gtechna blog


Striking a balance: the economy of space & your street parking management

2 Feb 2017

pay by plate parking system in Pittsburgh

David G. Onorato, Executive Director Pittsburgh Parking Authority

by David G. Onorato, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Parking Authority


In his influential book The Great, Good Place, Ray Oldenburg describes at-length the growing need for citizens to have a space that is neither work nor home. He calls this place the “third place” and notes its role in promoting collaboration, community and civic engagement. Historically, these are located in private businesses that profit from hosting groups, but increasingly, organizations are moving to create more public spaces to help promote dialogue and civic interaction. The Project for Public Spaces takes the recent trend to make third places public spaces one step further, advocating streets as public spaces.

Advocates for parking structures argue that the congestion caused by traffic and street parking interferes with our streets developing these spaces, but that isn’t true. Instead, creating more parking structures actually frees up more space on the roads and promotes a much faster and less safe flow of traffic. Street parking, conversely, decreases traffic speed on thoroughfares, giving pedestrians a safer space and more opportunity and room to gather.


Although street parking is responsible for some amount of congestion, it is the sort of congestion that would be considered “traffic calming” as opposed to obstructive. Furthermore, giving priority to only vehicle through-traffic and neglecting the needs of other users can have serious economic implications for the community along that street.

Streets and sidewalks occupy an unusual space that is somewhere between public and private, yet the people who use them are fiercely protective over “their spots.” Therefore, mediating this interaction is complicated but necessary. Cost is one of the largest ways that traffic and parking can be managed. For example, during high traffic periods, many cities have found it valuable to increase the cost of parking in order to discourage overuse and competition over a resource with fluctuating availability. In order to accomplish this, cities will decrease parking fees at low-traffic times and at times where planners want to encourage more citizens to engage the businesses downtown.

However, despite the fact that street parking slows the flow of traffic, street parking is still responsible for a significant quantity of the traffic in any given city (as much as 30%), in large part driven by drivers circling the block looking for parking, not to mention air pollution. As we as a society take stock of our effects and influence on the environment, decreasing the amount of air pollution resulting from car traffic is quickly becoming top priority for many urban planners and managers. The mantra “reduce, reuse, and recycle” is the foundation for these reforms as developers try to make new plans to accommodate populations and reduce the waste of usable space.


Improvements and advances in sectors of transportation technology like parking pay stations, traffic management, and driver notification apps can have far-reaching positive effects on how our cities get planned and improved. In recent years, drivers have been able to minimize the amount of time they spend searching for parking more than ever by using apps to determine where parking is available and at what price.

Automated pay stations can track the amount of usage a particular section of parking gets as well as the rate of turnover with each space. Additionally, integrating a feature for license plate tracking would allow cities to track the type of car that is using a particular sector of parking, so that if there is a pattern of wasted space, the city can adjust protocol to create more usable parking space. Planners can better accommodate demand and streamline the process, allowing for more environmentally friendly parking as planners eliminate wasted space and time.

The point where many of these demands intersect is at parking enforcement. It is ever-more crucial for cities to effectively manage parking and public space.


Check out this infographic to learn more about how the Pittsburgh Parking Authority employed pay-by-plate parking enforcement to create a more efficient parking operation!

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