Boston’s ‘Smart Parking’ Data Study Brings Changes to On-Street Spaces

The city of Boston is making some changes to how it manages certain on-street parking spaces.

The city of Boston is making some changes to how it manages certain on-street parking spaces. Christopher Penler / Shutterstock.com

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Using pavement sensors, the city is introducing a new policy for some on-street spaces to “ensure that parking is more closely aligned with true utilization.”

One Boston neighborhood is set to see some big changes in how drivers park in metered on-street spaces. Mayor Marty Walsh’s office announced some policy changes over the weekend that will impact on-street spaces on certain streets in the Innovation District, a waterfront area in South Boston home to start-ups, co-working spaces and other key elements of the Hub of the Universe’s knowledge economy.

After data analysis by Streetline, Inc.—in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics—using information collected from a smart parking system in the Innovation District, the Boston Department of Transportation is adjusting the maximum time length drivers are allowed to park at certain on-street spaces.

The goal of the policy change is, according to the city’s announcement, to “ensure that parking is more closely aligned with true utilization, to spur higher turnover at on-street parking spaces, and to help to promote parking availability for patrons of area businesses.”

Data on on-street parking usage was collected through sensors embedded in the pavement.

“This is just one example where we are using technology as a tool to help the city manage a public resource more efficiently,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in the announcement, released Saturday. “One of the benefits of the smart parking system in the Innovation District is, not only can the city make planning decisions with the data, but we can provide real-time on-street parking availability information to drivers through an app.”

Real-time information for on-street space availability is available via the Parker app, which offers a hands-free voice-guidance feature for drivers searching for parking in the Innovation District.

“We are thrilled to see customers like the City of Boston using the data to enact real change with the goal of improving mobility and ease of parking, Zia Yusuf, president and CEO of Streetline, Inc., said in the city’s announcement. “By collecting real-time data and providing actionable analytics, our hope is that we can help our customer take the first steps towards being a truly smart city.”

The policy changes—which will allow a four-hour parking window for some on-street spaces and a two-hour window for other on-street spaces—go into effect on Monday.

Unlike some performance-based smart-parking systems where the price of on-street spaces changes according to real-time demand, parking rates in Boston’s Innovation District will remain set at $1.25 per hour.

According to the a parking-pricing primer from the Federal Highway Administration, Boston is “an instructive case” in free and fixed-rate parking:

In January 2011 Boston increased meter rates for the first time in 25 years, after "mulling it over for 10 years" . . . By the time of the rate increase, the pre-existing $1.00 an hour meter rate, set uniformly across the city, had lost value with inflation. The rate was effectively half what it had been when it was set in the mid-1980s. To restore the meter rate to what it had been the city would have had to double the rate to $2.00. Rather than use a performance-based pricing strategy . . . the city simply increased the rate to $1.25 and justified the increase as a way to raise revenue for the city's general fund. Lacking a travel management rationale, the rate hike was seen by parkers as a tax on drivers.

On-street parking and most municipally or publicly owned off-street parking, particularly at transit stations, has traditionally been free or set at fixed prices that vary little by location or time of day. In those cases where prices had at some time been established according to supply and demand, the failure of pricing to keep pace with inflation (and demand) has left the municipalities and agencies in charge of parking pricing without a sound justification for taking action. As in the Boston example, fixed-price parking, across time and geography, without respect to demand or inflation, is not very different from free parking in terms of congestion mitigation and access. Fixed-price parking has a benefit over free parking in that it does signal a fee for use of the space rather than simply an entitlement to the ROW, but it falls far short of its potential as an effective demand management tool.

Other cities, like San Francisco, have been implementing performance-based parking programs to better manage on-street spaces.

Read the full announcement from the City of Boston:

In collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the Boston Transportation Department will be implementing parking policy changes in the Innovation District effective November 17, 2014.  The upcoming modifications are based on data collected by the smart parking system implemented by Streetline, Inc. and previously put into effect in the Innovation District.  Information collected from sensors embedded in the pavement on Seaport Boulevard, Congress Street, Summer Street and Boston Wharf Road indicates that adjusting the maximum parking time limits currently in effect at parking meters on Summer Street and Congress Street will better manage parking and traffic demand in this thriving Boston neighborhood.

“This is just one example where we are using technology as a tool to help the city manage a public resource more efficiently,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.  “One of the benefits of the smart parking system in the Innovation District is, not only can the city make planning decisions with the data, but we can provide real-time on-street parking availability information to drivers through an app.”

The new parking meter policy provides for a four hour maximum time limit for meters located on the #350 through #425 blocks of Summer Street.  Meters on the #250 block of Summer Street and the #300 block of Congress Street will change to a two hour maximum time limit.  The cost of parking at all of these meters will continue to be $1.25 per hour.

The purpose of the changes is to ensure that parking is more closely aligned with true utilization, to spur higher turnover at on-street parking spaces, and to help to promote parking availability for patrons of area businesses.  Boston drivers can view real-time, on-street parking availability in the area by downloading the Parker™ app, available for Apple and Android, to their smartphone.  Parker’s voice guidance feature gives drivers a hands-free option for safe operation while driving.

Boston Transportation Department Interim Commissioner James E. Gillooly said, “The Innovation District parking modifications will have the added benefit of reducing the number of drivers circling the block looking for parking spaces, thereby decreasing traffic congestion and lessening motor vehicle impacts on air quality.”

“We are thrilled to see customers like the City of Boston using the data to enact real change with the goal of improving mobility and ease of parking, said Zia Yusuf, President and CEO of Streetline, Inc.  “By collecting real-time data and providing actionable analytics, our hope is that we can help our customer take the first steps towards being a truly smart city.

Members of the Innovation District business community are being informed that they can harness the data by installing ParkerMap™ on company websites.  An embeddable map widget, ParkerMap displays the information that is seen in Parker, allowing visitors to the sites to easily assess nearby parking options.   Local businesses are also being asked to educate their staff and visitors about the parking meter policy change as well as the parking technology available to Innovation District drivers.