Tacoma Urbanist

Sep. 29, 2010 at 12:01am

Tacoma Should Promptly Eliminate Time Limits, Base Price on Parking Demand

Redwood City: Model of Parking Management in the United States

Parking expert Professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Price of Free Parking, often points to Redwood City as a model for managing parking.

Here is an article discussing two critical issues Tacoma is facing:

Elimination of Time Limits:

At first the merchants went crazy about the cost increase. When we told them about how there will be no time limits, that well be power-washing the sidewalks, they were in. When we had a City Council meeting, merchants came to support it.

We were so confident in the ability of prices to effectively distribute people that we eliminated time limits. Time limits were difficult to enforce and resulted in a very inconvenient system for customers, while employees easily evaded them and sat in prime spaces all day.

Varied Rates Based on Demand

(Here, Redwood City has three different price zones based on demand)

We were willing to bet that people would be willing to walk if there was a reward. So we set up a system in which the main drag is 75 cents per hour, side streets are 50 cents per hour, and lots/garages are 50 cents, 25 cents, or free depending on their desirability.

Professor Shoup on the ill advised time limits:

MR: What should San Francisco, or any city trying to reform parking policy, do about time limits?

DS: The other thing I think that San Francisco is doing and that Redwood City did and that Ventura has done is eliminate any time limits on the meters.

They removed the time limits and they rely on pricing to create turnover and vacancies they don't have to worry that they have to get back to their meter in an hour or two hours.


Whatever they're doing, they don't feel like they're pushed around so much by the city. 

People now don't have to worry -- a driver and three friends want to go for dinner some place and they park -- It still creates a lot of turnover because the price is higher, but the user is more in control of their life than when somebody who manages meters says you can only stay here for an hour or two hours.

comments [39]  |  posted under Tacoma


by Erik on 9/29/2010 @ 12:13am
One of the latest and most modern parking systems to implemented in the United States is in San Francisco.

In SF, parking rates are completed based on demand and areas have either no time limits or a four hour time limit:

All meters will have four-hour time limits or none at all. Most of the new meters will be single-space meters, but some will be machines that cover multiple spaces.


by Erik on 9/29/2010 @ 12:16am
Rates setting in SF are based on demand:

If the project proves successful, San Francisco could be trumpeted as a model.

"I don't think it will be a national precedent, but a worldwide precedent," said Donald Shoup, an economist and professor of urban planning at UCLA and a guru of the parking-reform movement.

"This is about more effectively managing parking in San Francisco and achieving our goals of reducing congestion and pollution and making it more convenient to park," said Nathaniel Ford, executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs SFpark.

Shoup popularized the theory that an 85 percent occupancy rate of on-street spaces would be the most efficient use of public parking. He said the theory, already used in such places as Redwood City, will be put to its first big test with the data-driven San Francisco experiment, which will be the first jurisdiction to use the high-tech sensors.

He said exactly what price will get the city to that 85 percent target has yet to be determined. "It's like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography," he said. "I know it when I see it."

Tacoma doesn't necessarily need sensors to set the rate each day. However, adjusting the rate once a month would not be too far off.

by jenyum on 9/29/2010 @ 12:17am
It was not always so, in San Francisco. They started with a particularly successful project in the Mission garage, by the Metreon. Once people saw the benefit of a high-tech system that could tell them about occupancy on each floor of the garage it was an easier sell from there.

I'm sure it cost big $$ to implement it all though.

Of course, what came before that (as in, decades before) was tremendous demand for parking by an extremely dense and popular downtown business district.

by narndt on 9/29/2010 @ 4:46am
The downward sloping demand curve doesn't lie. Bruce Mann and Doug Goodman in the Economics department at UPS could be using this in an Econ170 class!

by tacoma1 on 9/29/2010 @ 7:46am
I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that anyone that wants to can park all day in downtown Tacoma at one of the many private parking garages for a reasonable price.

Unless the private parking garages are all full, I don't see the problem. Either park for 2 hours or less on the street, or park off street in a parking garage.

