March 23, 2011

Making Parking Pay

Boulder, an American city of roughly 100,000 people about 30 miles from Denver in Colorado, became a trail blazer in 1970 by creating a Parking Benefits District (PBD), which channels money from curbside parking meters and off-street garage fees into streetscape improvements. Today the program generates over $1 million in annual revenue.

Parking fees also fund travel demand initiatives including the popular EcoPass program that gives free transit passes to downtown employees. Approximately 42% of downtown employees use alternative modes of transportation to travel to work creating parking space equivalents (PSEs), freeing up parking spaces for visitors, clients and customers, and saving the parking district the costs of constructing and operating additional parking for employees.

Like many cities across the country, Boulder initially worried that charging for pricing would result in shoppers choosing suburban malls over the downtown retail district. But by investing in downtown revitalization concurrently with implementing parking pricing, in the late 1970s, the city created the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall, with a mix of residential, office and retail activities, Boulder secured its downtown as a competitive destination. Today drivers to downtown Boulder now park their cars once—usually in a garage—and walk to other parts of the district. Attractive streetscapes funded by the parking fees create a pleasant walking environment, and more foot traffic passing by local stores.

Today drivers coming to downtown Boulder pay to park, and the fees support streetscape improvements that make downtown Boulder more attractive to residents, employees and tourists. (Photo via Let Ideas Compete on Flickr)
Today drivers coming to downtown Boulder pay to park and the fees support streetscape improvements that make downtown Boulder more attractive to residents employees and tourists Photo via Let Ideas Compete on Flickr


Cities can earmark parking revenue in various ways to support more comprehensive transport systems. In the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, 12% of parking revenue is used to fund Freedom Pass—a program that gives free transit tickets to those over 60 years old and the disabled. In Barcelona, 100% of parking revenue goes to support the city’s bike sharing scheme, Bicing. Before Bicing launched, there were 30,000 bicycle trips a day in 2006. In 2009 there were close to 100,000. While Bicing now accounts for 40,000 trips on average, the remaining 60,000 trips a day are made up of cyclists on private bikes.

Political buy-in for more expensive parking can be earned from drivers, business owners, local visitors, residents and other stakeholders by offering something in return.

Read more case studies in our European and United States parking reports.

Posted by: Michael Kodransky, Global Research Manager, ITDP


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