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Curb Appeal: Using Parking to Achieve Vision Zero Goals

In February 2019, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a revelatory prediction.[1] After all of last year’s collisions have been tabulated, 2018 will mark yet another rise in pedestrian fatalities, the largest number of pedestrian deaths in nearly thirty years.[2] This ominous news comes on the heels of the GHSA’s 2017 report that bicyclist fatalities have steadily increased since 2010.[3]

Cities all over the United States have embraced Vision Zero—the idea that no price is too great to prevent pedestrian and bicyclist deaths—by redesigning streets and reducing speeds to prevent traffic deaths and serious injuries. But to combat these troubling trends, transportation planners may need to employ each and every tool at their disposal.

In addition to using camera technology to enforce red light and speed violations; cite bus stop, bus lane, and bike lane infractions; and protect pedestrians in crosswalks,[4] we can better manage the curb to make modal alternatives safer and more attractive.

Distracted drivers and parking

Drivers distracted or frustrated by the search for parking are an increasingly deadly threat to road safety. As Donald Shoup, Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA, noted in The High Cost of Free Parking, “Thinking about parking seems to take place in the reptilian cortex… said to govern instinctive behavior involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual display.”[5] Drivers circling for parking often have their attention redirected by confusing signs and traffic – posing a risk to pedestrians and bicyclists. However, by rethinking how we price parking at the curb, we can shift demand, and make finding a parking space easier, and reduce accidents. Demand pricing creates availability by making motorists consider parking a little further away from their destination where parking is cheaper, arriving at their destination when there’s more turnover in spaces, or taking mass transit or a bike instead of their car.

Take, for instance, Washington, DC’s performance pricing program, parkDC, which has implemented demand pricing in the Chinatown/Gallery Place area that is known for parking congestion.  The quarterly pricing changes have led to:

  • A 5% increase in parking spaces available at any given time - resulting in drivers spending an average of seven fewer minutes circling for a spot.
  • More turnover through a 9% reduction in stays
  • A reduction in motorists circling for a parking spot, once 25% and now between 10% and 15%
  • A 55% reduction in double parking citations[6]

The parkDC program also provides parking availability data to motorists through public and private apps, helping drivers plan their trips and find parking faster and reducing distraction and frustration.

Better Pricing the Curb

Too often, rush hour commutes are made worse by double-parked delivery vehicles clogging the roads. Often, double-parked vehicles block bicycle lanes as well. In addition to properly pricing metered parking, cities can shift demand, reduce congestion, and make roads safer by applying pricing algorithms to loading zones. Reservations systems can provide pre-payment and navigation options for truck drivers, while camera systems and license plate recognition provide for automated enforcement and billing for overstays.

Improved Enforcement

If parking enforcement is inefficient or inadequate, or if fines for illegal parking are set too low, drivers may snub rules and risk a citation. Illegal parking exacerbates dangerous conditions and means there’s less available parking for paying customers. The unfortunate result is distracted driving and road rage. Cities can improve compliance by better managing enforcement personnel.[7]

For instance:

  • Monitoring the performance of parking enforcement officers (PEOs)
  • Examining and optimizing PEO schedules to align with the need for turnover
  • Creating new enforcement zones and optimized routes based on citation probabilities instead of past practices
  • Providing staff with state-of-the-art, integrated citation issuance software
  • Creating a credible deterrent through violations processing and collections

Improving Bike Lane Enforcement

Concerns about safety serve as the biggest disincentive for biking. We can make bicycling more attractive by making bike lanes safer. One way of doing that is to aggressively enforce driving or parking in these bicycle designated areas. In addition to using predictive enforcement algorithms to route enforcement personnel, autonomous enforcement using vehicles equipped with cameras and computer vision to recognize license plates and vehicles can deter illegal parking endangering cyclists.

Access and Equity

Vision Zero also encompasses notions of access and equity. As The Vision Zero Network states, “Vision Zero recognizes that all people have the right to move about their communities safely. Equity is an integral part, especially to engage communities' most vulnerable and to work against over policing and inequitable enforcement.”[8] Street design must promote safe access to everyone, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and motorists. Parking, though, can serve as a valuable tool to combat accessibility issues. Cities are considering licensing underutilized metered parking spaces for alternative uses like food trucks, car-sharing, pop-up shops, temporary loading zones, valet, ride-hailing stands, and other community uses. Properly vetted and permitted, these unique uses of curbside spaces solve the accessibility quandary and improve safety in two ways:

  • Making it easy to reach a destination. Whether driving to a restaurant (valet), or grabbing a Lyft ride (dispatched from a former or part-time parking space), alternative uses for parking makes goods and services more accessible. These uses can also reduce demand and calm traffic.
  • Bringing goods and services directly to the customer. Licensing parking in creative ways could help shrink food deserts and bring healthy and fresh fare to underserved areas. Food trucks and farmers markets often use parking spaces, and expanding their reach can help create walkable and safe neighborhoods. Further, trucks are being used more frequently as pop-up shops, dog grooming, boutiques, record stores, and performance venues.

Every pedestrian and bicyclist collision is preventable. Every fatality serves as a challenge to transportation professionals to do more. While curbside management isn’t always thought of as a solution for making our roads safer, it’s an essential tool for achieving Vision Zero and congestion management in a sustainable way.