Of course, if someone is philosophically opposed to paying for parking, they can always leave the car at home and take Pierce Transit in to town.

by fredo on 9/29/2010 @ 8:08am
"I'm pretty sure that anyone that wants to can park all day in downtown Tacoma at one of the many private parking garages for a reasonable price."

tacoma1, I've heard that some women don't like parking in the garages because of the many places where creeps might be lurking about.

by tacoma1 on 9/29/2010 @ 9:11am
Perhaps you should find a different place to lurk then.

Seriously, a proper function of govt. is safety of the citizens. If DT Tacoma parking garages are unsafe, Tacoma cops can arrest the creeps, or the city can shut down nuisance operators if they are a menace to society.

I just don't see how competing with private parking garage owners for long term parking revenue is a proper function of our city government.

by jenyum on 9/29/2010 @ 9:15am
I used to park in the North Plaza garage a lot, it's extremely creepy even in the middle of the day on a weekday. Also, it costs significantly more than parking on the street. This is probably why it's often nearly empty. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

by morgan on 9/29/2010 @ 9:48am
Hey- I'm a guy and the garages creep ME out! The point is, there is plenty of room on the streets - as we now plainly see.

If Tacoma wanted to get serious about parking, there could even be more spaces: before WWII downtown had angled parking all over the place - even on steep 9th Street!

by fredo on 9/29/2010 @ 10:04am
A conversation is taking place at LeRoys Jewelry Store, let's listen in and see if we can learn anything:

Husband: That $20,000 pear-cut stone is really what I'd like to buy...
Wife: I don't know...I prefer the $30,000 thorax-cut gem
Salesman: Which is it going to be? The pear-cut or the thorax cut?
Husband: YIKES, our parking meter is about to expire...let's run honey...see you later.
Salesman: Hey this 2 hour parking is really helping me open up some parking spots for new customers. That parking advisory committee is one smart group to be sure.

by Erik on 9/29/2010 @ 11:54am
Hey- I'm a guy and the garages creep ME out! The point is, there is plenty of room on the streets - as we now plainly see.

Right now, Court A used to be full all of the time. Now it is 80 percent vacant.

Many blocks of Market Street was never more than a third full. These areas should have remained free.

With the pay stations now in place, there are at least three blocks of Market street with 90 percent vacant and swaths of other blocks with huge vacancies. Not good for now but it will hopefully improve a bit in the next few weeks.

Cities usually have pricing schedules with the highest rate on the main street where the demand is the highest and then lower price rings.

Tacoma instead chose to charge the same price through a huge area even low demand areas which is creating even larger vacancies.

As for garage parking v. curb parking: people are going to want any many choices as they can get. Writing off curb parking would be wasting a huge publicly owned asset that has the potential to help downtown.

by cisserosmiley on 9/29/2010 @ 12:00pm
Redwood City is incongruent as an inferential base...here's why, it's way different than Tacoma...again use Everett, Bremerton, or Olympia. Thank you.

Redwood City, California – A community of just over 75,000 people, a center of high-tech industry, and the mid-point of the beautiful San Francisco Peninsula, Redwood City is known for its great climate and profound sense of community. Redwood City is devoted to preserving its rich history, maintaining today’s quality of life, and carefully planning its future.
Through its miles of San Francisco Bay shoreline, its neighborhoods and charming downtown, its shopping areas and attractions, and its rolling hillsides, Redwood City is a community that offers great variety in housing, employment, recreation, entertainment, education, and City services.
(it's kinda Bellevue NOT T-TOWN)

Located at the foot of Mount Rainier and along the shores of Commencement Bay in Washington state, Tacoma is recognized as a livable and progressive international city. With a population of more than 199,600 residents, the city that incorporated in 1884 has grown from its historical roots as a home of sawmills and a bustling port that exported goods around the world to a center for international exports, the arts and healthy, affordable living.

by fredo on 9/29/2010 @ 12:03pm
"Right now, Court A used to be full all of the time. Now it is 80 percent vacant" Erik


The price of parking is too high. The price is supposed to be set low enough to ensure a 15% vacancy rate. The only people who seem to be profiting from the parking changes are the executives at JayRay communications...and of course Marilyn Strickland's parking "ambassador" relatives.

by Erik on 9/29/2010 @ 12:26pm
The price of parking is too high. The price is supposed to be set low enough to ensure a 15% vacancy rate.

