Tuesday, December 11, 2012

“Pay to Stay” approach floated for downtown parking

Tom Brown with the New York transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard

Roanoker’s “can get very emotional about parking,” said city manager Chris Morrill as he prepared council for a downtown parking briefing last week. They were about to hear some “out of the box” solutions to Roanokers’ perception of downtown parking. This is just a starting point cautioned Morrill.

The Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission conducted a study of downtown parking. Former Planning Director Tom Carr applied for and received an EPA technical assistance grant for an on-street parking audit. Nelson/Nygaard was paid directly for their work, which included analyzing data collected by the RVARC. Nelson-Nygaard’s work was really complementary to that of RVARC explained Planning Administrator Chris Chittum.

Thomas Brown, Senior Associate with the New York transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard and others from Nelson-Nygard came to Roanoke for two days and took a look at the parking situation in downtown and conducted a workshop with staff and downtown businesses and property owners.

The city paid Tom Brown $3500 for the briefing to city council which was not covered by the EPA grant.

Chittum said that the audit findings would give the city a chance to improve and manage downtown parking making it a better place to do business. The goal is to align the parking demand with the parking location – on-street, garage or surface lot.

The area of study stretch from Gainsboro to Elm Avenue and from the Cotton Mill to I-581. There are 1290 on-street parking spaces in the area. When adding garage and surface lot parking, the total climbs to 7099 spaces. Thirty-five percent of downtown land use is asphalt. “We’re going to have to look at policy direction to really get some first class active use of some of those lots … like for buildings and greenspace,” said Morrill. “Downtown is running out of buildings to be repurposed.”

Some on-street parking areas are occupied 100 percent of the time while outside the downtown core parking space occupancy drops dramatically. Occupancy rate in the downtown core was measured between 33 and 79 percent. Off-street private surface lots rarely exceeded 50 percent occupancy said Chittum.

Even if some of the sparsely used lots were transformed into buildings there would still be excess parking claimed Chittum. Councilman Dave Trinkle speculated that some of the vacant spaces might be rentals.

Councilman Court Rosen suggested an ambassador be stationed downtown during busy times to direct traffic to available parking locations.

Transportation planner Tom Brown said the key is to find solutions that make sense for a specific locality. It all boils down to “location, location, location” and citizens’ perception that there is no parking downtown.

It is no surprise that peak usage around the Market Building occurs at weekday lunchtime. “People prioritize convenience,” said Brown. During his audit he spoke to a Roanoke resident who told him he circles the Market Building 6-7 times though he knows there is parking elsewhere. “People hope to get lucky,” said Brown.

Downtown has the resources where demand is high but Brown questioned the consistent use of one hour time limits. People find it hard to estimate the time that they might need and find time limits frustrating he said. Employees who work downtown find it easy to “game the system” which puts an additional strain on customer on-street parking.

Brown also questioned the application of 15 and 30 minute time limits in certain areas. He suggested revisiting business needs and expanding time limits. The goal is to reduce the perception that “there is no place to park.” He suggested a shuttle that would continuously circle between garages to encourage their use.

Premium priced metered parking was another idea that might work for high demand locations. Brown thought though a more palatable approach for picky Roanokers would be a “Pay to Stay” solution. The first hour would be free and the meter would only kick in for the extra time. The fee would be charged to the driver’s credit card. Some cities have offered the option to pay fees through a user’s cell phone. It can even be used to call the driver when his parking limit is about to expire.

Brown suggested that the money from the meters be placed in a Parking Benefit Fund to be used for downtown visitor perks. He also suggested a new loading zone approach that would free up high demand on-street spaces.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Business, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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