Nearly full conditions on many commercial blocks in Berkeley during the evening hours may lead to metered parking until 8 p.m. (Click the map for the full presentation.) Image: City of Berkeley
Crowded conditions on many commercial blocks in Berkeley in the evening could lead to metered parking until 8 p.m. Image: City of Berkeley

New metered parking rates and time limits, in effect in Berkeley since last fall in three of the city’s busiest commercial areas, have made it easier for many visitors to find daytime parking, according to new data released by city staff this week. But more changes are needed to meet the city’s goal of freeing up 1-2 spaces per block.

Proposed changes include slightly higher hourly rates in some areas, and a new pilot program to extend metered hours until 8 p.m. The Berkeley City Council would have to sign off on any new changes at a meeting currently scheduled for late April.

This week, city of Berkeley staffers held two open houses to update the community about the goBerkeley pilot parking campaign, which launched last summer. The campaign uses the principles of “demand-responsive” pricing, developed by scholar Donald Shoup, to adjust rates and times for paid parking to create more short-term spots in the most convenient areas, and shift longer-term or more frugal parkers to garages and less central blocks. (Shoup spoke in Berkeley earlier this week.)

Read more about goBerkeley on Berkeleyside.

The city chose three areas — downtown, south of the Cal campus and in the Elmwood — to test the changes over a one-year period. New parking meter rates went into effect in October, and changes to rates in city-owned garages followed. Staff members working on the project have been collecting data throughout the process to ensure that any changes they make have the desired results.

As part of the pilot program, the city created two types of parking zones, which appear downtown and south of campus, that are marked by boldly colored, easy-to-read signs. The zones feature “premium” spots closer to the core shopping areas that cost more, and “value” areas farther away that are cheaper. The city also extended metered time limits to two hours or more. In the Elmwood, there’s only one zone, with an escalating rate over three hours.

Don’t let the logo fool you: goBerkeley is a city-run program staffed by city employees and paid for by grants. Click the logo to learn more at Image: goBerkeley
Don’t let the logo fool you: goBerkeley is a city-run program staffed by city employees and paid for by grants. Click the logo to learn more at Image: goBerkeley

In conjunction, to encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation, the city handed out 1,000 free AC Transit passes to employees of businesses in the pilot areas, and helped get more than 200 people to sign up for City CarShare.

Based on the most recent data collection, which took place in January and February, project manager Willa Ng said the changes have worked to shift more drivers into the “value” areas where they can park longer and pay less.

But many of the core areas are still too full, said Ng, which leads to driver frustration and too much time spent searching for “the right” spot. That in turn creates congestion and adds to greenhouse gas emissions, which the city is trying to reduce as part of the program.

To measure how rate and time limit adjustments have affected local parking conditions, city staff collected two types of data both before and after the goBerkeley changes. Those included 500 “intercept surveys” of people in the area, as well as a parking occupancy analysis of conditions. As part of the parking analysis, staff looked at demand and turnover on weekdays and weekends.

Downtown: Berkeley Way lot may be its best kept parking secret

Downtown, city staff found that more spaces opened up after the new rates and time limits went into effect, but that it’s still hard to find parking on many blocks.

The green areas to the north and west have become too full, and may become “premium” areas. (Click the map to learn more.) Image: City of Berkeley
The green areas to the north and west have become too full, and may become “premium” areas. (Click the map to learn more.) Image: City of Berkeley

More drivers did begin parking in the cheaper “value” areas, and turned more often to the Center Street garage, which often filled up as a result.

And the number of “full blocks,” with more than 85% occupancy, decreased from 32% before the pilot to 23% in January.

Ng said several changes will be proposed to council to make it easier to find parking downtown: to increase the premium rate from $2.25 to $2.75 per hour; that two of the existing “value” areas, to the north and west of the downtown core — which are now “too full” — be converted to “premium” areas; and to raise commuter rates at the Center Street garage to encourage some parkers to go elsewhere or use alternative modes of transportation.

The goal, again, is to try to ensure that drivers can always find a spot on the desired block by coming up with the right mix of rate and timing adjustments, Ng said.

Ng said council also may consider raising the downtown “value” rate south of Bancroft Way to $1.50 — it’s currently $1.25 — and extending the time limit from four to eight hours.

Drivers searching for a convenient option, however, would be wise to check out the Berkeley Way lot just west of Shattuck Avenue, where the proposal will be to reduce the rate and increase the time limit to eight hours. That surface lot has remained underused, and the city hopes to push more drivers in that direction, Ng said. (See the current rates and time limits here.)

Southside: Parking to stay free for first hour at Telegraph Channing garage

South of campus, Ng said the program met its goal of moving some parkers from areas close to campus into the cheaper areas farther away. About 55% more drivers are also reportedly using the Telegraph Channing parking garage.

Staff wants to create a larger “value” area for drivers south of campus. (Click the map for more info.) Image: City of Berkeley
Staff wants to create a larger “value” area for drivers south of campus. (Click the map for more info.) Image: City of Berkeley

But parking is still tough to find immediately around campus, and the cheapest area, where parking costs just $1 per hour for up to eight hours — and had previously been largely empty — is now too full.

To address those issues, Ng said program staffers hope to increase the premium rate south of campus from $2.25 to $2.75 to open up some spaces, and increase the “value” rate to $1.50 an hour to encourage more turnover.

The good news is that goBerkeley staff would like to expand the current “value” area from Bowditch Street two blocks west to Dana Street along Haste Street and also Dwight Way. (See the map above.) Adding these blocks would give drivers more room to park at a lower rate closer to campus than is currently offered.

