Possible Changes to Some Downtown Parking

A classic from Beautiful Angle.

At yesterday’s City Council Economic Development Committee meeting Tacoma’s Parking Technical Advisory Group presented an update on the downtown parking situation.

As a part of the presentation, two areas in downtown Tacoma were identified as “at capacity” for on-street parking: the blocks around the Pierce County Courthouse and Bates Technical College, and around the University of Washington, Tacoma campus.

The two situations are a little different: parking is free in the Courthouse/Bates area, but those parking there need parking for between four hours and all day, and can’t or won’t afford to pay. To address challenges here, the primary suggestion was improved signage, and exploring ways to leverage existing off-street parking and transit options.

Around UWT, the problem is providing parking with enough turnover for customers of downtown businesses. A set of changes suggested would only apply in the blocks surrounding the UWT campus, between South 17th and 21st, and Pacific and Market streets.

  • Reduce the maximum time allowed from two hours to 90 minutes.
  • Extend hours of enforcement from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Eliminate all-day parking on Saturdays.

No change in rates has been recommended, but other recommendations include improved branding and signage to direct would-be parkers to City-owned lots, and the possibility of license plate recognition technology to aid in enforcement. It’s also probably time for an updated Parking Master Plan, since the last one was done in 1992.

The recommendations are just that at this point: recommendations, but with UWT growing, State Farm employees on their way, and the economy showing positive signs, it’s likely that we’ll see some sort of changes soon - possibly in time for implementation before UWT classes begin in the fall.

The City has tried writing tickets. The University has tried providing off-street parking and transit options to encourage students to make changes. Neither has been successful in alleviating the parking crunch. Will these new suggestions do more?

Image: A classic from Beautiful Angle.

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Erik B.

The proposals to place parking around the courthouse and eliminate the reduced fee on Saturday in the high demand area around UWT is a good one.

However, the proposal to respond to higher demand for parking with reduced time limits is misguided (wrong), and against the literature on parking management and contrary to the trend of cities.

The City has tried writing tickets. The University has tried providing off-street parking and transit options to encourage students to make changes. Neither has been successful in alleviating the parking crunch.

The goal is to have an 85 percent parking occupancy rate.  If the demand has increased in this area so that there is no longer 15 percent of the spaces open, the proper response is to increase the price a bit until the right vacancy rate is reached.

Reducing the time allowed is completely contrary to Professor Shoup’s recommendation, who is the undisputed guru of parking in the US which most consultations follow:

MR: What should San Francisco, or any city trying to reform parking policy, do about time limits?

DS: The other thing I think that San Francisco is doing and that Redwood City did and that Ventura has done is eliminate any time limits on the meters.

They removed the time limits and they rely on pricing to create turnover and vacancies they don’t have to worry that they have to get back to their meter in an hour or two hours.



There are other detrimental effects as well.  Reducing time limits to try to solve increased demand creates more cruising and congestion around UWT as people try to find under-priced parking spaces.  Congestion is already a problem there now.

Also, it ejects visitors to the area premately and because of parking rules against “chain parking,” it makes them leave the area when they might have wanted to shop, have a business meeting or do more than one activity.

The City Manager should reject the Parking Committee’s well intentioned proposal to regulate parking demand by time limits.  It does not work it against the best practices of cities and contrary to the literature written in the matter.

June 26, 2013 at 10:35 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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At 75 cents an hour, the parking is ridiculously cheap.  Raise the rate in the high demand areas.  And start charging to park around the courthouse and Bates.

June 26, 2013 at 11:10 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Jenny JRegistered

I think a lot of those points are valid, although I do think that Tacomans might be a little price-sensitive to parking rate increases, and I don’t know that unlimited time parking would balance that out.

I also think that things are complicated, however, by the fact that the 2-hour time limit matches up a little too conveniently with UWT’s schedule which is largely based on 2-hour classes. That may make the time limit change a little more sensible in this area than elsewhere.

June 26, 2013 at 11:13 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Erik B.

Here is how parking rates are supposed to be set:

“Here’s the rule.  If half the spaces on a block are empty, we will lower the price on that block.  If all the spaces on a block are full, we will raise the price on that block. If one or two spaces are open, we will leave the price unchanged.” This is the Goldilocks Principle of parking prices.

If the price of curb parking is just right, then the curb spaces will be well used because almost all the spaces will be full.  Yet spaces also will be readily available because one or two spaces will be open. Can anyone suggest a better way to set the right price for curb parking? You cannot set the right price without looking at the results.


Trying to reduce arbitrary time limits won’t help because there will still be insufficient vacancy and cruising for underpriced parking spots.