Yep. Here is an easy reference supply and demand chart showing the relationship between parking cost and occupancy rate for parking from The High Cost of Free Parking page 298:

The Y (vertical axis) is parking rate (cost). The X axis (horizontal) axis is the resulting occupancy rates.

Close up:


Thus, by modifying the cost of parking, one can change the resultant vacancy rate.

by L.S.Erhardt on 9/29/2010 @ 3:16pm
And in the news today:
Seattle plans on raising it's parking rate to $4/hr. This would make them second only to Chicago's $4.25.
That's more than Portland's $1.60, Manhattan's $2.50 and San Fransisco's $3.50
It's worth mentioning that Seattle is small fish compared to San Fran and not much more than krill compared to NYC.

Local merchants are complaining about Mayor McGinn's decidedly anti-car policies, including plans on reducing the majority of Seattle's 4+ lane roads down to 2 lanes with bike lanes.

Why mention this?
1) whatever hurts business in Seattle only serves to help out other cities near it. T-Town, pay close attention to that. How much momentum do you want to funnel away and towards L-Town and UP?
2) the city is making itself into a 600,000 person guniea pig. T-Town, pay attention and watch how that goes.
There are lessons about to be learned in the 206, and in the 253 we need to remember to scale things down. Can Seattle afford a 5% reduction in business? Probably. Can Tacoma? Nope.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 9/29/2010 @ 11:10pm
Seattle has less than half the density of San Francisco. San Francisco has an exceptional transit system with 90 percent of the population living within a few blocks of transit. Portland, OR has significantly higher density than Seattle. Portland also has a splendid transit system with major improvements in the pipe line. Still, Seattle is the big dog in Washington state. Tacoma will continue to get hind teat. Any money going to transit or urban amenities will end up going to Seattle. Sadly much Tacoma money will be diverted to Seattle.

by fredo on 9/30/2010 @ 7:53am
"Sadly much Tacoma money will be diverted to Seattle." Crenshaw

Pierce County voters had plenty of warnings that this would happen but voted to join the 3 county network anyway. Now we're screwed.

by Erik on 10/3/2010 @ 2:14pm
Redwood City discusses why time limits are a bad idea:


(Tacoma has not been able to figure out yet that with the price set correctly, time limits are not required to regulate vacacany rates)

Welcome to a kinder, gentler parking system...

Do you want to be forced to finish lunch in 30 minutes? Have you ever gone to dinner in 1 hour flat?

Of course not!

Time limits are a thing of the past in Downtown Redwood City*. Signs have been removed and meters have been reprogrammed to allow you to deposit enough money for a longer stay. No more chalking tires! This will make Downtown Redwood City the most convenient downtown to park in on the Peninsula!

In Downtown Redwood City we want you to feel free to spend the whole day here. Just pay the meter and forget about it. We won't make you cut your visit short!

Now, prices will be structured so that the most popular spaces are most expensive and the less popular spaces are cheaper. We will occasionally adjust prices up if an area gets too crowded and will adjust prices down if an area is too empty. This will prevent people from congesting the best parking areas. This innovative parking management system is called "performance-based pricing" and it gives you many benefits, such as available parking spaces when and where you want them, and no time limits. Stay as long as you'd like!"


Also see their analysis based on Shoup's research here pages 22 - 24:


Tacoma could have a kinder, gentler and more attractive parking program as well!

by Erik on 10/4/2010 @ 8:04pm
Update from the Tacoma Daily Index

Voice your opinion on new downtown parking meters at Oct. 7 meeting

With the on-street pay stations now in operation, the Parking Advisory Task Force would like to hear your feedback at a public meeting Thurs., Oct. 7. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. and will be held at the University of Washington Tacoma in the Carwein Auditorium in the Keystone Building.

