Washington, DC, improves parking and traffic with “asset-lite” pricing program

By Chris McCahill

Washington, DC, just released the results from its four-year pilot program, parkDC, which applied dynamic pricing for on-street parking in Penn Quarter and Chinatown. Based on its success, the city is now working to expand the program beyond the pilot area. The program, which built upon the earlier success of those like San Francisco’s SFpark, achieved similar results with fewer resources.

To lower the program’s cost, the city developed an “asset-lite” approach to data collection, which relied on strategically placed cameras and in-ground sensors, along with networked meters, enforcement data, and pay-by-cell transaction records. This approach took several key steps: 1) demarcating on-street spaces; 2) focusing on block-level probabilities instead of precise space availability; and 3) fusing all of the available data sources to minimize the number of sensors needed.

The program required five price adjustments. The base price was first set at DC’s standard rate of $2.30 per hour, and prices were gradually adjusted on each block—to anywhere from $1.00 to $5.50 per hour, based on demand. Time limits were increased in some low-demand areas.

The city also monitored loading activity and adjusted parking prices to discourage double-parking in busy loading areas. This sometimes meant applying the peak daytime price during off-peak parking periods like nights and weekends.

The program achieved most of its goals, including:

  • The number of blocks experiencing ideal usage increased from 62 to 72 percent.
  • Customers reported spending 7 minutes less to find parking.
  • The time that vehicles were observed double-parking dropped by 43 percent, and citations dropped by 55 percent.
  • Based on improved signage and real-time traveler information apps, customer understanding increased by 15 percent.
  • Traffic improved and business stayed strong.

Like the SFpark pilot program, which resulted in 45 percent lower search times, a 27 percent drop in citations, and lower average parking prices, the parkDC program shows the overall benefits of strategic parking management. And like Seattle’s annual parking study, DC’s cost-saving measures make these programs more realistic options for smaller cities and towns with more limited resources.

Chris McCahill is the Deputy Director at SSTI.