Saturday, August 23, 2014

São Paulo's parking U-turn

São Paulo's parking U-turn
I live almost as far from Brazil as it is possible to be (in Singapore).

But I am intrigued by the parking reforms in São Paulo's new strategic master plan. 

The plan was approved at the end of June and released on 31 July. See herehere, here, here and here for reports in English.  Explanations of the key policy thrusts (in Portuguese) are here.

There are two key parking steps in the plan. Both are explained below. 

They are:
"Sao Paulo Congonhas 2" by Mariordo - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The City of São Paulo is eliminating parking minimums citywide.

If I understand the text correctly (via google translate), the abolition of parking minimums applies to all land uses.


This is a big deal for a city that had extremely high parking minimums

Commercial development, for example, previously required one parking space for every 45 square metres or so of floor space.

High parking minimums in São Paulo promote solo car driving and car ownership.

Excessive minimums also undermine workplace TDM ('corporate mobility programs'), as reported recently in a World Bank study.
For most employees who can afford cars, the access to free or subsidized parking more or less trumps all other factors in commuting choices. ...
We found that the availability and cost of parking depends on a complex eco-system – developers, property managers, and employers – who all have their own interests, options and solutions. ...
Ultimately we found that once parking was built and available – the interests and incentives to use it seemed to outweigh the potential benefits of any other alternative. 
What does "Citywide" actually mean?

When reports on this say the minimiums have been abolished 'citywide' they actually mean across the City of São Paulo.

The City has about 11 million residents. It is at the heart of the São Paulo metropolitan area with 39 municipalities and about 20 million people. The master plan is for the City not the wider region.

Nevertheless, I say São Paulo should now be counted among  parking minimum abolitionists!

"Greater São Paulo at night" by NASA/Paolo Nespoli - Flickr. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Maximums along transit corridors

Within special transit corridor zones, São Paulo is replacing the old parking minimums with maximums.

[Update: a new post provides a clarification of the use of the word 'maximums' here]

The maximums seem to be set at:
  • one parking space per residential unit
  • one parking space per 70 square metres of floor space for non-residential.
[Again, this is my understanding, with the help of google translate. I hope I am reading the plan text correctly!]

The parking maximums reform extends on a pilot that began in certain areas in 2003.

The maximums have an interesting feature: they are flexible!

A developer CAN choose to provide more parking than the maximum. But doing so will require payment of a fee.


This turns on its head the more familiar idea of 'payments in lieu of parking'. These are called 'deficiency charges' in some countries, including Singapore.

But in São Paulo developers will now have to pay for parking excess, not parking deficiency.

I would love to learn more about this aspect of the plan!

Can anyone out there enlighten us? Can you point to an explanation? Does anyone know the level of these fees?

Part of a transit-oriented corridor strategy

The parking maximums are part of a prominent effort in the plan to transform the urban fabric along transit corridors. A key aim is to increase population densities.

But the plan also seeks to make these corridors truly transit-oriented and not merely transit-adjacent.

An illustration of the plans for the transit zones (via

For example, the plan attacks São Paulo's high-rise, low-density, street-life killing, gated towers.

Desirable areas in  São Paulo have numerous high-rise gated condomium developments. Most of these have huge housing units (often occupying entire floors) and plentiful parking.

Therefore the city's high-rise housing does not translate to density of people.

So, along with the parking maximums, the plan includes efforts to:

A wave of sustainable transport innovation in São Paulo? 

It looks like this is a city to watch for many more urban transport innovations.

MobiLab, the Mobility Laboratory of the City of São Paulo, has just been recognized by an international sustainable mobility entrepreneurship prize (MobiPrize).
Through the MobiLab, the municipal Department of Transport (SMT) of São Paulo has created a framework geared to catalyzing future and ongoing growth in New Mobility enterprise, industry, and economic development.
They have taken bold decisions required to change institutional culture (proprietary data; formal procurement processes) and opened data to developers, which has advanced user information and public participation platforms (e.g. for bikelane planning).
Also by building innovative cross-sectoral partnerships (academia and industry) they have garnered support for their Hackathons for which the city got ample participation. 

