A driver unable to find a spot in The Elmwood neighborhood parks instead in the crosswalk. Photo: Emilie Raguso
A driver unable to find a spot in The Elmwood parks instead in the crosswalk. Emilie Raguso took the photos that accompany this article.

Later this year, three Berkeley business districts will experiment with new approaches to parking aimed at reducing double parking and circling, and making it easier for visitors to find a metered spot.

The effort is part of a new campaign underway by the city — dubbed goBerkeley — and is funded by federal grants to help staff analyze data, collect input from the public and study the impact of changes to parking-as-usual; drivers can expect to see changes start in September and last for a year.

Courtesy: goBerkeley
Pilot areas in Berkeley for new parking approaches. Courtesy: goBerkeley

Wednesday night, about 30 residents and business owners came together at the Claremont branch library to learn about the program, which will affect metered parking in The Elmwood, downtown Berkeley and along part of the Telegraph Avenue corridor, from campus south past Ashby Avenue.

Two more meetings are planned, on May 29 and June 3, to continue public outreach and collect community feedback. (Scroll to the bottom of this story for details.) A City Council work session is scheduled for June 11.

To achieve the desired results — to free up metered parking in some of the city’s commercial zones — several approaches are under consideration. There’s the “progressive rate” approach, with each hour costing more than the prior time period. (Drivers pay more for the convenience of leaving a car in one spot longer.) Then there’s the “peak period” approach, where parking costs more during the hours of the day when demand is deemed highest. There’s also the possibility of “premium” and “value” areas, with higher hourly prices and shorter time limits in the premium (highest demand) spots.

As presented Wednesday, for example, in The Elmwood, the “progressive rate” could mean that meters would have a three-hour time limit, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the first hour costing $1.50, the next hour $2, and the third hour $2.50. The Elmwood parking lot, on Russell Street, would have a three-hour time limit and cost $1.50 per hour. (The concept here is that people who prioritize convenience would be willing to pay more of a premium for spots closer to shopping, while those looking for more value would be willing to park just a bit farther away, in the lot, and pay less.)

The “peak period” option could result in on-street meters — with a limit of two hours — costing $1.50 per hour from 9 a.m. to noon and 6-8 p.m. During peak hours, noon to 6 p.m., meters would cost $2 an hour. The parking lot would have a three-hour limit, and cost $1.50 per hour. The theory is that higher rates would only be in effect when parking is most scarce, and that these rates would discourage drivers from staying longer than necessary, and thus lead to increased availability.

One-hour metered parking is the norm on College. Photo: Emilie Raguso
One-hour parking on College.

“Parking’s always been a problem in this neighborhood,” said Claudia Hunka, co-owner of Your Basic Bird on College Avenue. “I want to see changes that will make this neighborhood one that’s friendly for customers that want to come here.”

Common neighborhood parking issues raised at the meeting included meters that don’t last long enough for all the activities visitors want to do; a lack of awareness about the Russell Street parking lot; and spots that fill up quickly to capacity at 6 p.m., due to employee vehicles or those of nearby residents, then don’t open up again until after businesses close.

Public feedback will help determine which approach is chosen for each pilot area, as well as the boundaries of each area, and could lead to various adjustments aimed at improving the details of how the programs are designed. (See a program overview here.)

The pilot program timeline. (Click the timeline to see the program overview presented Wednesday night.) Courtesy: goBerkeley
The pilot program timeline. (Click the timeline to see the program overview presented Wednesday night.) Courtesy: goBerkeley

The program isn’t just about parking either. It’s tied into the city’s Climate Action Plan goals, in that part of the idea is to reduce drivers circling to find a convenient spot, and also reduce the unnecessary moving of cars to thwart parking time limits; changing these patterns would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, advocates say. (One 2007 study cited Wednesday night found that 30% of traffic in commercial districts is due to drivers circling to find parking.)

There are also car-sharing and public transit promotions — such as free one-year transit passes for 1,000 people who work in the study areas — that are part of the goBerkeley program. The campaign also plans to make more information available about bike and bus routes, and secure bike parking options, to help encourage alternative modes of transportation.

Matthew Nichols, the city’s principal transportation planner, who is heading up the pilot program, said the campaign is based on similar efforts in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. The idea is “demand-responsive pricing”: that the price of parking should reflect demand, and therefore cost more in places with high demand, and less in other locations.

Attendees Wednesday learned about parking management strategies. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Attendees Wednesday learned about parking management.

“It is a new concept but it’s showing real successes and is kind of a new way to manage parking,” he said Wednesday night. These programs have been shaped by the work of Donald Shoup, who wrote the book The High Cost of Free Parking to argue for a market-based approach to parking that is sensitive to supply and demand. “When you have a very high demand, ‘free’ isn’t working. You need to manage that demand,” Nichols said.

Nichols said the city’s goal is to find “that magic price and time limit” by testing out approaches using data-driven strategies, and adjusting the programs to refine them over time.

“I think the key difference compared to the status quo is that we’re trying to base this program on information rather than putting up a single price and leaving it alone,” he said. “Cities know surprisingly little about how much people park on what street and when.”

A public meeting to discuss parking changes planned on Telegraph south of campus will take place Wednesday, May 29, from 4-6 p.m. at the Trinity United Methodist Church, 2362 Bancroft Way. A meeting about changes planned in downtown Berkeley is scheduled for Monday, June 3, from 5-7 p.m. at Central Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Three more workshops will be scheduled in July to refine the details. Learn more here about goBerkeley.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...