For more information about the pay stations, visit

www.downtowntacomaparking.com . (Oct 04 2010)

by fredo on 10/4/2010 @ 10:09pm
A little early for feedback isn't it? The stations just went live on Sept. 20th and ticketing didn't begin until Sept. 27th.

RE: the feedback.

If a majority of people at the public meeting (Oct. 7) express the opinion that the kiosks be removed, does that mean they'll be removed?

by Erik on 10/4/2010 @ 11:34pm
Nah, It is good that there is a parking committee and that they are taking feedback.

Much of the conversation on parking has led to people falling into two camps of whether it is good or not in and of itself.

The first time Tacoma had this debate in the 1970s, the city ripped out all of the parking meters.

The second time the city had the debate in the 10 years, the merchants opposed paying for parking at all.

Hopefully now, Tacoma is ready for a more reasoned discussion and ready to do the more tedious work of adjusting the rate in each area of downtown.

Now that the pay stations are in, the degree to which implementing paid parking in downtown Tacoma is a benefit or detriment to downtown business depends on its willingness and skill to set the right price.

Some areas of downtown, such as adjacent to Puget Sound Pizza are clearly overpriced (aside from the four free spaces) and will benefit from a speedy reduction in the price. Since this area was already greatly underutilized with large vacancies before the pay stations went it, it parking probably should have remained free here.

(A typical picture showing 90 parking vacancy on Market and 7th. Target vacancy is 15 percent)

by fredo on 10/5/2010 @ 12:10am
If a strip of parking is underutilized (over 15% oer cent vacancy) during part of the day, and then overutilized (less then 15% per cent vacancy) during other parts of the day, does that mean the parking rate is too high or too low?

by NineInchNachos on 10/5/2010 @ 12:34am
End car welfare !


by Erik on 10/5/2010 @ 1:00am
Good question Fredo.

The model ordinance Redwood City has which Shoup believes has the best ordinance is to base it on the average. So if the average vacancy was 15 percent during the day, then the price in your scenario would be right on.


Here is another Shoup video I just found on setting the right price: the lowest price possible to make one out of 8 spaces vacant.

by KevinFreitas on 10/5/2010 @ 7:29am
So, if prices were lowered in some area versus others couldn't a parker simply pay and get a sticker from the cheaper spot then move to the more expensive one? Can they add "Zone" info to each sticker? If this is then the case maps of the zone boundaries would need to be plastered on every meter and would likely only confuse folks more unless each was customized with a "You Are Here" kind of dot. And, if folks pay for parking in one zone could they then apply what remains on a sticker in one zone for a reduced parking fee in another?

Sorry, just working that out a bit in my head. Gets nice 'n complicated really quickly -- for those parking and for the City.

by fredo on 10/5/2010 @ 7:43am
RE: the paystation stickers.

How difficult would it be to make these on the average home computer set-up? I haven't seen one but its hard to imagine that with today's technology people won't just publish a stack of these and leave them in their car for the next time they go downtown.

RE: average 85% occupancy rate.

If the desire is to achieve and maintain an average 85% occupancy rate then, based on what I've observed, the price of parking will have to be reduced considerably. I doubt if we had 85% occupancy even when parking was free. This raises a question. If we can't hit 85% occupancy with zero parking fee then what is the purpose of the meters?

I'm interested in Kev's question too. We were told you could move your car from one spot to another if you still had time on the ticket. Won't this screw up a plan to have various parking rates? Won't people just pull up to a kiosk in a low priced zone, buy their parking ticket, then go park wherever they want?

by Erik on 10/5/2010 @ 11:51am
Good News: Tacoma considering increasing time limits:

The man who runs Tacoma's parking system says the 2-hour time limit for downtown's paid parking zone might be one of the first things adjusted.

"I think you'll see us looking at that sooner," David Carr, the city's parking services manager, said Monday before a q-and-a session about paid parking at the University of Washington Tacoma. "There are some areas that aren't that busy."

