Do You Really Need That Garage?
Using a Consultant to Maximize the Parking You Already Have
By Matthew Inman
Perhaps you’ve just been notified about a new downtown or campus development project that will eliminate a parking lot or increase parking demand. Or maybe you’re hearing concerns from business owners about a lack of parking downtown and they’re demanding a new parking facility.
Either way, you may be considering adding to the parking supply to meet current or future parking demands. This is an important decision with serious operational and financial ramifications, and therefore not one that should be entered into lightly.
Finding the resources to fund a parking structure construction project can be difficult in the best of times. Trying to balance ongoing operational and maintenance expenses for existing facilities with the costs of designing, constructing and operating a new parking structure can be challenging for even the most financially sound parking systems.
In today’s difficult economic environment, funding new parking construction projects can be almost impossible. Therefore, it’s crucial that every parking system explore all alternatives for addressing parking demands prior to constructing a new surface lot or structure.
Strategies for dealing with parking demands that mitigate the need to construct a new facility can help in a number of ways, including but not limited to:
• Reducing parking system expenses related to operations and debt service.
• Decreasing the need to raise parking rates to cover new construction and operations expenses.
• Improving the utilization of existing parking spaces in both public and private parking facilities.
• Increasing revenues in existing parking facilities, both public and private.
• Encouraging visitors and employees to utilize alternative forms of transportation, thereby reducing traffic, pollution, congestion and frustration.
• Helping make more land available for other development projects (e.g., commercial and residential developments).
Enlisting the assistance of a consultant specializing in parking planning and management assessments can help you determine if an investment in additional infrastructure is truly warranted or if other strategies could be employed to improve parking utilization and efficiency or reduce needs.
While there’s not enough space in this article to discuss every alternative in detail, here are just a few ways a skilled parking consultant could help you decide if a new facility is right for your situation:
• Conduct a Parking Supply/Demand Analysis – This is usually the first step in deciding if more parking is needed. This could involve a comprehensive downtown or campus-wide analysis or a more targeted site-specific study. This analysis would help you determine whether surplus parking is available to meet current or projected needs; where the available parking is located; what user group types could be supported by the surplus parking supply (e.g., daytime versus evening demands); and if the available parking is publicly or privately owned. If the results of the parking supply/demand analysis show the need for more parking, you will know how much is actually needed – possibly saving tens of thousands of dollars over constructing too much parking or not providing enough.
• Ensure Parking Requirements Are Reasonable – An experienced parking consultant can review your current zoning code(s) to ensure that parking requirements are reasonable and flexible. Such requirements should utilize realistic ratios, encourage shared parking, offer in-lieu fee options, and provide reasonable reductions for demand management strategies. The goal is to provide the “right” amount of parking!
• Develop Strategies to Improve the Utilization of Available Parking Supplies – If underutilized parking supplies are identified, strategies could be developed to improve the utilization of available parking spaces. This could include any of the following alternatives, but not limited to:
• Developing marketing and communication campaigns to help inform visitors and employees about parking issues and to direct them to locations with available parking spaces.
• Adjusting parking rates in public parking facilities to encourage appropriate parking behaviors (short-term versus long-term parkers) and to promote parking in underutilized facilities. For example, parking spaces in core areas or near primary demand generators would be more expensive than parking spaces in perimeter areas.
• Implementing a valet parking program to improve the utilization of available parking and to reduce visitor walking distances.
• Developing signage and wayfinding plans that help direct visitors to appropriate parking locations. Available parking spaces can’t be used if drivers can’t find them.
• Encouraging private parking facility owners to improve the utilization of their facilities by improving signage and operations or by allowing public parking in underutilized spaces. This would improve overall parking conditions and possibly help private facility owners generate more revenue.
• Creating a “parking cooperative” or a “parking collaborative” to foster the creation of uniform parking management strategies and to improve coordination and communication between public and private parking facility owners.
• Improve the Efficiency of Existing Parking Lots and Structures – An experienced parking consultant can review the functional design of your parking facilities and on-street parking spaces to help ensure that they are as space-efficient as possible.
• Investigate Opportunities to Improve Parking-Related Technologies – Conducting an unbiased parking technology assessment and integrating new technologies can help provide better control over facility access and user allocations; accommodate more flexible parking rate structures; and provide more information for parkers (e.g., variable message directional and available spaces signs) and system managers.
• Implement Appropriate Transportation Demand Management Strategies – Encouraging the use of alternative modes of transportation could include a number of strategies such as providing adequate pedestrian and bicycle linkages/amenities; providing sufficient mass transit options/alternatives; subsidies for transit passes; encouraging the use of carpools and vanpools; instituting guaranteed ride home programs; encouraging telecommuting; setting up parking cash-out programs, etc.
In reality, the greatest benefit would likely be achieved by using a combination of strategies for dealing with parking demand. An experienced parking consultant can help you decide which alternatives are available and appropriate, as well as how to structure your response to growing parking demands.
Carefully considering each of the available strategies will allow a parking system to show that all applicable alternatives were investigated prior to constructing new facilities. This will enhance the system’s credibility in the eyes of their customers (both internal and external) and help improve community support when a parking structure is truly needed.
Matthew Inman is Vice President of Studies and Operations Consulting at Carl Walker Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (480) 505-0088.
Article Abstract from November, 2009