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Analysis of Parking Utilization Using Curb Parking Sensors (Task Order 10)

In a Department of Energy-funded project led by the Urban Freight Lab, a network of parking occupancy sensors was installed in a 10-block study area in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. The study aimed at improving commercial vehicle delivery efficiency generating and providing real-time and future parking information to delivery drivers and carriers. This project will build upon the existing sensor network and the knowledge developed to explore how historical parking occupancy data can be used by urban planners and policymakers to better allocate curb space to commercial vehicles. The proposed project will use data from the existing sensor network and explore the relationship between the built environment (location and characteristics of establishments and urban form) and the resulting occupancy patterns of commercial vehicle load zones and passenger load zones in the study area.

Task 1 – Gather public data sources

Using public data sources (e.g. SDOT open data portal and Google Maps Places) the research team will obtain data on buildings and business establishments located in the Belltown study area (1st to 3rd Ave and Battery to Stewart Street). Data will include the location of business establishments, building height, land use, and estimates of the number of residents per building.

Task 2 – Analyze sensor data and estimate parking events

The research team will retrieve and process 1-year historical sensor data from the sensor network deployed in the study area. Sensor data is not directly usable as sensors are placed every 10 feet and a vehicle parking in a curb space might activate more than one sensor. Therefore, the research team will develop an algorithm that takes as input raw sensor data and gives as output estimate individual parking events, each consisting of a start time, curb space, and parking dwell time. The algorithm will be validated and algorithm performance will be reported.

Task 3 – Estimate parking utilization for each curb parking space

Using the estimated parking events obtained from task 2, the research team will analyze parking patterns and estimate total parking utilization for each curb parking space over time.

Task 4 – Design and perform an establishment survey

The research team will design an establishments survey to gather data on opening times, number of employees, type of business, and number of trips generated by business establishments in the study area. The survey will then be deployed and data will be collected for the business establishments in the study area. Descriptive statistics will be obtained characterizing the demand of freight trips generated by business type in the study area.

Task 5 – Analysis of parking utilization

The research team will perform statistical modeling to understand factors affecting curb space utilization in relationship with the location and characteristics of individual buildings and business establishments. The output of this effort is twofold: first, the analysis will obtain the factors that best explain the observed variability in curb parking demand, second, the analysis will obtain a model that can be used to predict future curb space demand.

Task 6 – Dissemination of findings and recommendations

A final report containing the result from the collection, processing, and analysis of the sensors data and establishment survey data will be drafted and published.

Expected outcomes

  • Descriptive time and spatial analysis of commercial vehicle load zone and passenger load zone utilization
  • Understand the impact of different establishments’ location and characteristics on commercial vehicle load zone and passenger load zone utilization
  • Discussion of policy implications for commercial vehicle load zones and passenger load zones allocation and time restrictions

Commercial Vehicle Parking in Downtown Seattle: Insights on the Battle for the Curb

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Publication: Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board
Publication Date: 2019

Rapid urban growth puts pressure on local governments to rethink how they manage street curb parking. Competition for space among road users and lack of adequate infrastructure force delivery drivers either to search for vacant spaces or to park in unsuitable areas, which negatively impacts road capacity and causes inconvenience to other users of the road.

The purpose of this paper is to advance research by providing data-based insight into what is actually happening at the curb. To achieve this objective, the research team developed and implemented a data collection method to quantify the usage of curb space in the densest urban area of Seattle, Center City.

This study captures the parking behavior of commercial vehicles everywhere along the block face as well as the parking activities of all vehicles (including passenger vehicles) in commercial vehicle loading zones. Based on the empirical findings, important characteristics of Seattle’s urban freight parking operations are described, including a detailed classification of vehicle types, dwell time distribution, and choice of curb use for parking (e.g., authorized and unauthorized spaces). The relationship between land use and commercial vehicle parking operations at the curb is discussed. Seattle’s parking management initiatives will benefit from the insights into current behavior gained from this research.

Rapid urban growth, increasing demand, and higher customer expectations have amplified the challenges of urban freight movement. Finding an adequate space to park can be a major challenge in urban areas. For commercial vehicles used for freight transportation and provision of services, the lack of parking spaces and parking policies that recognize those vehicles’ unique needs can have negative impacts that affect all users of the road, particularly the drivers of these commercial vehicles (1–4).

The curb is an important part of the public right-of-way. It provides a space for vehicles to park on-street; for delivery vehicles (i.e., cargo bikes, cargo vans, and trucks), in particular, it also provides a dedicated space for the loading and unloading of goods close to destinations. Hence it is a key asset for urban freight transportation planning which local governments can administer to support delivery and collection of goods.

According to Marcucci et al. (5), the development of sustainable management policies for urban logistics should be based on site-specific data given the heterogeneity and complexity of urban freight systems. Current loading/unloading parking policies include time restrictions, duration, pricing, space management, and enforcement (6, 7). However, as Marcucci et al. pointed out after an extensive review of the literature on freight parking policy, the quantification of commercial vehicle operations on the curb to inform policy decision making is nonexistent (5). Therefore, local governments often lack data about the current usage of the curb and parking infrastructure, which is necessary to evaluate and establish these policies and therefore make well-informed decisions regarding freight planning, especially in dense, constrained urban areas.

Given the importance of the curb as an essential piece of the load/unload infrastructure, this paper investigates what is actually happening at the curb, developing an evidence-based understanding of the current use of this infrastructure. The research team developed and applied a systematic data collection method resulting in empirical findings about the usage of public parking for loading and unloading operations in the Seattle downtown area.

This research documents and analyzes the parking patterns of commercial vehicles (i.e., delivery, service, waste management, and construction vehicles) in the area around five prototype buildings located in the Center City area. The results of this research will help to develop and inform parking management initiatives.

The paper includes four sections in addition to this introduction. The second section discusses previous freight parking studies and the existing freight parking policies in cities, and explores which of these approaches are being used in Seattle. The third section proposes a data collection method to document freight-related parking operations at the curb though direct observations. The fourth section provides empirical findings from data collection in Seattle. The fifth and last section includes a discussion of the findings and concluding remarks.

Recommended Citation:
Girón-Valderrama, Gabriela del Carmen, José Luis Machado-León, and Anne Goodchild. "Commercial Vehicle Parking in Downtown Seattle: Insights on the Battle for the Curb." Transportation Research Record (2019): 0361198119849062.