By Gregg Herrington, Don Palm and Kemble K. Pope
A young family, a UC Davis freshman, a downtown business employee, a senior citizen and a tourist — let’s call them all “visitors” since only 357 Davisites actually live downtown — all enter downtown Davis during the lunch hour on a beautiful Wednesday in September.
While carefully navigating the mixed traffic of automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians, each visitor is efficiently directed toward their final destination by a comprehensive series of “wayfinding” signs, the Davis Chamber of Commerce street/bike map and Davis Downtown’s mobile app.
Several hours later, some of the visitors have successfully finished their errands and left the downtown while some of the visitors are still supporting downtown businesses and soon will be ambling toward Picnic in the Park at the Davis Farmers Market in Central Park.
All of these visitors, utilizing various modes of transportation and with different goals for their visit, felt welcomed, experienced satisfaction with their entire visit and later told their friends and family what a joy it is to work, shop, dine and be entertained in downtown Davis.
Does that scenario sound improbable? In 2013, we admit it is unlikely. But can we all agree that it is a worthwhile vision for 2014 and beyond, after implementation of the Downtown Parking Task Force recommendations?
It’s important to note what the vision described above does not assume. It does not assume that each visitor arrived in an automobile, parked their car on the same block as their final destination or used free parking. Do you get frustrated if you drive into downtown and can’t find a parking space on the block adjacent to your destination? Annoyed that you have to pay to park for longer than three hours? We are the first to admit that change is difficult, but perhaps it is time to recalibrate our personal expectations.
Our community has changed and evolved in the past 25 years. In order to maintain and character and improve the quality of downtown, it is important that we re-examine our assumptions and acknowledge the changes in utilization of downtown Davis.
The first major investment in downtown parking supply was made in 1989. So, when discussing solutions for our current downtown parking problem (we all agree there is a problem, right?), it is important to note how our community has changed from 1987 to 2012.
Since 1987, several high-profile redevelopment projects in the downtown — among them Central Park/Farmers Market, Crepeville Building, Fifth & G Plaza (USDA), The Lofts, Bistro 33/Historic City Hall, McCormick Building, Roe Building, Chen Building and the Pence Gallery — have increased the density of residential and commercial use in downtown while also making downtown shopping, dining and entertainment more appealing to residents and visitors.
UC Davis continues to grow and evolve into a world-renowned center of higher learning. Data about these changes from 1987 to 2012 are certainly enlightening (* denotes best estimate):
— 54 percent increase in Davis population: 43,000* to 66,000* (does not include UC Davis campus);
— 48 percent increase in UCD campus resident population: 5,017 to 7,400*;
— 80 percent increase in UCD total full-time-equivalent faculty and staff: 12,236 to 21,983;
— 60 percent increase in UCD student enrollment: 20,858 to 33,300;
— 36 percent increase in total amount of downtown office, commercial and retail space: 801,000 square feet to 1.1 million square feet; and
— 25 percent increase in total number of parking spaces downtown (First to Fifth streets, B Street to railroad tracks): 1,692 to 2106.
Downtown Davis boasts a wonderful mix of businesses, each serving customers with different parking demands, and residences. A visitor picking up a takeout meal or simply dropping off some correspondence has very different parking needs in terms of duration and proximity than someone buying bags of soil or visiting the optometrist.
Further, the diversity of downtown businesses has changed drastically in recent years. For example, what was once a bank and video store on the corner of Third and F streets is now a restaurant and tap house with markedly different parking demands placed on our downtown parking inventory.
The City Council appointed a Downtown Parking Task Force to identify short-, mid- and long-term actions to address parking management and supply. We commend their dedication and thorough work. The task force’s draft 19 high-level recommendations are a consensus solution, and if implemented as a complete package, would bring about major changes to the duration of parking, the availability of parking and the cost of parking.
With limited supply and increasing demand, paying for some parking is inevitable, but who pays, how we pay, where we pay to park and what we do with that money is still very much debatable.
Assuming these parking changes result, as we hope they do, in greater use of downtown Davis, it’s essential that the City Council give serious consideration to how to best accommodate increased parking utilization as well as increasing parking capacity. For example, the Davis Chamber of Commerce has recommended that all spaces in the Amtrak lot be converted to paid parking.
Coupled with this new revenue generation should be a master plan outlining the uses for parking revenue, a mandate for ongoing quarterly utilization studies (like UCD) and a policy that allocates the vast majority of any new parking revenue to increase our parking supply, specifically a parking structure, with minimal amounts used for streetscape improvements or other operational functions.
The Chamber believes that any changes, now and in the future, to parking in the downtown should:
* Be welcoming, which is to say not discourage residents and visitors from visiting our downtown and its establishments, for whatever length of time desired;
* Be flexible in order to accommodate the various needs and uses of business owners, residents, visitors and employees;
* Be simple and convenient to use and understand; and
* Improve the ease with which downtown visitors and employees are able to find a parking spot.
On Wednesday, Oct. 2, the Downtown Parking Task Force will review and approve the Downtown Parking Management Plan. As soon as that plan is finalized, we urge the City Council to take immediate action to adopt the entire package of consensus solutions.
We hope our fellow citizens will take the broad view of this situation, celebrate the successes of downtown Davis, acknowledge the changing dynamics of our beloved downtown and join together in support of changes created by a consensus-driven, public process.
We look forward to a day in the near future when all visitors to downtown Davis have a welcoming and satisfying transportation experience.
— Gregg Herrington is 2013 chair of the Davis Chamber of Commerce board of directors and president of the Yackzan Group; Don Palm is 2013 secretary of the Chamber board and dean of the Davis campus of Sacramento City College; and Kemble K. Pope is executive director of the Chamber.