The full text of the plan is here (in Portuguese).

By the way, the full text of the plan above comes via the Cidade Aberta (Open City) website maintained by the office of city councillor Nabil Bonduki.

Nabil Bonduki (image via Cidade Aberta)
Bonduki has been a key figure pushing the reformist plan through the city council.

What can your city learn from São Paulo's parking reforms?


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Seattle's street parking pricing gets a little smarter. Is it smart enough?

Seattle's street parking pricing gets a little smarter. Is it smart enough?
Seattle's "Performance-Based Parking Pricing" is a simple version of demand-responsive pricing for on-street parking. It has largish price zones and prices get adjusted only once a year.

This Seattle simplicity contrasts with San Francisco's SFPark with its frequent data-driven adjustments to prices that vary block-by-block.

But is simple good enough? Is Seattle's version too basic?

Alan Durning of Sightline Institute complained last year that Seattle has been "slow to offer matinee parking rates, even though morning occupancy rates are low."  (See below for more from Alan on this simplicity issue.)

So I was interested to see time-of-day pricing in the latest price-revision announcement by Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

The relevant slide from SDOT's 10 June 2014 presentation to the Council Transportation Committee

There will be a special morning price in only for two pricing zones this time around. In October, on-street parking rates in Pioneer Square Core and Pioneer Square Periphery will decrease for the morning pricing period (8-11am) but increase in the afternoon period (11am- 6pm). These changes are based on the low morning occupancies and high afternoon occupancies in these areas.

Compare Seattle's parking rate periods (8-11am; 11am-5pm; 5-8pm) with SFPark's ('open'=9am to noon; noon-3pm; 3pm to 'close'=6pm).

Curiously, this time-of-day thing was buried in the details of the announcement and not mentioned in the the SDOT Blog post.

Maybe time-of-day rates are not big news because there is already a precedent actually. There has been a special evening price in Chinatown since early 2013. You can see it on the price map below.

By the way, Chinatown's evening pricing is a story in itself - scroll down for more on that*.  

An earlier version of SDOT's announcement page made more of the time-of-day changes: 
Since on-street parking conditions vary tremendously by time of the day – morning versus afternoon, versus evening – we will start to adjust rates that way with our new pay stations. Different rate hours will be 8 AM – 11 AM; 11 AM – 5 PM or 6 PM; and 5 PM to 8 PM (if evening paid parking).

There will also be one other new time-varying rate - a seasonal one. Ballard Locks gets a May-September price ($2 per hour) and a October-April price ($1 per hour) (pdf) applying 8am to 6pm.

Here is the current parking rates map, not yet reflecting the announced changes to be rolled out. Click here for an up-to-date map.

Despite the new possibility of time-of-day variations, Seattle is still keeping things pretty simple.

Is near enough good enough when it comes to demand-responsive parking pricing?  Or should Seattle ramp up the sophistication of its demand-responsive parking pricing?

