled waiter or two could increase the average revenue per seat per hour and keep the malingerers moving along.  Plus, despite the best efforts of city planners, it would create another job, and it would make the cafe a bit safer by having another set of eyes on the floor.

Your mileage may vary, but if you’re car-free in the area, you should drop by Dwelltime and sign their petition.

Five things I won't miss about Davis square

Change is the only constant, and soon I’ll be spending a lot less time in Davis Square.  It’s truly the Paris of Somerville and I’ll miss it – except for these things:

Chuggers: Maybe one day I’ll have a minute for their cause (by which they mean a dollar, or several) but until then I will continue to avoid these earnest yet shadowy CHarity mUGGERS who are a plague upon Davis Square.  At least the clean-cut gents promoting the LDS wear nametags, and we know who they represent.  I gave at the office, thanks.

Crappy pizza: Sure, this is a problem in many places, but the drought of quality pizza in Davis is just despressing.  There’s lots of great places to have lunch around here but sometimes you just want a slice.  Is thin crust without orange oil too much to ask?  Do we have to order in from Medford?

Precision parking enforcement: I don’t have much sympathy for people who park illegally or for those who try to drive in dense urban areas, but the Somerville parking enforcement around Davis is deadly accurate to the minute of meter expiration, and frankly, it bums me out.

Diesel booth squatters: I don’t remember ever wanting to study as long and hard as these people do, no matter how caffeinated I was.  What’s the deal with spreading your stuff out to soak up an entire four-top all day long?  Don’t you ever have to go to the bathroom?  Aren’t you worried about bedsores?

The horrifying stench off Grove Street near Elm: I don’t know what it is or where it comes from, but it’s bad.  Real bad.  I think it’s actually the smell of death.  And as summer advances, it’s not getting better.  If that’s coming from one of those restaurants, somebody needs to look into it, stat.  Maybe the guys playing soccer in bloody aprons in the parking lot know something about it, but I’m not going to get close enough to ask them.