Friday, November 21, 2008

The Cost of Parking

There was an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer today supporting Mayor Nutter's plan to increase parking meter rates, and to put in place a pilot program for cheap short-term parking in two downtown parking garages. The editorial explains the rationale behind this well-tested and time-proven strategy to encourage drivers to head straight for a garage, rather than circling the block, looking for a space.

There are plenty of models of this strategy around the nation, but my favorite is in the affluent town of Birmingham, Michigan (pictured above). In Birmingham there are numerous municipal garages, with clear signage showing visitors how to get to one from each block in the downtown. The garages are build with ground-floor retail wrapping them on major streets, so that they contribute to the lively urban atmosphere, rather than cutting up a shopping street with a blank garage wall.

The municipal garages are free for the first two hours, all the time. After that their hourly rate is still less than the hourly rate on street parking meters. Birmingham is truly jumping on a Friday night (think Main Street Manayunk), but many of the metered spaces are still empty, even when the main drag is jam packed with vehicles, and the sidewalks and restaurants are swarming with people.

It takes time for people to catch on to a new system, but Birmingham made it impossible (even for first-time visitors like me) to be confused about the system. On all of those lamp poles shown in the photo above you can see a white sign, sticking out over the sidewalk. The signs say "First 2 hrs free in all the parking docks." There are other signs that say "Parking docks are always cheaper than meters." At each block there are large, clear signs showing how to get to the parking garages.

This kind of signage and public education campaign will be important if Philadelphia hopes to implement this kind of forward-looking parking policy.

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