Regulating the Duration of On-Street and Public Parking

Time Limits and Time Period Regulations

In a downtown, mixed use or business district, or other busy area, there are likely to be many different users competing for the same spaces. This makes managing the parking supply and prioritizing certain types of users or trips over others for different parking facilities is critical. To keep prime spaces available for patrons, curb parking can be regulated through time limits (2 hours, 90 minutes, or 30 minutes, for example) and/or meters. Either method requires enforcement. Time limits in particular may require enforcement and outreach so that employees do not simply shuffle their car from one two-hour space to another all day long. Time limits are less likely to generate opposition (except from long-term parkers who are now forced to use less-convenient options), but they also may not solve the parking crunch. Time limits can be used to increase turnover, allowing more cars to park in the same number of spaces over the course of the day, and to prioritize who uses which spaces, but they do not, on their own, significantly reduce demand for parking (charging for parking and transportation demand management strategies can help in this area).

Time Limits

Limits on parking duration can increase parking turnover, so that more cars (and more customers) can use the same number of parking spaces. This can work well in some circumstances, but can also be frustrating for users who outstay their allotted time by a few minutes and are ticketed. (Pricing alternatives intended to discourage long-term parking without the use of time limits are covered below.) In addition to increasing turnover, time limits may have a modest effect on how people choose to travel – a 1997 study of parking behavior in central business districts found that places with less restrictive time limits tended to have more people driving alone (though the time limits are not necessarily causing the difference) [1, p. 18-30]. Time limits can also be combined with meters or other pricing strategies that are more likely to change travel and parking behavior.

The allowable duration for time-limited parking can range from a few minutes in the case of a loading/unloading zone, a pick up/drop off area, or delivery vehicle parking, to 10 or 12 hours for employee or commuter parking. Many communities incorporate a combination of different time limits in different areas to accommodate drivers with different purposes.

One issue with time limits is that employees may park in 2-hour spaces intended for customers and simply move their cars every few hours to avoid ticketing. To address this issue, options include outreach and education to employees on the benefit of leaving desirable spaces open for customers, combining meters or other pricing strategies with time limits to further discourage long-term use of short-term parking, and instituting an employee permit parking program to encourage use of off-street parking facilities.

Time Period Regulations

Regulations prohibiting parking between certain hours are generally used to discourage a particular user group from storing vehicles on the street for long periods of time. No parking in the morning is sometimes used to prevent use of on-street parking by commuters, as an alternative to a resident permit parking program. This is most appropriate where there is little need for residents to store cars on the street during the morning, either because there is sufficient off-street parking or because most people drive to work, and where the commuter parking is mainly due to a train or subway station where most people arrive early and are away from their cars all day. If the spillover parking continues past the morning rush hour, or if parking is due to employees of nearby businesses who can move their cars during the day, a time limit restriction may not achieve the desired effect.

Some communities, including Brookline, Belmont, and Arlington, prohibit parking overnight on the streets. This means residents can’t use on-street parking as their primary place to store their cars. The justification for this is usually a combination of street sweeping and snow clearing concerns, though it should be noted that the same impact can be achieved through designating particular days and times when parking is not allowed to provide for street cleaning, and prohibiting on-street parking only during winter months or only during snow events. Many communities prohibit on-street overnight parking only between certain dates in the winter, or only when a snow emergency has been declared. Additional benefits cited by proponents of year-round overnight parking bans include easier maneuvering of fire trucks in the dark and fewer vehicles being vandalized or broken-into. The disadvantage is an increased need for off-street parking and, because the spaces available for overnight parking often require that vehicles are moved by a certain time in the morning, people must either drive from one parking place to another twice a day or must drive to work when they would otherwise use another form of transportation.


1. J. Richard Kuzmyak et al, “Chapter 18 – Parking Management and Supply”, TCRP Report 95: Traveler Response to Transportation System Changes, Transportation Research Board, 2003.