By Matt Darst
Each day in the United States, at least 8 people are killed and 1,161 are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Most people think of distracted driving as using a cell phone, programming an in-vehicle navigation system, or eating, but there are other activities that contribute to distractions. It may not seem that obvious, but parking can cause distracted driving – leading to vehicle collisions, serious injuries and deaths – because drivers are often preoccupied in traffic and congestion as they hunt for or leave a parking space.
Good transportation policy recognizes the need to not only move people and goods efficiently, but safely. As such, the notion of Vision Zero is becoming ingrained in municipal transportation planning. Vision Zero stands for the belief that traffic deaths and injuries are preventable and that cities should strive for zero roadway deaths and serious injuries annually. Of particular concern are “vulnerable road users” – those people that are at most risk because they’re generally unprotected by the “shield” of a vehicle. Pedestrians now account for about 15 percent of all motor vehicle crash-related deaths, up from 11 percent a decade ago. From 2005 to 2010, bicycle fatalities increased by more than 30 percent.
Properly managing and regulating parking can reduce fatalities and injuries significantly. Cities have a number of tools at their disposal to improve parking and mobility, and reduce distracted driving caused by parking:
- Implement demand-based pricing structures to eliminate static pricing and promote space turnover. When hourly parking meter prices don’t keep up with demand, finding parking can be a real burden. Static prices force static behavior. When every meter is priced the same every hour of the day regardless of demand, there’s no incentive for motorists to park a little further from their destination. When pricing is too low or doesn’t correlate with demand, motorists fail to internalize parking costs in their decision-making. Considerations like “whether to drive” (such as driving versus taking mass transit or riding a bike), “when to drive” (visit a location when demand may not be as high) and “where to park” (walk a few blocks to your destination to reduce travel and parking time) are moot if supply isn’t properly priced.
- Improve signage and wayfinding options. Too often, motorists aren’t provided with enough information. Simple, easy to understand signs can reduce the time it takes to park, thereby reducing congestion.
- Fix broken meters. Broken meters aren’t just lost municipal revenue, they’re lost parking supply. Some cities allow drivers to park for free at broken meters, while other cities look at it as illegal. Often, motorists aren’t versed in the law, so rather than park at a broken meter and risk a ticket, they’ll relocate their car to an area where the parking meters work. To reduce confusion and congestion, policy-makers must ensure that the percentage of operability is high and that broken meters are addressed quickly. Offering convenient pay by cell options will help as well.
- Restructure time limits. Cities can shift demand by selecting the right maximum stays. Too often, the maximum amount of time a customer can stay at a meter is set by an ordinance or regulation without any real understanding of occupancy, shifts in demand throughout the day, or unique demand generators—businesses like restaurants, merchants, gyms, and concert venues—on a block. In fact, time limits rarely correlate to the goals of a parking program to reduce the time spent dealing with meters, increase use in underused spaces, and reduce the use of congested spaces.
- Establish the right hours and days of operation. If meters are virtually unused in the evenings, they shouldn’t be operational during those periods. When use is significant at night, meters must operate in those locations during those hours.
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We were just at the International Parking Institute Conference and Expo in Nashville where we spoke with several transportation officials about how to better manage and regulate parking in their cities. In order to promote safety; eliminate distractions; and protect pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers, cities will need to use the tools at their disposal to show a commitment to improved mobility.