The “Parking Perception” – Strategies to Make
Temporary Parking Reductions Permanent
Over the last twenty years many communities have witnessed a rollercoaster of economic conditions for their downtown core areas. The common element that is often blamed for the negative impact to any local economy is a “lack of parking”. This negative perception is one of the primary reasons for the ongoing downturn in downtown economies. Our current economic condition, where less driving and more walking or bicycling has become prevalent, has caused communities to start to realize that a perceived lack of parking effects the local economy less than expected. In our current pandemic and/or post pandemic economy, communities are working with main streets and commercial corridors to provide solutions for safe, effective and efficient pedestrian or alternative transportation systems. Currently, during pandemic recovery, walking and cycling utilization are at an all-time high, allowing for a greater amount of foot traffic and local expenditures. In terms of helping communities maintain this increased amount foot traffic, it is important to retain as many of these features as are feasible as the economy reopens.
While some individuals and communities may desire to maintain the “new normal” for roadways and alternative transportation in perpetuity, it is more likely that roadways will be returned to their previous uses during the gradual reopening of local economies. Understanding that this will, once again, effect how people move throughout a community and access their necessary amenities or services, it is important that businesses, residents and municipality officials work together to keep as many of these changes as possible. While there is no correct way to help bring to light the benefits of the changes that downtowns have been able to witness, the method of delivery and content must be adequately prepared to demonstrate the positive aspects of the “new normal” or reduced need for parking. Outlined below are some recommendations and tips for the type of data that would be beneficial for a constructive case and methods for distribution or discussions about the data:
Types of Data:
The types of data that will need to be prepared for presentation to any municipality must be clear, concise and quantitative. It is through preparation of these types of unrefutable and data driven figures that, we as downtown professionals and supporters, will help illustrate the benefits to municipal officials. While this approach may seem to be a very impersonal or not the normal process for a downtown planning exercise, it is the standard information that is impactful for elected officials and department of transportation officials. Important information to be prepared includes:
1) Utilization studies – A utilization study is a parking study that will provide the community with percentages of utilization for all downtown parking facilities, both on-street and off-street. It is through these studies that communities will be able to understand the amount of parking that is utilized during each hour (or other timeframes) of the day and in which locations. Figures of this study can be presented in a percentage amount of the overall available downtown parking. With these figures the municipality can begin to highlight “hot spots” of parking within a downtown and ancillary corridor. Maps can be prepared to highlight the amount of parking utilization around a hot spot for a certain number of radii. Additionally, this study can be completed on a block-by-block analysis to highlight troublesome areas.
While this process may seem time consuming and expensive, the utilization of drone photography can allow this to be completed more effectively. A drone can be flown over the downtown at regular intervals and available spaces can be counted automatically with computer programs and/or physical counts. As a final result of this study the community will be provided with hard data that illustrates the areas where parking is most used, where it is frequently available and the amount of available parking that is within a reasonable distance of downtown.
2) Turn over studies – Turnover is often one of the most overlooked parking calculations when transportation or parking studies are prepared. These studies look at how often spaces change users and when spaces are vacant. This data provides a correlation of use and abuse of regulations. While not all communities have a time limit on parking, many do impose such regulations. Additionally, many of the communities that do have regulations in place do not strictly enforce them. By reviewing the turn-over, or lack thereof, a community will be provided with the information about where parking requirements may need to be enforced, changed or adapted to help encourage turn-over more frequently. Just as a restaurant needs to “turn tables” to ensure a profit, downtowns need to turn over vehicles to bring a new client into the corridor.
As wheel chalking has now been considered an “unconstitutional action” due to it’s potential of being in conflict under the 4th amendment (Alison Taylor V City of Saginaw), drone photography and analysis has become the most effective method for conducting this analysis. Similar to the utilization analysis method, turn-over analysis utilizes high resolution photographs from different timeframes to verify that vehicles have been moved. Through this analysis the final deliverables will be a detailed report highlighting blocks or areas of the corridor where limited turnover is being performed. This data will help provide data that will identify areas where additional attention for enforcement may be necessary, or further time restrictions should be implemented.
3) Pedestrian/bicycle safety(crash data) – Pedestrian and bicycle safety are often the most impactful numbers a community can provide. In this style of reporting it is critical to report the data or figures for a similar class of road that witnesses similar traffic, but each has different pedestrian or alternative transportation amenities. By highlighting the positive improvement in crash or safety data and by implementing a roadway restriction, road diet or alternative transportation facilities, a community can demonstrate the need for less parking and overall traffic.
The historical and current data from these studies often illustrates a picture of a downtown corridor that averages 50% utilization or less, with an average turn-over rate of 3+ hours. These figures represent a downtown that is not meeting the maximum parking requirements and that can stand to lose some parking for additional pedestrian or civic spaces. While this may seem like a considerable amount of data to capture and to document since everyone already knows, THAT PARKING IS NOT A PROBLEM, it is valuable data for any municipality to have in order to become more open to catalyst changes.
Implementation of Data:
Once the data is available, it is important that consideration be given on how to present the data to the municipality of department of transportation. While this may not be the first time that such an attempt for discussion has been made in each municipality, armed with the data and the right implementation method, it is more likely to succeed. Outlined below are a few tactics that will help create a strong implementation plan for each community, setting proper expectations and allowing for compromise:
1) Simple, Clean and Effective graphics – The old statement of “a picture is worth a thousand words” is also true for representing data to a municipality. By preparing a set of mostly graphic slides or pdf sheets, discussion will focus around the highlighted details, limiting the amount of time that elected officials or DOT staff will spend reading your report. This is important as it will not only provide your request more attention, where qualitative and quantitative benefits can be outlined, but also limit the amount of information provided at a single time.
2) Impactful graphics – Graphs and charts are important in this data presentation. By utilizing carefully prepared graphs and charts, comparisons can be made that will outline how each downtown block compares to one another, and to the remainder of the community. These charts and graphics are recommended to be prepared OUTSIDE of Excel or accounting software. Spend the time to create graphics for these figures that will catch their eye and highlight the information that is important to supporting your cause.
3) Prepare to compromise – Compromise will be key in this overall process. It is important to remember that municipal officials are charged with protecting the health safety and welfare of all individuals within the community. This includes the residents that would prefer more ample and free parking options. Understand that when ideas are presented, they may not all be able to be met immediately or at all. In order to witness true catalyst change, and potentially retain several of the already provided enhancements, everyone will need to consider compromise to help create win-win scenario for all residents.
4) Prioritize and Prepare – Knowing it is likely that not all desired enhancements will be granted, it is important that a prioritized or ranked order to enhancements or changes be prepared. This prioritized list will allow for the compromise to run more smoothly through the entirety of the process. When preparing the prioritized list, each community should think about having three distinct classifications for each enhancement. They are: REQUIRED, DESIRED, & LUXURY. By identifying these elements and their importance, discussions with the community can be sure to include all necessary enhancements, and as many desired or luxury enhancements as possible.
5) Sign, Direct and Inform – A community looking to help encourage off-street or side-street parking should invest in easy to understand and follow parking signs. These signs can serve as a short-term enhancement or transition solution until more formal parking lot leases or mass transit options can be fully implemented. By offering this as an option or first step in the overall process, a municipality will retain control and downtown or merchant associations will be given the opportunity to demonstrate the available alternatives to excessive and free parking.
These strategies are not provided in an effort to outline a solitary reason for keeping roads closed, but they do help “level the playing field” against the pro free parking individuals. It is the hope that with the results from the suggestions below, your community begin talks with the municipality and outline a compromise for retaining catalyst changes to transporting systems, while reopening roads and appeasing business owners.