Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council voted to change parking rates in three city-owned garages, downtown and near the Cal campus, as part of its goBerkeley effort to change driver behavior and make it easier for visitors to find street parking.
The multi-pronged campaign has been underway since earlier this year, and has included the promotion of alternative modes of transportation — via the distribution of car-sharing memberships and free transit passes — as well as adjustments to parking meter rates and time limits downtown, south of the UC Berkeley campus and in the Elmwood.
The pilot program aims to reduce pollution, congestion and drivers circling for a spot by using what’s known as demand-responsive pricing, which sets parking rates based on a supply-and-demand philosophy. The most convenient spots tend to be the most expensive and are available for shorter amounts of time, while spots further away, which are in less demand, are cheaper and can be used for longer periods.
The city launched its new parking meter rates Oct. 15, and now plans to adjust the pricing in city-owned garages as well, effective Dec. 2. The desired outcome is to create 65-85% (“just right“) parking availability throughout the pilot areas by using rate changes — both on-street and in garages — to transform driver behavior.
Matt Nichols, principal transportation planner for the city, told the council that the street meter changes have “gone very well” so far, and that the garage rate changes are an important piece of the puzzle.
Added Willa Ng, the city’s project manager for goBerkeley: “We want to encourage people to go right into garages rather than park on street.”
That objective has been hampered up to this point because two of the city’s garages have recently been operating at near-capacity, while a third often has room to spare but little driver interest or awareness. (See more detailed parking data in a staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting.) The city hopes raising garage rates will make room in the more crowded structures, which in turn could free up space on surface streets and improve availability in core areas.
City staff believes that making garages more attractive to longer-term parkers — such as employees of downtown or Telegraph Avenue businesses who may be feeding the meters and taking up spots in key commercial zones — could have a significant positive impact on the status quo. Nichols told the council that part of the press to change garage rates now is a desire to free up short-term street parking for shoppers during the holidays, when activity increases.
The city’s General Plan, he added, supports discouraging commuter parking and encouraging shorter-term visitors to commercial districts, as commuters tend to have more flexibility in terms of travel options.
Part of the goal with goBerkeley, said staff, is to simplify garage rates so people know what to expect; the current rates vary per hour depending, in some cases, on time of entry, day of week and length of stay.
As of Oct. 15, metered street parking outside city-owned garages costs $2.25 per hour in “premium” zones with a two-hour time limit, and $1.25 per hour (with a four-hour limit) in “value” zones that are a bit further away from the main drag. See a map here.
City offers “first hour free” parking near Telegraph
The Telegraph Channing Garage, at 2450 Durant Ave., currently has the most open space. To encourage drivers to use it, the city will offer free parking for the first hour, and do away with a confusing validation system that relied on merchant verification. Parking will then cost $1 per hour through the fourth hour (a significantly cheaper rate than what currently applies), with a $15 daily maximum.
The city plans to change rates in the two busier garages, at 2025 Center St. and 2165 Kittredge St., to improve availability. Drivers will pay $2 an hour for the first four hours, and a day-rate of $17 beyond that. (The day rate is currently $15.)
City staff had proposed a $20 day rate at the two more crowded garages, but Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner said many of his members felt a 33% hike was too steep. Caner asked council members to take a more gradual approach and see what happens. He said the association would not be opposed to a $17 day rate, which the council ultimately voted unanimously to approve. (Mayor Tom Bates and council members Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington were absent.)
Caner also suggested that the city consider getting rid of its early-bird rate if it wants to increase capacity, but City Manager Christine Daniel asked the council to hold off on making a change that drastic. In all three garages, the early-bird rate (in before 9 a.m. and out before 6 p.m.) will increase a buck to $9.
Councilman Gordon Wozniak asked city staff to take a look at reducing garage parking fees on Sundays, when supply is at its peak, due in large part to free street parking. Staff said they would investigate but noted it would be a challenge to compete with free street parking.
Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum and president of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said merchants in his area are looking forward to the change. The validation system has been “problematic,” he said, and the campaign can only help increase awareness about where to park south of campus.
“We still have people driving around with the false impression that there’s no parking on Telegraph,” he told the council.
City staff are regularly collecting data to see if the rate changes are having the desired impact. They are allowed to change the rates every 60 days, with 30 days of public notice required.
The goBerkeley program is funded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Climate Initiatives Program ($2 million); the Federal Highways Administration’s Value Pricing Pilot Program ($900,000), and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District ($100,000).
The pilot program will last for at least a year, with more data collection and reviews scheduled in 2014.
[Correction: The city approved a new maximum day rate of $17 for the Oxford and Center Street garages. The article has been corrected to reflect that.]
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Metered parking changes launch Tuesday in Berkeley (10.15.13)
Telegraph Channing Mall merchants ask city for relief (09.18.13)
goBerkeley parking rules get final public review (for now) (08.08.13)
2 goBerkeley public meetings on parking coming up (07.31.13)
Details unveiled on proposed metered parking changes (07.03.13)
City sets goBerkeley transportation program in motion (06.27.13)
Berkeley council weighs in on parking pilot program (06.12.13)
Parking changes slated for 3 Berkeley business zones (05.23.13)
goBerkeley answers frequently asked questions (City of Berkeley)
Take the goBerkeley parking survey (goBerkeley)