Case Study: Parking Pricing

Center for Advanced Hindsight


Driving to work alone remains the most common way employees commute in the U.S., at 76.4% of mode split in 2017. This figure is even higher at a local level, with 81.1% of commutes in North Carolina overall and 90% of commutes into downtown Durham (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). A high volume of commuter vehicles negatively affects cities and employers on multiple fronts: parking structure costs, increased traffic, employee physical and mental health, as well as environmental externalities. The team aims to reduce the amount of single-occupancy vehicle commutes to work by discouraging individuals from parking.

Current Landscape

Free parking is the most common benefit offered to workers in the US and when employees don’t pay out of pocket for parking, multiple behavioral barriers prevent a shift to sustainable modes of transportation. Social norms make new hires believe they should value the free parking and drive to work. The zero price effect holds that people value free parking to an irrational degree, precisely because it is free. The endowment effect maintains that employees with free parking are unlikely to give it up, even if offered what it is worth, and the thought of losing it feels extraordinarily painful.

When employees pay for parking at work, they typically do so with one payment per period through their employer with automatic payments continuing until the employee cancels. As with free parking, multiple aspects of this parking model act as behavioral barriers that prevent a shift to sustainable modes of transportation. Low pain of payment through features such as lump sum autopay and direct paycheck deductions make parking feel free. Inertia holds that, once employees set up automatic payments for parking, they are more likely to continue and need a strong push to stop. Consistent with the sunk cost principle, employees will want to park more frequently to “get their money’s worth” once parking is paid for.

Intervention Ideas

Considering these behavioral barriers, several interventions may reduce demand for parking. Broken-up parking payments, such as forcing employees to pay daily or weekly, will increase the experienced pain of payment (see “Daily” and “Weekly” rows in Table 1). Increasing the price of parking the more often an employee uses it in a period (see “IP Week” and “IP Month” rows in Table 1)—incremental pricing—would also increase the experienced pain of payment.

Table 1. Potential pricing structures split across 20 working days in a month.

Pre-committment is the idea that specifying and committing to a future action can help achieve positive behavioral change. Asking employees to commit to (and pre-purchase) a number of days they will drive in a period and, subsequently increasing the price of parking for additional days, would motivate employees to decrease single-occupancy vehicle commutes. A parking cash-out program would offer employees the option to receive a cash payment for declining a parking space. This would eliminate the zero price effect, but could be challenged by the endowment effect.

Another potential intervention includes incentive matching. If parking is subsidized, employees that drive receive more benefits than those who commute sustainably. Employers can balance this by decreasing parking subsidies or adding benefits for sustainable commuters.

Why It Matters

Owning and maintaining parking spaces is costly—one space in a structured urban garage costs about $5,000 per year. A 2018 study estimated the cost of congestion for individual cities at more than $2,000 per driver per year for large cities. Transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in America and, at current rates, researchers expect an 8°F increase in global temperatures by 2100, which would cost the U.S. approximately $400 billion. Discouraging individuals from parking would reduce single-occupancy vehicle use and help mitigate some of these negative externalities.


If Rush Hour Dies, Does Mass Transit Die With It?

Henry Grabar, Slate

Downtowns won’t recover from the pandemic anytime soon. Public transportation must look elsewhere.

In 2016, the San Francisco morning rush was so busy that Bay Area Rapid Transit did something unprecedented: It paid some riders cash to take the train at a different time. The six-month pilot was the transit authority’s answer to a common problem for big-city subway systems. BART could not physically run any more trains through the four-and-a-half-mile tunnel beneath the San Francisco Bay every morning; the tunnel hit capacity around 8 a.m. Maybe commuters could be induced to head downtown at 7 a.m., or 9?

What a difference a pandemic makes. BART ridership is down about 90 percent from normal, and the future looks dimmer every day. The agency’s January 2021 ridership projection is mostly below its lower-bound projection from June 2020. “Every forecast we make that we thought was conservative, reality is much more dire than we forecast,” said Brendan Monaghan, a BART financial planning analyst.

The prevailing sense of doom comes from a dawning awareness that the old workday travel patterns are not going to snap back into place when the pandemic subsides. Even when it’s safe for Bay Area workers to travel to work, many of them won’t. The tallest building in San Francisco is the Salesforce Tower, a totem of blue glass and a symbol of the city’s tech economy since its completion in 2018. On Tuesday, the software company’s “chief people officer” outlined new work policies. “The 9-to-5 workday is dead,” he wrote. Most employees will be in the office between one and three days a week. Twitter, another San Francisco tech employer, has announced an indefinite work-from-home policy. The situation looks similar in New York, D.C., Chicago, and other major U.S. cities.