Alan Durning thinks more sophistication is the way. I mentioned his complaint about the lack of time-of-day prices above. Here are more of his pointed comments from last year (my emphasis added):
Unfortunately, Seattle is doing performance pricing on the cheap, with a crude, low-tech strategy that lags behind SFPark in four ways.
1. Seattle’s performance pricing is imprecise across space. The city does not have in-ground sensors, so SDOT sends workers to count empty spaces once a year... Such surveys generate data inadequate for tuning parking rates on each block, so SDOT is adjusting them in whole neighborhoods. Compare SDOT’s 29 meter districts with SFPark’s almost 1,000 separately priced block faces. In the City by the Bay, block-to-block differences proved a cure for cruising, but Seattle’s program cannot seize that benefit.
2. The Seattle program is imprecise across time. SDOT replaced every coin-operated meter in the city with pay-and-display pay stations between 2004 and 2010. Unfortunately, because it was an early adopter, it’s stuck with many early generation pay stations that tend to crash when reprogrammed remotely. As a result, someone has to go to every station—all 2,100 of them—and type in new instructions. Understandably, SDOT only adjusts meters once a year.
3. Seattle’s program has been slow to lift time limits. Its biggest relaxation of limits was to switch from two to three hours after 5 pm. (Meters stop running at 8 pm.) It has also been slow to offer matinee parking rates, even though morning occupancy rates are low.
4. SDOT’s top rate is too low. Seattle’s rate cap of $4 is a third lower than San Francisco’s $6 peak, and it’s lower than the hourly rates in many downtown garages, so performance pricing in downtown Seattle is not yet hitting its potential. Downtown Seattle has about 5,000 curb spaces priced at $4 an hour, plus about 60,000 private spaces, priced according to a variety of schemes that range up to $14 an hour. ... 
Despite the ways Seattle trails San Francisco, the Emerald City’s program is impressive. Its tools are crude, but it has kept spaces more available in more neighborhoods than ever. And it’s done so without hiking meters overall: rates have gone down in more neighborhoods than they’ve gone up. In the years ahead, Seattle could invest in catching up to SFPark.

This last comment is encouraging.

Yes, Seattle's rough-and-ready demand-responsive pricing has its problems. It fails to reap all the potential benefits. But few cities can do something like SFPark, whereas many could hope to emulate Seattle and to then improve their system step by step.

And just as important, it looks like Seattle's approach has been good enough to avoid repeal. The answer to its problems will be refinements, not abandonment. 

The major political hiccup has been the Chinatown episode (see below). Just like San Francisco's recent parking pricing furores, the hot resistance here is not to demand-responsive pricing as such. The really difficult thing is extending pricing to places and times that were previously free-of-charge.

This political pattern is both encouraging and discouraging.

It is good news for demand-responsive pricing and its prospects. But it's bad news for parking reformers, like me, who think that many cities will indeed need to extend pricing.

[Update: I now see that several areas in Seattle are to get evening parking pricing for the first time under this price review. It will be interesting to see how the politics of that plays out.]

* Seattle's Chinatown evening parking rates story (in brief)

Follow the news item and blog links below for some hyperbolic debate, if that's your taste!

Seattle's Chinatown core has a $1.50 evening rate between 5pm to 8pm period. When priced parking was first extended in the area in 2011, these evening prices were the same as the daytime prices (USD2.50) but had a longer time limit.

However, the 2011 evening extension was very controversial with business owners claiming large drops in business.  Sightline Institute weighed in, saying that was nonsense.

However, SDOT announced a review in February 2012.

And in February 2013 then Mayor McGinn announced lowered evening rates in the restaurant core of Chinatown and cancelled the evening rates after 6pm around the periphery of Chinatown.

Several councillors questioned whether this decision was data driven, as performance-pricing is meant to be, or was simply caving to the lobbying pressure. However, SDOT declared that, yes, the decision was data driven.


In the latest price review, Chinatown and ID core gets an increase in its daytime price to $3.00/hour (8am – 5pm) due to occupancy above the target range. But the evening rate remains at $1.50/hour.

[Update: Get much more detail via the actual SDOT 2014 annual parking report,

By the way, I see the following on Chinatown in the report:
Chinatown-ID Core 7pm occupancy was 72% in 2013 and 77% in 2014.
Chinatown Periphery 7pm occupancy was 52% in 2013 and 70% in 2014.
SDOT uses an occupancy target range of 70 to 85 percent.

Note that these occupancy differences (and resulting price differences) vindicate Alan Durning's point that Seattle's pricing zones are too big.

Dividing the Chinatown-ID zone into Core and Periphery in 2013 resulted in two zones with very different occupancy patterns, and hence different prices. The split gave motorists the option of walking a little to get cheaper parking than in the Core area.]