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Excerpts from the Diary of a Parking Consultant

One of Those Days ...

Chuck Cullen

It's going to be one of those days -- two different meetings in the same city on the same day. By scheduling both meetings on the same day, however, I save both clients travel expenses.
With only an hour before the scheduled departure time, I exited the interstate, turned left pulled into "my lot." Like most parking customers, even consultants find themselves behaving in repetitive patterns.It's "my lot" because that is where I always park.It doesn't matter that the logo of a national parking company greets me upon entry.It's "my lot" because I use it, and I suspect that I have more than paid for it.
As I approach the airport security checkpoint, I execute my foolproof plan of getting through without delay.My shoes are airport friendly, so there is no need to remove them.Change, pocket pen and cell phone are deposited in my computer case while the laptop is removed.The computer case goes first through the x-ray machine, followed by the laptop and the overnight bag.The order is important to save time.With the computer case through, the laptop can be placed in the case as the overnight bag is checked.
With only an hour before the scheduled departure time, I exited the interstate and pulled into "my lot" at the airport. Like most parking customers, even consultants find themselves behaving in repetitive patterns. It's "my lot" because that is where I always park.
The flight gave me time to prepare for my first meeting. The city of Anytown was budgeting for a new garage. An earlier study indicated the need for additional parking. A year later, my firm was assisting with site selection, preliminary design, equipment specification and a financial feasibility analysis. This afternoon, the Budget and Planning Committees of Anytown were conducting a joint session to review the report we submitted last month.
On my way to the rental car agency, I glanced at the headline of the local newspaper: "Downtown to Lose Major Tenant." Indeed, 500 jobs were being eliminated in the area to be served by the proposed garage. I called my liaison with the city to discuss the implications of this unexpected development. Should the meeting be postponed?
No. I reexamined the previous parking demand study and updated it using the data from our site selection analysis. The demand was lower than previously reported, but there was still a need for the garage. particularly in the future.By the time of the meeting, the news of the job loss was on everyone's mind. I was ready for the first question.
"Mr. Cullen, in light of the recent news of the loss of 500 jobs downtown, do you still recommend this new parking structure?"
"Yes, Mr. Chairman. This new garage represents an investment in the city's infrastructure that will have a positive influence in retaining existing businesses and attracting new businesses. In my discussions with the Downtown Development Committee, the lack of parking was seen as a hindrance to future development. This garage will remove that hindrance."
Another Committee Member asked: "What about safety? Can the garage be safe?"
My reply was: "No one can absolutely guarantee the safety of another. The garage can incorporate security features that will discourage crime and enhance the user-friendliness of the facility. A few examples are plenty of lights, exterior stairs with glass walls, and fewer columns to give the facility a wide-open feeling."Then the hard question came from a member of the Budget Committee. "Your proposal calls for a parking rate increase. Won't raising rates discourage people from coming downtown?"
"Water rates have risen 22 percent over the past five years; electric rates are up 41 percent over the same period. The parking rate adjustment proposed represents a 13 percent increase from the last adjustment five years ago. This modest increase will generate an enormous impact on your downtown. Understand that in the front of every parking facility there is always one of two signs. One is the rate sign and the other is the FULL sign. The posted rates may upset some people, but at least they can park. The FULL sign is the most dreaded. It says 'go away.' Certainly it is better to have complaints about parking rates than a lack of parking spaces. Parking rates respond to supply and demand, so by increasing the supply, rates in nearby facilities may actually decrease."
Meeting adjourned. Then it was off to the local university for an evening meeting of faculty, students, administration and the parking staff. The university's newly appointed Parking Services Manager called me several weeks ago to invite me to this meeting. She had inherited a Master Parking Plan and wanted a critical review of its recommendations. This meeting was the first opportunity to get public feedback that would be useful in my review.
Auditorium A is a cavernous theater best suited for English 101, not a parking discussion. The campus cable TV station was setting up its equipment. A contingent of students with signs reading "Save Hector Hall" was entrenched in the front row.
The meeting began with a general greeting from the university's Vice Chancellor of Safety and the Parking Services Manager. The Parking Services Manager updated the audience on the Master Parking Plan. Immediately, the signs were elevated, hands were raised, and the cameras turned to focus on the audience. The questions were delivered in rapid succession.
"Why must we pay for parking?" "I don't mind paying, but I can't get a space." "The shuttle service is too slow!"
The Parking Manager remained calm and responded to the questions. For having had the position only a short time, she had a good grasp of the campus parking.
And then there was Hector Hall. The Master Parking Plan called for the demolition of this building with its unique architecture to make room for a 650-space garage with a bookstore on the first floor. About half the audience wanted the parking; the other half wanted to maintain the building. The debate on this one issue went on for 50 minutes. Even the students with the signs eventually lowered them out of exhaustion. The time allotted for the meeting elapsed, so the cameras left. Yet the discussion went on ... and on. and on
My role was to collect feedback, but I was soon asked to intervene. The Parking Manager turned to me and announced to the audience: "Mr. Cullen is a parking consultant. Perhaps he can help."
As I looked at the audience, the solution became clear. "Build the garage," I said, "and incorporate the architectural facade of Hector Hall into the exterior. The building is underutilized and too costly to maintain. Eventually, it will be demolished for safety reasons. You can save the facade of Hector Hall and have more parking."
There was a sudden lull in the discussion. The Parking Manager said the alternative plan would be investigated and discussed at the next meeting. She closed the meeting, and my firm had a new design assignment.
On my way to the airport the next morning, I stopped by campus to take photos of Hector Hall, which would be useful in designing the new garage.
Four hours later, I arrived back at "my lot." It had been 27 hours and 18 minutes since I parked. I calculated the fee before arriving at the exit plaza. As a handed my ticket to the cashier, I asked for a receipt. After paying, I screened the receipt. The fee was correct. The date and time of entry and exit were correct. Even my license plate number was correct. It was time to leave "my lot" until Tuesday, when my next parking adventure would begin.

Chuck Cullen is Assistant Director of Parking and Transportation Planning for The Consulting Engineers Group Inc. He can be reached at ccullen@fuse.net.



Article Abstract from November, 2003




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