As Jennifer Curington reports in the Community Impact Newspaper, this Thursday Austin City Council will consider whether to create its first two parking/transportation management districts. PTMDs are arrangements in which the city installs parking meters in an area that needs them and splits the proceeds from operating the meters between the general fund and a fund that is specific to the area in which the meters are installed. They differ from parking benefit districts, another arrangement that the city can create, primarily in who can apply to create one. (There are some folks who believe PTMDs are inferior to PBDs. For their arguments, read the comments section of this post a little while after I post it.)
The main feature of both these programs is that they control parking demand through the use of meters, a practice that first began in Oklahoma City in 1935. Of course, given the opportunity, most people would just as soon not pay for parking as pay for it, but as I discussed here, that can cause serious problems when there are more people who want to park than there are spaces.
The “revenue split” feature of PTMDs (and PBDs) are essentially political features. Just because it would benefit people on the whole to install parking meters doesn’t make it politically easy to create them. Opposition to meters can come from a number of corners, including merchants who believe their customers will no longer come to their store if they can’t park for free, to residents who dislike having parking spaces they have been using for long-term parking converted to short-term parking for those who live outside the neighborhood. By concentrating the benefits of the meters in the same area where these opponents live and work, theory goes that it will be easier politically to create and maintain support for them.
Indeed, in this case, theory appears to be matching up with reality. Two neighborhood associations–the East Cesar Chavez NA and the Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood–have joined the city in applying for the “East Austin” PTMD. This PTMD (council item here) would be bounded by I-35, Chicon Street, 4th St and 7th St, or roughly speaking, what many people call East 6th. The meters would run during the busy nightlife hours of 6PM-midnight Tuesday through Saturdays; any residents of single-family homes whose homes do not have off-street parking will be provided permits to use on-street spaces free of charge. Some ideas contemplated in the city documents for where the funds may be used include sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic signals, artwork, and ongoing street maintenance.
If these PTMDs turn out well, they may prove an improved template for managing high-demand parking near commercial areas of the city. The parking management solution most commonly in use, the Residential Permit Parking program, has been a failure. The idea behind it in the first place is essentially exclusionary–the entire purpose of the program is to ban people who don’t live very close to an area in which parking is in high-demand from parking there. This is, to put it lightly, a poor use of a city resource (on-street parking). When put in practice, this program has, not surprisingly, had poor results. Many of those streets in which non-locals have been excluded from parking now sit empty, while parkers just park even further from their destination.
Perhaps in the future, the city will decide that rather than playing whack-a-mole with people who desire parking, they should simply charge for it, and use the proceeds to improve sidewalks, crosswalks, and the like.