Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Parking Enigma

Posted By on Sat, Oct 11, 2014 at 8:06 AM

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The No. 1 complaint in business districts is often parking. The general idea that comes from this common complaint is that more parking is needed.

Surely, a lack of parking is detrimental. But having too much parking kills the feel of a street, and/or the walkability of the place (think downtown Houston circa 1980).

The sweet spot for parking is a moving target; when you're on it, demand will increase, and you'll have to find it again. Arguably, portions of our own community are in the parking sweet spot, but, ironically, the sweet spot is typically where people complain.

Let's look at a couple of local examples. It's easy to pick two, from the urbanist perspective, because there are really only two notable business districts in the city itself: downtown and Old Colorado City.

Old Colorado City is near the parking sweet spot. Yes, tweaks are needed, but parking is generally available, and not in a vacuous manner. There is a demand for more on-street parking spaces in OCC — which could be possible with a conversion of parallel spaces along Colorado Avenue, to angled parking in lieu of two of the four travel lanes. Cautionary management of parking on the adjacent residential streets is a concern for OCC, but frankly, the concern and "problems" are part of what puts this district in a better parking and livability scenario than downtown.

Downtown has too much parking. Yes, you read that correctly, too much. Calibration is needed downtown and it needs to occur at the block level.

Some parts of downtown meet the sweet spot. I’d argue that parking needs are met nicely in the blocks north of Acacia Park that have a high concentration of young professionals, churches and service businesses. The individuals in this area either park in the metered on-street parking, conservatively park somewhere else for free, or use other modes of transportation (transit, bike, car, etc.). The area functions a lot like OCC. Currently, the supply and demand for restaurants/shops and metered parking downtown is met, but more metered parking would certainly be beneficial — additional surface and/or structured parking is not necessary. (Perhaps the downtown area could use some "parking problems" in terms of new developments bringing more activity.)

Elsewhere downtown, along Tejon between Cucharras and Platte, parking is a big complaint. It’s working well with metered parking at capacity, and high turnover during business hours, but after metered hours (6 p.m.) finding on-street parking is frustrating. Cars will park for hours in the on-street spaces that are intended for high turnover while parking garages are left unattended to antiquated machines that might accept your dollar bills (and that is if you carry cash).

Balance is needed, but the easiest solution is not the most popular: Increase parking-meter times until at least 10 p.m. and consider raising the meter price, and make the low-demand, evening parking more accessible. Garages either need to be staffed later into the evening, or get some new machines that take credit cards — or just make parking free after hours until 6 a.m.

In summary, we need to strongly consider when "more" parking is needed, and what type of parking that should be. Often in business districts, with restaurants and shops, the demand is highest for on-street parking with two-hour maximum parking. If the demand is higher, the price and quantity should be proportionately higher to structured parking and private surface lots. Low-demand parking, such as structured parking after dark, should be affordable, safe and easy to use. Some places have done well to make this low-demand parking free, while increasing the price of metered parking.

In addition to balancing supply/demand, city codes for business districts help to decrease development requirements for parking. The core area of downtown Colorado Springs doesn’t have a minimum parking requirement. The basis of this notion is that parking minimums are based off of the developer's finance requirements and demand from the product type. This practice begins to balance out the supply and demand of parking, and therefore allows the market to determine its parking needs.

In my opinion, it’s the ideal scenario for codes in business districts, especially in downtown areas, and many along the Front Range are employing this concept.

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Plannning and Landscape Architecture for EVstudio Planning & Civil Engineering. He is also a co-founder of Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, which implemented Better Block Pikes Peak in 2012, the recent Walkability Signage found in Downtown Colorado Springs, and perhaps most notably, Curbside Cuisine.

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