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February 8, 2016

In Fight for Urban Street and Curbside Space, Can Pricing Create Peace?


People order food from the BBQ Bus food truck during lunch at Farragut Square in Washington, D.C., in August 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

A thriving city with new restaurants and other businesses has a healthy surge of revenue, but there’s one constraint the transportation manager or mayor can do little about: space on the roads and at curbsides.

“Our biggest challenge would certainly be use of right of way or space,” said Larry Marcus, the Transportation and Engineering Bureau Chief for Arlington County, Va., at a transportation data panel this week sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

“The roads, particularly the older roads, traditional roads, traditional designs for automobiles – and now it’s kind of the problem you want to have, multi-modal use of a limited amount of space,” he said.

“Multi-modal” meaning cars, buses, bicycles, and delivery trucks.

He added, “Curbside management is a big challenge for us, for all the right reasons.”

The question that the planners confront, he said, is “Who is asking for that space? Who regulates and prioritizes access to the Metro station and that curbside management? Where’s the demand from? Certainly from bus transfers, from car sharing, bike sharing, taxis … Right now, food trucks is a big thing, something we need to find space for, as well as just regular parking.”

There’s a growing impetus among transportation planners and from the Obama administration in its Grow America proposal to charge users a fee or toll for space – a highway, for instance — that had been free, as a way of raising the revenue to pay for upkeep and expansion of transportation assets.

There’s also the pricing idea pioneered in San Francisco by MonkeyParking — an app that would allow drivers to sell information about the availability of parking spaces they’re just about to vacate.

The company has temporarily ceased operations after the city attorney hit it with a cease-and-desist order and accused it of wanting to create “a predatory private market for public parking spaces….”

The assets in Arlington are the street lanes and the curbside spots. Can planners use a price mechanism to ration that precious space?

If a delivery truck driver is parked in the dedicated bicycle lane, he’s making it useless for cyclists at least for a few minutes. The fine that the truck driver pays for illegal parking is one sort of pricing mechanism, but if there’s lax enforcement, he may never pay it.

Marcus considered that pricing problem and said, “First things first is safety” if trucks or cars are illegally parked in a bike lane, he said.

He added, “The pricing of it specifically is something that we’re looking at now in the competition for the space, but more from an equity standpoint and the priority to ensure that it’s best for the users” – as opposed to seeing a lane or curbside space as a revenue source. “It’s much more about being fair to those different markets and prioritizing it based on the usage and seeing if we can find that win-win.”

Also on the panel RideScout CEO Joseph Kopser said cities may need to change their parking ordinances in order to “bring in more car-sharing companies to be able to compete” and reduce the demand for privately owned cars. He added, “Something has got to give first, and parking is a great example.”

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