Manage parking rather than laying more pavement in your downtown

Parking management can save municipalities money and make parking more efficient in your downtown.

One of the common problems facing downtowns in Michigan is the perceived problem of not having enough parking. True, parking is essential for downtowns to be successful - shoppers need convenient access to stores and services, employees need longer term parking, and those who wish to spend time in a downtown need a mix of parking options. Parking needs to be convenient and affordable, if not it can frustrate users and cause other issues. However, historically the solution to parking issues in downtowns was to increase supply to meet peak demand. Unfortunately, this often comes with the side effect of tearing down buildings to surround the downtown with parking lots. While this can provide parking for vehicles, it can also prevent nearby residents form walking to the downtown.

Parking facilities are also expensive, both in terms of providing and maintaining parking spaces and in terms of indirect costs such as stormwater management, environmental impacts and bad urban form. A typical surface parking space costs $2500 to construct in a central business district and an additional $200 to $300 of operation and maintenance costs annually.

All of these concerns are based on parking supply and having surplus parking available at any time. Current best practices now focus on managing parking and exploring different ways of solving parking problems. This represents a paradigm shift from simply looking at parking supply to managing facilities efficiently and creating a more successful downtown. Parking management uses policies and programs that result in more efficient use of parking resources. It includes mobility options beyond vehicle parking only and also includes community development goals such as walkability and aesthetics.

There are ten basic parking management principles that can help create successful and efficient parking plans.

  1. Consumer choice: People should have multiple options for travel and parking to get to their destination
  2. User information: Motorists should have information on parking and travel options such as cost and location of parking
  3. Sharing: Parking facilities should serve multiple destinations and users throughout the day and week.
  4. Efficient Utilization: Parking facilities should be managed so they are operating at high occupancy
  5. Flexibility: Parking management plans should be adaptive to change and react to uncertainty
  6. Prioritization: High demand spaces should be managed to favor high priority users, such as shoppers in downtown (not business owners)
  7. Pricing: Users should pay for parking directly, as much as possible.
  8. Peak management: Plans should be in place to deal with peak demand
  9. Quality v. quantity: The quality of the parking amenities should be considered as well as the amount of parking. This includes safety, aesthetics, accessibility and user information.
  10. Comprehensive analysis: All significant costs and benefits should be included in any parking analysis.

Parking management solutions tend to offer greater returns on investment than an increase in supply while simultaneously supporting more strategic goals for the downtown and community. Cost effective parking management solutions can typically reduce parking demand by 20 percent to 40 percent. Parking management is just one small part of transportation demand management. The Environmental Protection Agency has a document available called Parking Spaces / Community Places that discusses smart growth solutions for parking. A more in-depth discussion of parking management and the strategies involved is discussed in Parking Management Best Practices.

For more information on planning and parking management in your community, contact a Michigan State University Extension land use educator.

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