Moving to the Curb

Moving to the Curb

Management helps cities make informed decisions

Making good policy decisions requires data. Cities, for example, need a clear picture of their curbs before implementing any changes to parking allocation, prices, or bylaws. But today gaining this understanding can be difficult because demand for the curb is changing.

Where once a city simply had to allocate spots to private vehicle parking, today’s curb must have parking spots as well as designated areas for ride hail services, loading zones, recharging stations, flex zones, and bike-sharing stations.

With such high demand for the curb, managing this valuable asset is critical. The fact that many cities lack the essential data necessary to make informed policy decisions means they are missing an opportunity to improve the lives of their citizens. Fortunately, by working with an advanced parking management system that collects and correlates data from multiple sources, cities can now generate actionable information in almost real time that can be used to implement more effective parking and mobility policies.

Curb management, as opposed to parking management, uses data to help cities make informed decisions about how to improve space efficiency and compliance. This more expansive approach, which includes parking and various forms of transportation, offers greater flexibility and can be used in a variety of ways. It recognizes that the curb is in high demand and that those demands change over time. For example, the demand for a loading zone can peak first thing in the morning and then disappear on the weekend. A city can’t afford to waste that space.

GETTING PARKING PRICES JUST RIGHT

One way that cities can help their citizens is by improving traffic flow. Full parking occupancy downtown leads to drivers circling multiple blocks looking for spaces. This can have a detrimental impact on business in a city’s center as it causes drivers to have a negative experience driving downtown. It can also significantly increase the risk of pedestrian and vehicular accidents as drivers make unsafe decisions to grab any spot that becomes available.

The optimal parking occupancy in a city is 15% free space at any given time. When a city has less than 15% free space, it indicates that parking prices are too low. And, if prices are too low, people choose to drive downtown rather than take public transportation, which increases congestion and reduces pedestrian safety.

Increasing the cost of parking can help alleviate this problem as it encourages people to change their behavior. With the right pricing, a city can make it cost effective for people to park downtown for an hour but too expensive for longer when compared to the cost of taking public transportation. As a result, some people will decide to leave their cars at home if they intend to stay downtown for a long time, reducing both traffic and occupancy rates and increasing road safety.

In the past, it was difficult for cities to effectively implement pricing changes. Before making any adjustments, they first needed to understand how the spots were being used, which involved commissioning a study to look at parking trends. This meant setting up various traffic counters for an extended period.

Then, they analyzed all of the data and came up with a proposal to present to City Council. Since the entire process could take upwards of two years, pricing modifications designed to help change people’s behavior lagged well behind a city’s need.

Now that cities can collect and analyze data through a parking management system, optimizing parking usage through pricing can be achieved in an impactful and timely manner. These systems enable cities to quickly assess current parking trends, determine whether or not pricing should be changed, and then implement those changes as required. They also allow cities to determine if the changes are working to improve traffic flow and whether additional changes are required to further modify people’s behavior.

MOVING AWAY FROM TRADITIONAL PARKING ENFORCEMENT

Parking enforcement itself is also evolving. Cities are moving away from a traditional enforcement model that uses physical permits, pay and display meters, and paper tickets to a more ef- ficient model of information-driven enforcement that uses license plates as virtual permits.

Instead of having officers driving around looking for infractions, cities can use the data collected in their parking management system to direct officers where to go when enforcement is required.

The traditional approach has officers driving along streets and double parking to investigate possible infractions. Officers have to get out and walk to the vehicle in question, manually key in the information into a handheld device, and then print and place the ticket on the car’s windshield. In addition to exposing officers to potentially abusive face-to-face encounters with members of the public, this approach also disrupts traffic flow while their vehicles are double-parked. The increasing digitization of parking now allows cities to provide a safer work environment for their parking officers and reduce traffic congestion. The workflow begins with the system receiving a notification about a possible infraction from either parking sensors on the street or patrol cars with license plate recognition (LPR) technology performing plate reads.

Next, the system analyzes the notification to determine if an infraction has occurred. All verified infractions are then sent to a desk officer for review with the citation sent via mail to the parker or dispatched to a field officer for validation and generation of physical ticket. Because enforcement officers no longer have to drive daily routes or double park their cars, their job is made safer and the flow of traffic around the city is eased. Automating the enforcement process using a parking management system also significantly increases compliance. It makes it easy for a city to enforce an infraction in part because, once an infraction is verified, the system can simply send the ticket to the driver by mail.

The resulting increase in efficiency over parking enforcement officers walking or driving around is more than 50%. And the increase in compliance is even greater. In the first 12 months after implementing a parking management system, one city saw an increase from 14% of people paying for parking to a staggering 88%.

IMPROVING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Curb management can also help with public transportation. Across cities, ridership on public transportation is down. To increase ridership, cities are using some of their curbside real estate to create dedicated bus lanes. These lanes improve time performance, lower fuel costs, and reduce CO2 emissions.

Unfortunately, illegal parking can be a major obstacle to realizing the many benefits of dedicated bus lanes. Illegally parked vehicles force buses to stop and move out into the regular flow of traffic. This stopping and starting increases emissions creates safety concerns and slows down both car and bus traffic. Having parking enforcement officers issue a physical ticket for these vehicles and place them on their windshield only compounds the problem.

Automatic License Plater Recognition (ALPR) integrated enforcement makes it possible to enforce illegal parking in bus lanes using the same workflow developed for curbside parking. After a patrol car captures the vehicle’s license plate, the data is uploaded to the central parking management system for analysis. A desk officer then reviews the infraction and, if verified, can enforce the traffic violation via mail.

This process minimizes any additional traffic congestion resulting from issuing a physical ticket and also encourages drivers to stay out of bus lanes during designated times.

VALIDATING PARKING POLICY CHANGES

For a city’s elected officials, the ability to measure the results of a policy change is crucial. They must be able to demonstrate that their policies are having a positive impact on their city and its citizens.

In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, many cities have made quick policy changes around parking to support businesses and protect people. Some cities, for example, experimented with free parking in their downtown core to mitigate against the challenges businesses were facing due to shutdowns and other restrictive measures. In particular, they provided free parking during the Christmas Holiday season to encourage shopping.

To evaluate the success of this type of policy, a city could use its parking management system to produce weekly occupancy surveys. The data collected in these surveys would allow a city to accurately determine whether or not its free parking initiative is encouraging people to visit the city’s core. In the future, city officials could continue to use this data to make other informed decisions around parking to support businesses and tourism with the goal of improving access and revenue.

Making the curb real more accessible to more users can improve the flow of traffic and reduce congestion. Ultimately, taking parking management digital is an important step in moving a city in the right direction.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Security Today.

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