June 5, 2023

Boylston Street, Boston Case Study: Part Two

Darren Miller

Head of Deployments
A small section of a street in Boston made headlines due to notorious congestion caused by food delivery activity. As a curb management company, we took notice and decided to dig deeper. What we found was fascinating and led to a deep dive into the parking-related consequences of food delivery. The following is the second installation in a small series covering our findings.

A particularly interesting trend in the Boylston Street case study findings was touched on in the previous blog post: Sundays (see chart reproduced below for a refresher). As you may have guessed, this trend is due to the fact that a very popular fast-food chain which happens to have a store on the 500 block of Boylston Street is closed on Sundays: Chick-Fil-A.

In January of 2022, the first Chick-Fil-A in Boston opened at 569 Boylston Street and since then the people of Boston have evidently taken a strong liking to it. In fact, it has been so popular that online food delivery platforms have had to limit how many orders the restaurant can take per hour as part of the effort to mitigate the congestion on Boylston Street. City leaders are therefore aware that the Chick-Fil-A is a large contributor to the parking demand on Boylston Street. Even so, the numbers are shocking and almost comical, so I imagine it will be a surprise to everyone just how large of an effect the Chick-Fil-A has.

With the data gathered in our case study, we can estimate just how popular the restaurant actually is by comparing Sundays to other days of the week. By looking at short sessions (effectively 1-to-1 with delivery-related sessions on Boylston Street), which was previously defined in the previous blog as passenger vehicle sessions 15 minutes or shorter, we can compare delivery activity between Sunday and other days during the hours that Chick-Fil-A is open.

If we subtract the number of passenger vehicle short sessions on Sunday from the average number of passenger vehicle short sessions on days/hours Chick-fil-A is open, we can estimate that Chick-fil-A accounts for 1,006 - 195 = 811 additional passenger vehicle short sessions per day, or 4,866 on a weekly basis.

From here we can have some fun with the data, although everything should be taken with a grain of salt. Based on analytics published in a 2021 article, the average Chick-Fil-A order costs $15.91. This number is likely higher today due to inflation, but this will suffice. Multiplying the quantity of sessions believed to be related to Chick-Fil-A orders on each day by the average order value (each driver can only pick up one order at this location), we can estimate the revenue generated in the week we studied, which comes out to $96k. If we take this to be an average week for the Chick-Fil-A, we can estimate that the Chick-Fil-A on Boylston is earning about $4.9 mm annually from food pickup.

Taking this a step further, we can approximate the numbers from the perspective of the city, who adapted the curb from metered parking to make the food pickup zone, thereby sacrificing what Franklin-Hodges estimated as “several hundred thousand dollars a year” in revenue. Using the Boston local tax rate of 0.75%, we approximate the tax collections from Chick-Fil-A amount to $720 per week, or $37k annually.

Meanwhile, the city sacrifices $750 per week excluding Sundays, or $39k annually, based on the occupancy in the food pickup lane. This may not be an exact apples-to-apples comparison as the curbspace would likely be used differently if the parking policy had not been changed to a food pickup zone, but it still allows for a meaningful baseline.

If double parking sessions are factored in, thereby accounting for both legal and illegal food pickup parking, the number jumps to $898 per week, or $47k annually. So in summary, the city makes $37k from taxing Chick-Fil-A orders while sacrificing $39k (or $47k) in metered parking revenue from the section of curb analyzed, resulting in a net loss of only $2k (or $10k) each year.

In regards to parking and policy, Chick-Fil-A alone accounts for a very high portion of the parking sessions as shown. If we take the total number of sessions per day estimated to be associated with Chick-Fil-A (all lanes) and divide that by the number of spaces in the section of the food pickup zone we covered, we can find that the daily turnover per parking space in the food pickup zone just due to Chick-Fil-A is as high as 97.

In terms of compliance, during Chick-Fil-A hours of operation, 41% of short sessions were double parking, and 46% of sessions in the food pickup zone were longer than the 5 minute limit. Given that Chick-Fil-A accounts for 811 additional sessions on the average non-Sunday day, we can estimate that 332 double parking violations and 160 non-compliant food pickup zone sessions each day. On a weekly basis, that means Chick-Fil-A contributes a whopping 1,992 double parking violations and 960 non-compliant food pickup sessions.

I want to emphasize that this case study is not intended to disparage Chick-Fil-A in any way. To their credit, Chick-Fil-A has made efforts to mitigate the side-effects of their immense popularity, such as setting up a food pickup station outside of the restaurant for faster driver turnaround and complying with limits on their online order intake during peak hours.

The point is to show why Curb Management is important and necessary. For any readers outside of the industry, Curb Management as we define it is a journey consisting of three facets: (1) measuring demand; (2) reallocating supply; and (3) automating billing. Curb Management is an inevitable part of every modern city, whereby safety, mobility, and access to curb space can be optimized and dynamically adapted to the ever-changing conditions of cities.

Not every facet of Curb Management will be needed in all major cities. For many, simply measuring demand and reallocating supply will suffice. In most cities however, the demand is not well understood. Outside of the occasional curb study (which are conducted something like every 5 years generally), where city employees walk the streets to record occupancy in on-street parking zones, there is very little data on curb usage across the board. Given the enormous value of curb space, the variability of demand for this resource, and its finite supply, you may find that surprising. Even if the demand is well understood in a given city that conducts more frequent curb studies, it can change quickly. Boylston Street is a perfect example: a single restaurant opening up massively changed the parking environment and the street became notorious for traffic.

More than likely, there is at least one Boylston Street in every major city in the country. And, more than likely, there is little to no recent data quantifying the problems. Technology can be the cause of the problems such as the use of food delivery platforms, but it can also be the solution, and that is where Curb Management comes in and why it will be an increasingly useful and necessary part of modern cities in the future.

Stay tuned for another exciting addition to this series -- this time, we will be looking at the Chick-Fil-A Effect in another city...

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