My last blog post, on the proposed re-striping of Park Street and Webster Street, turned into a blog post about parking policy. If you liked that, you'll like this — because this is another blog post on parking policy in Alameda:

  • First, a follow-up on the "lever" of parking pricing in Alameda's two main business districts.
  • And second, a reminder of the nice things that come from no longer requiring that businesses provide a minimum amount of off-street parking in Alameda.

Setting prices to free up curb space

First, the hypothetical I wrote about in terms of using pricing as "lever" to increase available on-street parking is actually in the works within the city's Public Works department. Speaking at the May 24 meeting of the Alameda (city) Transportation Commission, staff mentioned that this is part of their 2023 work plan:

Source: City of Alameda Annual Reports for General Plan & Housing Element, Climate Action & Resiliency Plan (CARP), and Transportation Plans p. 80

Readers of my last post may remember that 80% occupancy of on-street parking is the inflection point at which San Francisco found that motorists become much more likely to illegally double park. (To leave their car or truck in an unprotected bike lane or an auto travel lane, with their blinkers on, while they go pick up their food or wait for their Uber passenger or whatnot.) So, it's good to see City of Alameda proposing a somewhat close number of 85% as a target occupancy.

There are many other "knobs" that will need to be tuned: Which exact places (block faces) are covered? Just on-street or also city-managed surface parking lots? For what times of day? For what days? [An aside: If parking is free on Sunday, which god or g-d or gods will be paying the City of Alameda for the lost revenue?] With the "lever" of pricing used more vigorously, will other constrains like time limits be removed? How often will usage be checked and prices adjusted?

Most important is that the city will be tracking parking usage, will use this data to inform the price that is charged, and all with the goal of accomplishing clear objectives: certain amount of public parking available for ready use and decreasing the odds of illegal double parking.

Explaining the benefits of appropriate prices for parking

Here's a warning: Some people will complain when they see higher parking prices. (Recall in my last blog post that I was seriously proposing the hypothetical of $2 for "only" 10 minutes of parking directly on Park Street.)

It will be important for the city, the business districts, and other stakeholders to repeatedly explain benefits of price increases.

Increasing parking prices in certain places and at certain times helps to make it easier to find that parking and improves the overall efficiency and safety of the entire transportation network. It's going to be important to say this over... and over... and over again.

As part of explaining the rational, it'll also be useful to say what this revenue is going toward. It's a much more compelling story when people who are paying to park their cars in the Park and Webster business districts can understand how those dollars are going toward improving those places (not just the city's general fund).

The city and business districts should also explore ways to put some of the increased parking revenue toward equity goals. What exact form this could take is an open-ended question. But it's still a good question to ask about how new sources of revenue, no matter how small can help to support previously under-recognized goals. Also, there's strategic value in talking about equity earlier in the planning process for these types of projects, rather than letting "equity" get co-opted as an objection later in the process. (A point of comparison, see the "Making Sure Pricing Programs Are Fair" section of this overview of SF Downtown Congestion Pricing study.)

If this were Japan, perhaps the City and the Downtown Alameda Business District would create a special mascot character who represents the spirit of dynamic parking pricing. Whichever staffer draws the short straw would then wear the mascot costume to events around town to extol the virtues of motorists paying a fair price to park in publicly own parking facilities. Whether or not a parking mascot is actually involved, a good effort is called for in terms of marketing and communicating the why of increased prices for parking.

Drink and don't drive

Now, a nice example of a previously adopted parking policy improvement in Alameda: the removal of "parking minimums" from the city's zoning code.

A Martian would be so confused by the ITE Parking Generation Manual for many reasons. Here's just one of the reasons:

Martian: I have reviewed this so-called Parking Generation Manual. I have a question. You humans become impaired when you imbibe alcohol, correct?
Human: Yes, correct.
Martian: It is against your legal precepts for a human who is impaired from inhibiting alcohol to operate an automobile, correct?
Human: Yes, correct.
Martian: Why does the this so-called Parking Generation Manual require that every bar, tavern, and nightclub build and operate its own off-street parking facilities sufficient to house the automobiles of every possible patron?
Human: The shamans of the Parking Generation Manual believe that all patrons of a business arrive by automobile, depart by automobile, and while they are within the business, it would be sinful for them to store their automobile anywhere other than on-site off-street parking. The sin of "overflow" parking must be avoided at all costs.
Martian: You humans are so illogical. Your shamans are trying to defeat this imaginary sin of overflow parking while they instead merely encourage the dangerous sin of drunk driving.
Human: Yup, welcome to America!

Fortunately, the shamans of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE; the body that governs the Parking Generation Manual) no longer have power in Alameda. As of 2021, the city does not require any specific amount of off-street parking to be constructed as part of new development or changes to existing facilities:

Alameda is listed in the Parking Reform Network's Progress on Parking Mandates map.

You might think that this opens the possibility of developers building apartments and condos with zero parking spots per unit. Yes, that's permitted by the city's zoning code. But most developers of multifamily housing in inner-ring suburbs like Alameda still want to sell some amount of on-site parking with their housing units. (Parking may be "unbundled" from units, meaning that purchasers can chose to buy a parking spot or to skip it and save that money.) Their financiers also often have requirements for some amount of parking to be included in developments. (I've previously ranted about how much developers and bankers love townhouses with private parking garages for each unit.) It's not those types of developments that use the flexibility to go all the way to zero.

It's projects like this existing business: Midway through the pandemic, Forbidden Island, the tiki bar, converted its off-street parking lot into a temporary extension of its outdoor patio.

Now, Forbidden Island is applying for an administrative use permit to make the much larger patio permanent. This permit is recommend for approval by staff partially on the basis of off-street parking no longer being a city requirement:

Source: Zoning Administrator Hearing, June 5, 2023.

As an alternative to providing free off-street parking, Forbidden Island is taking advantage of its proximity to transit and also building additional bike racks:

Source: Zoning Administrator Hearing, June 5, 2023.

Yes, some people will still drive their cars to go to Forbidden Island. Yes, they will still need to be responsible about knowing when they're safe to drive home and when they are not. However, the city's zoning code is no longer going out of its way to force Forbidden Island to specifically promote autos as the easiest means of travel. And as an added bonus, Forbidden Island gets to expand its patio to seat more customers. Nice things happen when off-street parking is not mandated.

Martian: When we were discussing parking-minimum requirements at bars in most other parts of your United States of America, I was very concerned about the future of your species.
Human: Yes.
Martian: But now that we are sitting here on a large outdoor patio in Alameda, California, drinking rum-based drinks in your mild climate, I do see more potential for your species.
Human: Thank you.

Better living through parking policy reforms