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For Buttigieg, ‘Generational’ Transportation Change May Not Be Easy, Experts Say

Pranshu Verma, The New York Times

The new secretary has stirred excitement among transportation experts, but they warn that deep institutional change is likely to remain difficult.

Now that Pete Buttigieg is secretary of transportation, he faces a challenge: delivering on his promises of infrastructure overhaul.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, he said there was a “generational opportunity” to change infrastructure. In a string of news appearances over the past month — including ABC’s “The View” and an interview with the actor Chris Evans — Mr. Buttigieg said that climate change, racial justice and job creation could all be addressed through infrastructure overhaul.

We “have a historic opportunity to take transportation in our country to the next level,” he said on Mr. Evans’s website, “A Starting Point,” which interviews elected officials and policymakers. “We should actually be using transportation policy to make people better off, make it easier to get to where you’re going, easier to get a job, easier to thrive.”

His statements have generated excitement among transportation experts, who are unaccustomed to seeing the secretary of transportation adopt a news strategy to communicate about the nation’s infrastructure. But deep institutional change remains difficult, and reform will not come easy, they said.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Paul Lewis, the vice president for policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonpartisan transit research center in Washington. “But I do think a lot of the big things — the reform efforts — are going to take more time and effort than a lot of people are expecting.”

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The Most Important Bike Technology is … Street Design

Eric Jaffe, Side-Walk Talk

New studies of Lisbon and Toronto offer the latest evidence for the power of safe infrastructure to encourage more cycling in cities — and speak to the perils of relying on historical data.

Recent years have seen a surge in bicycle technology as transformative as anything since the penny-farthing gave way to the safety bike. Bike-share systems provide access to bikes without the troubles of parking or storage. Electric bikes boost the length of an acceptable ride far beyond what two tired legs might muster. Bike counters can help transportation agencies evaluate past upgrades and plan for future ones.

But for all these advances, it’s a humble bit of street design that still holds the key to unlocking more riders in cities: bike lanes that keep riders safely separated from cars. Two new case studies — one in Lisbon, one in Toronto — offer the latest (though hardly the first) evidence of the power of bike infrastructure to encourage cycling. The work underscores that no one technology can replace the basic need to feel safe on city streets.

It also speaks to the perils of relying on historical data alone to guide important policy decisions.

Lisbon’s “game-changing” infrastructure

A decade ago, cycling wasn’t very popular in Lisbon, Portugal. One travel survey from 2011 found that city residents made just 0.2 percent of trips by bike, far below the European Union average around that time of 8 percent. Today, bike use in Lisbon is on a steady rise, but the reason isn’t that residents suddenly decided they like to ride. Instead, Lisbon built safe bike infrastructure despite the low numbers, and the riders came.

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Will Commuters Ever Go Back to Commuter Trains?

David Zipper, City Lab

No form of public transportation has lost more riders in the coronavirus crisis than the trains that carry suburban workers to urban jobs. Will they ever recover?

Last year, the fiscal management control board of MBTA, Boston’s regional transit agency, faced a critical decision. With area commuters enduring the worst car traffic in the United States, would the board greenlight a multi-billion-dollar revamp of its traditional commuter rail network, expanding it to offer bi-directional “regional rail” service every 15 minutes? Doing so would be a paradigm shift for a network that was designed to fulfill the more modest goal of bringing suburban commuters into the city in the morning and back out again in the evening.

The answer was yes. In November 2019, the MBTA’s board approved the commuter rail transformation project. Speaking after the vote, the board’s chair said that it was time to “provid[e] more aggressive service for the region … in order to decongest the roadway systems.” MBTA would still have to find upwards of $10 billion, but transit advocates were thrilled to envision a network that could accommodate Bostonians ill served by traditional commuter rail, such as workers traveling to suburban job centers, or parents scrambling to get to a midday doctor’s appointment.

But then the coronavirus lockdowns arrived, and MBTA ridership crashed more than 90%. Across the United States, passenger counts on commuter rail have fallen even more sharply than those for bus, subway and light rail systems. In Maryland, ridership on MARC’s commuter rail service, which collects D.C.-bound workers from points all across the state (and into West Virginia), plummeted 94% since lockdowns kept much of the federal workforce at home; in Baltimore, by contrast, subway and bus ridership fell 75% and 51%, respectively. In Chicago, the Metra commuter rail system anticipates a 97% dropoff in April, while trips on CTA’s bus and rail networks have dropped “only” 80%.

Will these commuters ever come back? With gas prices at record lows, traffic light and teleworking being normalized, transit experts fear that rail riders may be slow to return when the pandemic ebbs. But there is a path forward for these systems—if their leaders embrace the kind of visionary transformation that MBTA’s board did a few months ago.