Staff also hopes to push more drivers into the Telegraph Channing garage, where there’s still plenty of room despite increased use under the new program. (See the current rates and time limits here.)

Parking changes in the Elmwood hit the mark, says staff

Adjustments to parking rates and time limits in the Elmwood have already achieved the exact result goBerkeley hoped for, Ng said. As a result, no daytime changes are planned as the pilot continues.

goBerkeley is working as planned in the Elmwood, so no daytime changes are planned, staff says. (Click the map for more information.) Image: City of Berkeley

Under goBerkeley, parking meter time limits were increased to three hours, with rates starting at $1.50 for the first hour, costing $2 for the second hour, and increasing to $2.50 for the third hour.

The Elmwood lot, which also has a three-hour maximum, costs $1.50 an hour, and did not change during the pilot.

The city put the new rates and time limits into effect on College Avenue meters from around Webster Street north to Stuart Street. (See the current rates and time limits here.)

The program has served to spread the demand around that area, such that no blocks were found to be completely full during the survey period. Meanwhile, 88% of blocks met the “target” goal of offering one to two spaces.

Coming up, the city plans to introduce a new CarShare pod in the Elmwood lot, and also create three new parking spaces in the lot that will be available to the public.

Ng said the city also studied spillover into nearby residential streets, and found only tiny changes in non-permitted vehicles parked there, such that it did not appear the goBerkeley pilot had caused a problem.

Spillover from non-permitted vehicles into residential areas near the Elmwood barely changed during the goBerkeley pilot, according to the city.

Uphill battle? Staff hopes to run new pilot to look at evening metered parking

Despite improvements in all three pilot areas during the day, Ng said conditions in the evening remain overly congested. Parking surveys found most blocks in those areas to be full after 6 p.m., with very limited availability scattered here and there. (The graphic at the top of the story illustrates the point.)

After 6 p.m., parking in the Elmwood poses a challenge, staff found. Image: City of Berkeley

In all three districts, staff found low turnover, the perception of “no parking,” full garages and many drivers frustrated and circling for spots during the evening.

In response, Ng said staff will propose a six-month pilot to keep meters running until 8 p.m. The idea of evening meter hours came up last fall, but council members and some members of the local business community said they would like to see how the daytime changes worked first.

The only exception to that resistance were merchants in the Elmwood, who were largely in support of trying out metered parking during evening hours to try to make it easier for customers to visit the area. Despite that interest, Councilman Gordon Wozniak said last fall that he didn’t want the Elmwood to be the only area with evening meters, out of concern for how that might negatively impact the shopping district.

Anecdotally, staff and merchants said they’ve heard that employees from many businesses in the pilot areas move their cars into metered spaces toward evening, and then stay in those spaces until their shifts end at night.

“Those spaces aren’t turning over,” Ng said. “And customers aren’t getting spaces they want to park in.”

Council members agreed to revisit the issue this year during their upcoming review of the pilot program.

Ng said, if approved, evening rates would be the same as they are during the day. To see if the evening pilot is working, staff would continue to collect data to measure any changes in driver behavior.

Ng said there would be “extensive community notification,” as well as the possibility of an “enforcement amnesty” if the program is approved.

The evening parking pilot could be rolled out to all meters in the districts that are currently participating, but Ng said the city could also consider focusing on just the premium areas, or limit it to the Elmwood District and Shattuck Avenue.

“What we’re proposing is just to do it for a few months and see,” she said. “If there’s a crazy backlash, with no improvements, we can just stop.”

When the pilot program ends in December, city staff will make recommendations to the City Council about how to proceed. Image: City of Berkeley

What happens next?

The next goBerkeley review is set to come before the Berkeley City Council on April 29, Ng said.

Any changes approved by council members in April would go into effect in June, with final results and recommendations to come in December.

“In a nutshell this whole experiment is about using parking rates and time limits to cause people to shift from congested areas into available parking,” said Ng. “And that’s working. But even though they’re moving in the right direction, we’re not quite where we want to be, of 1-2 spaces available per block throughout the pilot areas. There’s some room for improvement, which is what the adjustments are based on. I think this next round of changes will get us where we need to be.”

Ng said the goal of the program is not to raise money for the city but to be “revenue neutral.” Following last fall’s changes, rates went down in some areas, and up in others. The goal is to balance out those changes.

“We might even lose money to run the pilot,” she said. “And since we’re a federally funded pilot, there are restrictions if we do make money. You can’t take money for the general fund, for instance.”

The funding rules require the city to invest any profits back into the parking program or into alternative modes of transportation, she added.

Also worth noting, though the program is being run under the goBerkeley moniker, which includes an eye-catching logo and a cleanly-designed website, the program is staffed entirely by city employees from the Department of Public Works Transportation Division.

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).

Downtown Berkeley Association director John Caner said he’s heard positive feedback from local merchants about the new signage and the zoned approach to parking rates.

“We’ve received very, very few complaints, and I think they’ve changed some behaviors with the pricing changes,” he said. But he added that the evening parking proposal could have a “chilling effect” that some merchants have expressed concerns about. In the coming weeks, Caner said he plans to collect more feedback from merchants about how the evening program might affect the district.

Roland Peterson, who runs the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said merchants in his area are “very happy” with the first-hour free program at the Telegraph Channing garage, but that he has heard some grumbles about the cost of metered street parking in the area.

“I think the question is how can we get more movement of cars within, say, two blocks of campus so there’s more availability,” he said. “And I think the main question is going to be the whole issue of extending meters. I think it will be very controversial.”

City parking garage fees up downtown, down on Telegraph (10.30.13)
Many Berkeley parking meters now accept most coins (10.23.13)
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)

Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and Facebook. Email us at Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

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...