$3.8 million to plan for smart parking in Berkeley

Finding a parking space, finding quarters to feed the meter, avoiding getting a ticket — these are all part and parcel of the stresses of city life in Berkeley, especially if you visit the most heavily visited business districts regularly.

Could the parking system be improved? This is a question Berkeley plans to address now that it has been awarded two grants worth a total of $3.8 million with which it will explore ways to manage parking in the city more efficiently — not least by taking some cars out of the equation by making public transit a more attractive alternative to driving.

The city secured $2 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to implement a pilot program for what’s known as “dynamic pricing” of parking spaces in the business districts of Downtown, Southside of campus, Telegraph and the Elmwood. This could include dynamically changing parking meter rates so that there are always some spaces available, and also encouraging offstreet parking by providing lower rates for garages and lots.

Another $1.8 million from Federal funds will be spent in collaboration with UC Berkeley to achieve a similar goal. The scope of the analysis will include looking at how the many university-owned parking structures could be used more intelligently and will take in car-sharing options — City CarShare is on board too.


Julie Sinai, Chief of Staff for Mayor Tom Bates, says the city is considering how it can leverage and coordinate resources with the university. Some of the UC-owned garages, for example, have spaces which are left empty for long periods as they are reserved for faculty but not used. Different payment methods might free up some spaces for non-university staff, she says.

Sarah Syed, a planner for BART who sits on the Berkeley Transportation Committee, says that when a number of strategies are bundled together parking can be managed more effectively. “Using pricing and technology wisely to manage parking can benefit everyone,” she says. She says Berkeley has been inspired by initiatives in San Francisco — details of which can be seen at SFPark — and has looked at Redwood City’s model which has seen all parking time limits eliminated with a rising cost scale according to length of time in one spot.

The Downtown Business Association is currently encouraging visitors to consider parking garages or public transit. It has issued a parking price list, which includes early-bird rates of $8 a day and carpool rates at the Center Street garage of $45 a month.

Key to any plan’s success will be getting people to opt for alternatives to using their car — whether they walk, hop on a bike or take the bus. “We need to make transit safe and convenient — an easy choice,” says Syed. But she’s the first to point out this might be difficult given the significant cuts made to AC Transit. “How can we counter that?” she asks. “Berkeley keeps voting for parcel taxes to improve public transit but the system keeps deteriorating.”

The $2m grant is part of a total of 17 grants worth $33 million awarded by the MTC through its Climate Initiatives Program to promote breakthrough techniques for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle-miles traveled around the Bay Area.

[Hat-tip: Alan Tobey.]