How to maximize existing space
Begin by quantifying potential new demand through a shared parking model. For example, the same spaces used during the day by shoppers could be allocated to local residents at night. Sounds like common sense, but most communities don’t work this concept into their parking plans. Then look closely at the location in question to make best use of available resources and/or alternate modes.
For example, a town I once worked with wanted to build a garage in the small central business district to support future mixed-use development. Officials told me at the kickoff meeting that it would pretty much bankrupt the community but saw no alternative for ensuring long-term prosperity. They needed to attract large-scale residential development and retail support to meet anticipated population growth.
A study of existing facilities showed otherwise.
Tweaking how current supply is used, such as incentivizing transit-oriented development through shared parking arrangements, would provide enough public parking even as retail grew. The area’s grown into a model mixed-use downtown with vibrant pedestrian activity, successful shops, transit-oriented residential development, and just enough parking. All without turning the pretty downtown into a parking lot or raiding the general fund.
Another city thought it needed another garage because those in the extremely busy retail area were always full.
There was plenty of parking, though, outside the overcrowded retail core. But there was little rate stratification to encourage anyone to walk the few extra blocks. Employees were competing with customers for the prime spaces, chasing their own customers away by making parking in the area a hassle.
Changing rate structures immediately freed up roughly 800 spaces during the busiest hours. Taking turnover into account, about 2,000 customers a day are now better served without having to build a new garage.
Five key questions
As these examples show, seemingly minor changes can save millions of construction dollars. However, implementing them requires a qualitative analysis in an industry where many people are more comfortable with less subjective modeling:
- How much surplus is realistically usable to support overflow demand before new supplies are needed?
- How far are people willing to walk to get cheaper, all-day parking?
- What kind of rate differential will create premium parking in the core and attractive discount parking a few blocks away?
- Do policies support “park once” usage, or is traffic exacerbated by people getting back in their cars to go one block to another store?
- How much less parking can be built to support alternative modes of travel without rendering office, residential, or retail space unleasable?
The answers vary from town to town, and this is the challenge. A rate strategy that works well in Stamford might be a political hot potato in Danbury. Walking distances that are taken for granted in New York City might be the death of a business just across the river in New Jersey.
Using time limits instead of rates to manage parking might be the only politically viable solution in one town, while a similar town in the same region might find meters helpful. Improved transit connections and bike paths may make a serious dent in demand in a college town but have little impact in a more staid community.
Cities often fail in implementing urban planning initiatives because they mishandle these questions. Studying how your system operates day-to-day is the vital first step in deciding what’s right for your community.
Credit: Walker Parking Consultants
An exterior wall during early construction. The structure’s brick and glass facade complements adjacent architecture as well as internal elements—two glass-front elevators and three well-lit, open stairways—that emphasize safety.
Parking and growth: A case study
Credit: Walker Parking Consultants
San Leandro’s LEED Silver parking garage has a precast concrete structural frame with cast-in-place decking.
One year ago, the City of San Leandro in California debuted a new garage and pricing structure that leaders hope will ensure the new central business district successfully replaces revenue lost when the state ordered that 408 redevelopment agencies be disbanded.
Although it occupies the same footprint as its 1970s predecessor, the 384-space structure provides 50% more parking and 2,000 square feet of ground-floor office space for the chamber of commerce. The San Francisco office of Walker Parking Consultants used Autodesk Inc.’s Revit building information modeling (BIM) software to achieve these gains while meeting seismic standards, complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements, and qualifying for LEED certification.
Located on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay between Oakland and Hayward, the 15.66-square-mile city has 87,000 residents. When they decided to replace the parking structure, city leaders wanted an environmentally friendly facility that provides a satisfying user experience.
To that end, parking is free for two hours on the first floor during the day and free throughout the entire structure after 5 p.m. daily and all day on weekends. Employees who work nearby are encouraged to park on the fourth level to free up first-floor spaces, street parking, and surface lot space for shoppers.
The centralized facility also supports the city’s transit-oriented development strategy.