Carr said a systemic change like paid parking will take six months to a year to settle in.


6 months though is too long to sit and wait while huge swaths of downtown are nearly dead.

by Marty on 10/5/2010 @ 4:53pm
Mr. Carr was not saying they would wait 6 months. He was indicating that he belives that it will take several months of tweaking in several ways (price, time, enforcement procedures and zones, ect..) to achieve the desired outcome.

It has been know all along that there would be adjustments shorlty after the roll out. I think the target was 3-5 weeks. So I would say this is news, but it is not new.

by Non Sequitur on 10/5/2010 @ 5:29pm
There is something to be said for appearances.
A lot of cars on Broadway (regardless of the cars belonging to employees or customers) gives the impression of a lot of people and desirability.
An empty block devoid of cars makes Broadway look like a ghost town.
As an out-of-towner, would you rather stop and explore a part of downtown that is full of life (or the appearance of, at least) or one that looks like a ghost town?
Hell, as a local, would you rather be on Broadway as it is now or as it was 3 months ago?

by Erik on 10/5/2010 @ 9:43pm
There is something to be said for appearances.

Yes, and for functionality:

(Status of Broadway at Antique Row on 10/1/2010 at 2:00 p.m. A huge public resource 80 percent empty)


by fredo on 10/5/2010 @ 10:01pm
We'll never know if the people left Antique Row because of the parking meters or because there's no place left to buy chicken soup.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 10/5/2010 @ 10:27pm
You can get chicken soup, I'm pretty sure, at Subway. Maybe it just isn't as good as the chicken soup was at the Mecca. Some judges swore by the chicken soup at the Mecca and I've never heard a word mentioned about the chicken soup at Subway.

by Erik on 10/6/2010 @ 12:27am
Current condition during the day of market Street 10/5/2010 at 3:00 pm:

A pay station in downtown Tacoma stands as a sentinel over dozens of empty parking spaces. Target street vacancy = 15 percent. Actual vacancy = 85 percent.


by fredo on 10/6/2010 @ 6:32am
It was mentioned earlier that the 85% occupancy rate was a targeted average and not an absolute. So if we have some blocks like Market Street shown above with only 15% occupancy that would suggest that other (unseen) blocks are running closer to 155% occupancy. See how it all averages out Erik?

by Erik on 10/6/2010 @ 10:47am
Here is the Exit 133 commentary on parking pay stations:


by fredo on 10/6/2010 @ 11:20am
One thing I like about the Tacoma Urbanist postings is that it gives the public a way to keep issues of importance on the front burner. Back in the old days of parking meters if merchants or other people were upset they really had little recourse. Today we have the power (ostensibly) to effect change through thoughtful internet discourse like Erik Bjornson's Urbanist discussion.

by Erik on 10/6/2010 @ 11:25am
Thanks Fredo. It is an interesting subject. Takes a ton of time to work on though. Hopefully, the more discussion there is about 1) the best practices for managing parking and 2) the actual vacancy rates in downtown Tacoma, the better results downtown is going to get.

Today the News Tribune published article on downtown parking issues:


by Erik on 10/6/2010 @ 3:16pm
Key quote in the Tribune article:

Martin Osborn, the manager of Puget Sound Pizza on South Seventh Street, said Tuesday that chasing away the chain parkers has hurt his lunch business.

There used to be a large group of people who would chain park on South Seventh, so itd be a convenient place to eat, he said. Now, the street is empty most of the day.


by fredo on 10/6/2010 @ 4:44pm
Some problems being mentioned anecdotally (such as Martin's) will be resolved by tweaking the current system. If we would eliminate the two hour limits the former chain parkers would probably return. However, no amount of tweaking will resolve every problem.

Prospective shoppers or diners who absolutely refuse to pay-to-park will not be appeased by anything less than the removal of the kiosks. We don't know if this is a large population or a small population but every dollar they don't spend downtown is coming off someones bottom line.