It feels like ancient history now, but until very recently commuter rail was riding a wave of ridership growth. Passenger trips nationwide rose almost 4% between 2017 through 2019, more than double the rate of heavy rail, the transit mode with the next-highest gain. Many individual commuter rail networks did even better; those in Long Island, Orlando and Denver attracted at least 10 percent more riders than in 2019 than they had the year before.


Cities Have Seen a Cycling Surge Amid COVID-19. Will the Trend Stick?

Chris Teale, Smart Cities Dive
A spike in biking has led some cities to close streets to vehicular traffic. At the pandemic’s end, cycling advocates hope they will have effected real change.

Social distancing appears to have sparked an explosion in cycling as city residents seek alternative transportation modes to stay mobile and active.

Now, city leaders are exploring plans to make cycling safer in the short term, and maintain interest in the activity once the new coronavirus (COVID-19) subsides.

Cities including Philadelphia and Washington, DC have closed streets to vehicular traffic, a move advocates say should be retained once the worst of the pandemic is over. Meanwhile, in a global first, New Zealand is funding cities’ “pop-up” bike lanes and sidewalk widening projects, which is a “no brainer” solution for any city hoping to encourage cycling and repurpose streets during the pandemic, architect Vishaan Chakrabarti recently told Smart Cities Dive.

Advocates have pondered if similar infrastructure projects — or even more permanent solutions to reimagine mobility infrastructure — could be implemented to keep the uptick in cycling ridership. This presents challenges, however, as cities grapple with limited budgets and uncertainty regarding recovery.

But as summer approaches, the cycling craze will only persist. “People are biking, and people are stir-crazy,” Greg Billing, executive director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), told Smart Cities Dive.


Vision Zero, Meet VMT Reductions

Todd Littman, Planetizen

Many jurisdictions have vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction targets, intended to reduce congestion and pollution. They can also provide large but often overlooked traffic safety benefits.

Many jurisdictions are officially committed to Vision Zero, an ambitious goal to eliminate all traffic deaths and severe injuries. Although some cities are making progress, most jurisdictions are failing. U.S. traffic death rates declined during the last half of the the 20th century, reaching a low of 32,479 in 2014, but subsequently increased, averaging about 37,000 annual deaths during each of the last three years. New strategies are needed to achieve ambitious safety goals.

Several new strategies exist, and are overall very cost effective, considering their total benefits, but are generally overlooked in conventional traffic safety planning. Conventional traffic safety programs tend to assume that motor vehicle travel is overall safe, and so favor targeted strategies that reduce higher-risk driving, such as graduated licenses, senior driver tests, and anti-impaired driving campaigns.

However, such programs generally fail because it is not feasible to reduce high-risk driving alone. It is infeasible for most teenagers, seniors and drinkers to significantly reduce their driving in sprawled, automobile-dependent areas that lack non-auto travel options. Every time we tell somebody to reduce their high-risk driving, we have an obligation to create more accessible and multi-modal communities so they have viable alternatives.

Although the United States has rigorous road and vehicle safety standards, and numerous traffic safety programs, it also has the highest per capita traffic death rate among developed countries. Why? Because people in the United States also drive more than residents in peer countries . . . .

An abundance of research, described in the World Resources Institute report, “Sustainable & Safe: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths,” and in my report, “A New Traffic Safety Paradigm,” indicates that, all else being equal, increases in motor vehicle travel increase crashes, and vehicle travel reductions increase safety.

In other words, the new traffic safety paradigm recognizes exposure, the amount that people drive, as a risk factor. Since about 70% of casualty crashes involve multiple vehicles, so vehicle travel reductions provide proportionately large crash reductions. For example, if you reduce your mileage by 10%, your chance of being in a crash declines by 10%, but there is also a reduction in risk to other road users, since your vehicle is no longer vulnerable to other drivers’ errors.

This means that we can increase safety by either reducing per-mile casualty rates through road and vehicle design improvement, and policies that reduce high-risk driving, and by reducing total vehicle travel which reduces total risk exposure. The old safety paradigm only considers the first approach. the new paradigm recognizes both approaches. The table below compares the old and new traffic safety paradigms.


