How Valuable is Street Parking, Really?

This week, the Common Council passed a budget that will raise the prices drivers pay to park at the curb. The higher parking meter rates are supposed to bring in $600,000. City Hall needs that money to keep property taxes under the state cap. In this way, the Common Council is treating parking meters primarily as a source of revenue.

Of course, metered parking also has another purpose—demand management. When it costs money to park at the curb, drivers minimize the amount of time that they leave their cars just sitting there. This is a good thing when that curb space is valuable to lots of people. Spots right in front of popular stores, for instance, can accommodate more customers over the course of a day because no one hogs the space for too long.

Parking meters reveal how much drivers value on-street parking spaces. If parking costs $1.25 an hour, and the spaces are full, then it’s a good bet that drivers are willing to pay even more to park at the curb. If the rate goes up to $5.00 per hour and people stop parking on the street, then you’ll know that drivers value street parking at less than that amount.

This is an opportunity for Syracuse to find out how much drivers really do value that street space. After City Hall raises the meter rates in order to raise new revenue, it should keep an eye on how those higher prices affect demand for on-street parking. If there’s no significant change, that means City Hall is still undervaluing that street space. It can raise the rates again, generate even more revenue, and continue to watch demand. Repeat that process until demand slackens, and City Hall will have a good idea of how much that street space is worth to the people who park their cars in it.

This would be good information to have for all kinds of reasons. It would allow City Hall to accurately charge different rates on different streets where there’s more or less demand for parking. City Hall could also use this data to adjust the amount that it charges over the course of the day, anticipating regular surges and slacks in demand. Fine tuning Syracuse’s parking rates in these kinds of ways would maximize the revenue that City Hall brings in from this public resource.

Revealing the true value of on-street parking would allow City Hall to think about that street space differently. There are probably blocks where few drivers are willing to pay even $.50 per hour to store their car. Judging by how empty Downtown’s curbs are after 6pm—when it’s totally free to park on the street—City Hall might find out that drivers don’t really value on-street parking very much at all. That opens an opportunity to put those parking lanes to better use.

Take Washington Street. Through Downtown, parking lines it on both sides. That means between ⅓ and ½ of the street is given over to car storage whether or not people actually store their cars there. Washington Street is also a major bus corridor where all the Eastside routes share space with many of the Northbound routes. Street-space on Washington is valuable to Centro, and those Downtown parking lanes might be better used as bus lanes Downtown.

Right now, it’s hard to make an argument about that one way or the other, but if City Hall can accurately reveal how much drivers really do value those parking lanes in dollar terms, then it will have hard data to inform decisions about better allocation of street space.

Washington Street on the left, Fayette Street on the right. Which wastes more space?

This goes beyond buses—other kinds of uses deserve priority on other streets. Parking lanes could be put to better use as bike lanes, bump-outs, rain gardens, parklets, or even just wider sidewalks on so many streets in Syracuse. It’s just this assumption that every street has to have curbside parking that’s keeping the City from considering all of those other options.

It’s time to revisit that assumption. The Common Council’s decision to raise meter rates will bring in new revenue, but it is also an opportunity to gage how much people actually value on-street parking in Syracuse. That data will empower City Hall to more intelligently allocate a scarce public resource—street space—for uses that