Downtown paid parking coming to Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission

In Palo Alto, key decisions are approaching regarding downtown paid parking, considered the third leg of the stool, complementing strategies to reduce parking demand, and to add parking supply.  On Wednesday, Planning and Transportation Commission will review recommendations to use paid parking to manage limited downtown parking supply.
As Donald Shoup persuasively explained in the classic “High Cost of Free Parking” paid parking, including for on-street and short-term visits is a very helpful technique to improve convenient access, make most effective use of limited space.
The nearby examples of Redwood City, San Mateo, and Burlingame show that paid parking is no impediment to a lively downtown nowadays when walkable downtowns have regained popularity. Palo Alto had removed its downtown parking meters in the 1970s when downtown was languishing, as customers in that era neglected downtowns in favor of Stanford Shopping Center and other malls.
Following about 18 months of studies and stakeholder outreach, it sounds as though Palo Alto stakeholders including downtown businesses have come around to the perception that the “color zone” system, which allows fully subsidized parking in a zone for 2-3 hours at a time, has outlived its usefulness, and have come support paid parking as a means to more effectively manage car access and provide convenient parking downtown.
A few items of interest in the robust studies described in the staff report:
* The amount of downtown parking used by employees doing “color zone hopscotch” to avoid paying for parking. “Stakeholders were quite surprised at the figure of 80-200 vehicles moving between zones throughout the day, many of them likely to be employees of downtown businesses who have not purchased a permit.”

* Visitors don’t love the idea of paying for parking, but are much more amenable when it’s described in terms of improving the likelihood that they will find a convenient space.


The staff report recommends paid parking, with a set of recommendations including:
* A blend of single-space meters in the core downtown, and multi-space meter technology in more peripheral streets
* A mobile payment, pay-by-phone technology
* License Plate Recognition parking enforcement
* Dynamic management of off-street spaces to balance demand for short and long term parking
* Ongoing and active monitoring of parking supply and demand
Other nearby cities, including San Francisco, Redwood City, and San Mateo have decided on an iterative dynamic system, where prices and rules are set for a period of time, and then evaluated for effectiveness at maintaining availability and improving the balance of utilization, and periodically refined.
The studies project that over time, the paid parking will generate funds for the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit which is charged with reducing solo driving to the downtown area.  Earlier this year, PATMA was provided $480,0000 in revenue to scale up their programs, using funds from full-priced employee parking permits. PATMA projects that the funding will enable  them to shift up to 750 people to modes other than solo driving, thereby achieving a 14% reduction in SOV commute trips (below the baseline of 5,500 identified in the benchmark survey) by the end of calendar year 2018.
Given the discussion around the use of full-price employee parking permits to fund the TMA – and concern at that time about using money from Palo Alto residents to pay for programs for workers –  it might be a reasonable suggestion to explore the use of a share of the revenue from paid parking for programs that would help Palo Alto residents get downtown without driving.
The current round of surveys found that about 20% of people parked downtown were there for dining, shopping, and services; but the surveys didn’t ask how many were residents of Palo Alto vs. other communities; an earlier intercept survey showed a high share of local diners/shoppers.
Programs to benefit residents could include a program as in Mountain View to discount Lyft/Uber access from other city neighborhoods and increasing the frequency of city shuttles.  Such programs would merit further research to assess demand.
The neighboring city of Mountain View is about 18-24 months behind Palo Alto – Council has directed a study of paid parking downtown, and is pursuing several other strategies to better manage parking and reduce parking demand, including a pilot of Lyft/Uber discounts that will start shortly, extending their Transportation Management Association to downtown, and potentially using some developer in-lieu fees to improve non-driving access. Mountain View Council’s direction on supply is “while we might need new structure eventually, it’s not a good risk right now as transportation is changing and demand for parking may go down.”  Despite PATMA’s forecast that their funding could enable reducing parking demand by 750 spaces, it is Palo Council direction, with broad (though not unanimous) community support, to continue to pursue additional parking supply downtown.
The paid parking issue is expected to come to Palo Alto City Council in late 2017/early 2018. If Council decides to move ahead, a system could be implemented by the end of 2018 or at the beginning of 2019.