Roundabouts Reduce Traffic Fatalities

Chris Teale, Smart Cities Dive

    • To get congestion, road safety and emissions issues under control, cities should consider installing roundabouts at intersections, Carmel, IN Mayor Jim Brainard told Smart Cities Dive last week.
    • Since he took office in 1996, the city has installed more than 120 roundabouts, which Brainard said have been key in reducing traffic crashes and improving safety. Compared to national average traffic fatality rate of about 12 per 100,000 people, Carmel’s fatality rate is at two per 100,000. Brainard attributes that rate to the roundabouts having narrower lanes, forcing people to slow down. “It’s all about speed,” Brainard said on the sidelines of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington, DC. He said the city now only has about 14 stoplights.
    • In addition to the improved safety and reduced congestion, Brainard also cited environmental benefits. He said engineers in Carmel have calculated that the city has saved over 25 million tons of carbon per year, due to a reduction of idling at stoplights and of cars speeding up after being stationary.

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This Decade’s Mobility Winner? The Bicycle

Enrique Dans, Forbes

Bike-sharing has revolutionized urban transport over the last decade, and some studies are predicting that electric bicycles, which are easy to use in hilly cities, will become the go-to mobility solution, with forecasts of more than 130 million units set to be sold globally between 2020 and 2023.

The number of bike-sharing options in cities around the world has doubled since 2014, and the number of bicycles in operation has increased twenty-fold. Cities like Seville and Paris have deployed ambitious bicycle-based mobility programs, while in others, like New York, it has become the best and fastest option for getting around.

Obviously, bicycles aren’t for everyone, but it can, with the right planning and means, be a very good way to decongest cities, both in terms of traffic density and air quality. Tech platforms such as Google Maps or Citymapper already show the location of bicycles and availability at parking stations in cities around the world, which is an important step, as is the fact that companies such as Uber are moving their priority from cars to bicycles and scooters for short journeys: both Uber and Lime are pondering flat-rate systems to make the use of their fleets more attractive.

From this point on, all that remains is for city halls to understand that the bicycle is the future of urban transport and provide the appropriate investment to build cycle lanes. The key to this is embracing the practice of taking space from cars to use it for bicycle lanes and other micro-mobility vehicles and that bicycles in cities: forcing people to share the roads with aggressive cars is dangerous and enough to put anybody off but the bravest; bicycle lanes are a good thing when managed properly.

Electric bikes and scooters have a big role to play in increasing urban mobility. Sure, they’re not a universal solution, and there are demographics who don’t find micro-mobility an attractive option, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help us rethink our cities and to design them around the needs of pedestrians rather than motor vehicles. Restricting the movement of cars in cities and keeping high high-emission vehicles off our roads through stricter road worthiness tests or simply forcing companies to stop making them, make sense when some 8.8 million people in the world die every year from diseases related to air pollution.

The sooner we get rid of obsolete and harmful technologies, the better for everyone. If you think you’re a petrolhead, lock yourself in your garage with your car engine running for a few hours, that should cure you. A smart city is one that doesn’t poison its inhabitants.

A different kind of city is possible.


The Top 20 Most Dangerous States for Pedestrians

Sean Doyle, Smart Growth America

This morning, we joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for a briefing on Capitol Hill for the launch of their Active People, Healthy NationSMinitiative. As the name suggests, the initiative is focused on getting Americans to be more active, with a particular focus on integrating this activity into everyday life instead of a separate exercise routine. But a major barrier to getting more people out walking, biking, rolling, and otherwise being active is the dangerous design of so many streets. And action to make them safer has been severely lacking.

In 2018, more people walking and biking were struck and killed by drivers than any time since 1990. And as we show in Dangerous by Design 2020, an interim update to last year’s full report on pedestrian fatalities, most states continue to see increases in deaths and serious injuries among people walking, biking, and rolling.

Using the latest data from 2009-2018, we find that while there is some minor shuffling among the top 10 most dangerous states and the top 20, the rankings by and large remain the same. (Florida and Alabama retain their place as the first and second most dangerous states, respectively.) But what’s really unique about this 2020 update is the inclusion of serious injuries among all people using non-motorized transportation in addition to fatalities, and the comparison of this carnage to the safety goals states set for themselves.

As we noted in Dangerous by Design 2019, 18 states established “safety” targets for non-motorized deaths and injuries in 2018 that exceeded the number of people killed or injured in recent years. It is indeed astonishing that states could set goals for deaths/injuries that are higher than previous years with no penalties, accountability, or loss of federal dollars, but this is how the federal program is currently designed.

In all, 33 states and DC failed their “safety” targets—more people walking, rolling, scooting, and biking were killed or seriously injured by drivers on their roads than the goals they set. More people being struck and killed by drivers speaks to the need for more urgent and ambitious efforts to preserve life on public roads—and a renewed focus at all levels of government on safety instead of speed as the guiding measure of success.

Check out the Dangerous by Design 2020 interim report to see how your state has done in recent years. You can find it under the new “State safety targets” tab on the Dangerous by Design website or get the PDF directly here.

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