Here is Professor’s Shoup’s video with a step by step methodology as to how to set rates based on demand:

<i>“Parking expert Donald Shoup discusses how Old Town Pasadena revitalized itself by implementing paid parking with revenues uses to improve the street scape and setting the parking rates “the right price is the lowest you can charge and still have a few vacant spaces” and where “one of of 8 spaces is vacant.”


It is simply not as hard a task as the city is trying to make it.

June 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Pretty sure that around the courthouse, that the attorneys can all afford to pay for their parking.  The criminals probably can’t and won’t pay regardless, so charging for parking will make absolutely no difference to them.

June 26, 2013 at 12:42 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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What do the leading experts say?  Go with that.  Stop trying to reinvent solutions to issues like this.  Tacoma isn’t “special” when it comes to solutions for urban problems.

June 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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l.c. garrity

One of the issues with UWT is that most classes are two hours and students are trying to play parking bingo to drive right up to campus. Many are perennially late to class. It will be a culture shift for them to have to leave more of a margin from work to commute/parking and to class, but it’s time they do it more responsibly. As it is, the promise of finding parking on campus makes them cut it too short. On other campuses, students use public transportation from further parking structures. Some do at UWT, but they “hope” for the parking fairy to open things up for them and, apparently, it works often enough that they risk it regularly.

June 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Erik B.

What do the leading experts say?  Go with that.  Stop trying to reinvent solutions to issues like this.  Tacoma isn’t “special” when it comes to solutions for urban problems.

Yes, it is a bizarre, confusing and potential costly suggestion. 

Sometimes is seems as though the city is backsliding of it’s knowledge of parking management and is just going to throw best practices and comparative city trends out the window and try to implement another ad hoc solution.

Here is quote from page 267 of Professor Donald Shoup’s authoritative book High Cost of Free Parking where Shoup goes into detail why cities need to focus on setting the pricing right for a particular parking demand in the area.

The parking demand is far higher in Seattle and San Francisco than it is in Tacoma.  Should these cities only allow people to park for 10 minutes?

Of course, they don’t.  The higher demand requires them to set a higher price for parking not lower the time limits as Tacoma is suggesting.

Every article and city policy on parking management I have read advises that cities need to vary rate as demand increases, not time limits.

Plus, the Tacoma City Council passed a resolution when the paid parking system was implement stating that parking rates should be set as to produce a 85 percent occupancy rate.  The UWT solution contradicts the council parking resolution as well.

June 26, 2013 at 5:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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studies from 1954 ?  While there were cars in 1954, the usage patterns were very different from what they are today.  Our streets are far more dynamic in their use and shared by a larger variety of users using a greater array of modes.
  The recommendation comes from tons of data ccollection and hours of thoughtful discussion and debate.  What the committee is suggesting is inline with modern practices and will work well in a dynamic multimodal transportation system designed for many types of users.

June 27, 2013 at 11:54 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Erik B.

The quotes from the Professor’s Shoup’s book The High Cost of Free Parking was published in 2011 (originally in 2004 and updated in 2011:


He only quotes a Nobel Laureat from 1954 to show how long it has been accepted as the correct practice to respond to parking demand with variation of parking rates to manage vacancies.

Professor Shoup’s text references literally hundreds of studies, many of them peer reviewed and is considered the authoritative text for parking management methodology in the United States.

Of the hundreds of articles I have read on parking management, the overwhelming view is that the proper response to increased demand for parking is to raise rates in the area that demand has increased until a 15 percent vacancy is reached (but no further).

Not one of them has suggest that the proper response that cities should take to increased demand is to lower time limits as the parking committee has suggested. 

Some issues such as art can be resolved by popularity and public opinion.  However, other such as medicine, engineering and parking management have specific mythologies development over the years which need to be followed or the result can be very detrimental.

June 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Erik B.

Here is page 297 of Professor Donald Shoup’s authoritative book High Cost of Free Parking where Shoup gives a bit more detail as to why parking need to be managed by adjusting rates in accordance with demand rather than contorted time limits:

More on professor Shoup and the articles he has written on the matter his book which most parking experts use as their authoritative text:

Donald Shoup is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, where he has served as Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies. His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, explains how better parking policies can improve cities, the economy, and the environment. In the book Shoup recommends that cities should charge fair market prices for on-street parking, use the meter revenue to finance added public services in the metered neighborhoods, and remove off-street parking requirements.

Donald Shoup is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, an Honorary Professor at the Beijing Transportation Research Center, and the Editor of ACCESS magazine.


June 26, 2013 at 5:28 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Published Author RR AndersonRegistered

Pacific Ave business owner here,  time limits suck!

June 26, 2013 at 10:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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June 12, 2018 at 6:26 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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