As we move toward a decision on paid parking, it is disconcerting the extent to which Davis, home of a world class university, ignores science and scientific methods when it serves its purpose. We may fully embrace climate science, but in the past we have ignored things like the science on water fluoridation – and it would appear the very basic science on why we need paid parking.
I read a letter: “I place great weight on the concerns overwhelmingly expressed by our downtown businesses. If our businesses further fail, what purpose will those parking meters serve?”
But the only way to get there is to ignore the experience of other communities with regard to parking, to ignore the fact that the data show we have a sufficient supply of parking – but during critical peak hours, the distribution of that parking is clustered toward surface streets in the southeast quadrant – and to ignore the laws of supply and demand and the fact that, by offering free supply, we are skewing the demand curve.
Bob Dunning calls this, “Fixing what isn’t broken.”
He argues: “I remain unconvinced that parking meters will be good for business in downtown Davis.”
He writes: “I get a clear sense that the sentiment in town is strongly against parking meters. Don’t fix what’s not broken. As my friend Jerry told me over lunch the other day, the sentiment in town is ‘overwhelmingly’ against parking meters in town.”
That part I agree with – the sentiment in town is in fact “overwhelmingly” against parking meters in town. What I don’t really understand is why.
First of all, what is not broken? We can see the data analysis here. What we see is that during peak hours, which is during lunch, and basically from late afternoon until late in the evening, there are vast swaths of downtown where parking is functionally not available.
The occupancy rate there is well over 90 percent. The ideal rate is about 60 to 80 percent, with ideally one to two spots available per block.
People will say they can always find parking – that is true. You should be always able to find parking, but the act of finding that parking contributes to problems. It means more cars are circling the blocks, contributing to congestion and air emissions.
Sorry, there is a problem here. Some people brave the parking problems and simply circle around until they find parking.
Others, though, may not. How many people does the downtown lose because they either give up on finding parking or they don’t want to bother? Are we adequately measuring that?
The second problem is that we actually do have enough parking. We simply have too much demand for the parking spots on the street and not enough for the parking lots and garages – especially at Fourth and G.
The third problem is that a good percentage of that scarce parking on the streets during peak hours – 15 to 25 percent – is taken up by employees who should be deferring to customers.
By not charging a fee for parking, we have warped the supply and demand curve here. By charging more for parking in one part of downtown, we will redistribute that demand and push more of it out away from the southeast and toward the parking garages and free parking areas. And by creating incentives for employees and employers to push employee parking off of the streets, we open up those spots.
That’s how the science works. This isn’t rocket science and it’s not particularly complicated. It’s Economics 101.
So why are large numbers of businesses and customers opposed to it?
They are concerned about the impact of paid parking. The question is whether they should have those concerns. This is where once again we should use science rather than fear-based models (sorry Alan Miller) to assess the situation.
We have the experiences of other communities. We also have the experience of the Davis community. What the experience of the Davis community is based on is the E Street parking lot. The extraordinary thing about the E Street lot is that it should not work at all, according to what the businesses and naysayers are telling us.
And yet, it is full most of the time. What does that tell us? A few things.
First, that we are not charging enough for parking in Davis. People are willing to pay money to park in a convenient location. The proof is there.
Second, when given the choice of paid parking or free parking, enough people will choose to pay even when free parking is nearby.
So suddenly people are going to drive somewhere else rather than pay? The E Street lot argues against that scenario.
That begs the question – is the current situation really working well?
One point I see made over and over again is we are charging paid parking from 10 am to 10 pm – and that is not the right time slot. I don’t really agree. My observation is that prior to about 10 am, it is in fact easy to find street level parking in southeast downtown where I work.
When I had to park on the street rather than in my paid parking spot in the Tim Spencer Ally, I could always find a parking spot on G Street prior to 10 am. Once you get into the noon hour, the street parking filled up, but up until about 11:30 you could usually find one in the G St parking lot across the street where the old Ace building is.
After that hour, you can’t find parking again until about 1:30. Then there is a brief window from about 1:30 to three, where you can find some parking in the southeast, but after about three, it becomes harder and harder and there is no way there are one to two spots per block after 3 pm.
Remember, we are not talking about all of downtown, we are only talking about the southeast.
Finally, anytime between about 4 pm and 10 pm, you’re only going to find a spot on the street if you happen to catch someone pulling out of their spot.
I disagree with Mr. Dunning who usually works from home – the situation downtown is not working that well. Right now we cannot build a new lot and, even if we did, the problem exists because most people would rather circle around looking for a spot rather than drive to the G and Fourth garage and walk two blocks.
—David M. Greenwald reporting