Task force takes a broad look at downtown parking

By Matt Kowta

Records of a downtown “parking problem” date back to at least 1958. Recognizing that we have accomplished all that we can with current downtown parking management practices, the City Council charged the Downtown Parking Task Force with developing recommendations for improvements.

On Oct. 2, the task force completed 10 months of studying downtown parking, reviewing national research and best practices, and refining recommendations. The task force voted unanimously (with one member absent) to forward a comprehensive package of 19 recommendations to the City Council.

Naturally, there were some differences of opinion on exactly how a handful of the concepts should be implemented, but the key takeaway is that when considered as a whole, the package received unanimous support. Although they took actions before the final task force recommendations were complete, both the Chamber of Commerce and Davis Downtown expressed support for their general direction.

The task force balanced the interests of all downtown users and stakeholders, carefully considering input from Davis Downtown and the Chamber. Citizens gave input at our meetings, and the task force reviewed the results of surveys that collected information from local residents relating to downtown parking. Davis Downtown hosted a meeting to provide an opportunity for community members to learn about the evolving recommendations and give input.

UC Davis creates significant impacts on downtown parking demand, and the task force benefited from the input of ex-officio member Cliff Contreras, director of UCD parking and transportation services.

The task force members represented diverse viewpoints, including those of retailers, service providers, office tenants, residents of downtown and nearby, property owners, bicycling advocates and concerned Davis residents. Naturally, we all shop downtown and treasure its success and vitality.

Resources to address downtown parking are limited; more so with the statewide elimination of redevelopment agencies. Because a new parking structure might cost $50,000 per parking space, we must use our existing supply of parking as efficiently as possible. Charging users to occupy prime parking spaces at peak hours will be an effective tool to reduce abuse of parking spaces by drivers for whom patronizing downtown businesses is not their primary reason for parking downtown.

To maximize the utility of the parking supply, policies should reflect the fact that all spaces are not created equal. In recognition of these realities, the majority of task force members supported specific recommendations regarding implementation of paid parking in the southeast part of downtown.

Concern that paid parking could discourage some downtown patrons is reasonable, however, any parking space that opens up because we ask users to pay will provide a space for a driver who believes that a modest fee is a good value relative to the quality of merchandise, customer service and overall experience that downtown offers. This sounds like the type of shopper who will spend money and contribute to the success of our economy. The benefits will multiply as parking spaces turn over more frequently than under our current system.

Paid parking in the southeast quadrant will help to ensure that there are convenient spaces readily available for shoppers with short-term parking needs, in the area where the greatest concentration of retail and service businesses that depend on this type of parking exists. Recommendations will help direct those for whom parking cost is a key concern to areas where the parking supply is less impacted and frequent turnover of parking spaces is less critical. This will include increased employee parking options.

A recommendation to improve transit, bicycle and pedestrian access to downtown aims to help ensure that parking will be available for those who prefer to drive, or for whom driving is the only practical option.

Free 20-minute spaces, which can be found on most blocks, will remain. In addition, there will be free parking within about two blocks of any downtown destination, and modification of enforcement hours will extend free parking without time limits until 10 a.m. every day, while all parking will be free on Sundays and holidays.

Promoting free parking during hours when there is no shortage of parking can give something back to cost-sensitive shoppers and also create a marketing opportunity for downtown businesses.

Recommendations to make the parking options easier to understand, and to make it quicker to find a suitable parking space, will improve convenience and save time. Although parking meters in the southeast quadrant will encourage most drivers to leave their cars for shorter periods of time, increasing the parking time limit to four hours in this area will allow those who desire to stay longer to enjoy an extended visit, without needing to move their cars.

Even with efficient use, increased demand due to new development in downtown and elsewhere in the city and on the UCD campus eventually will create the need for more downtown parking spaces. While the task force recommended study of the exact timing and best strategy to address this need, any project that will substantially increase the parking supply will require multiple years of planning.

Additionally, gathering the necessary funds will take considerable time. Therefore, it is important for the city to initiate this work without delay.

We are confident that our recommendations provide a blueprint to help make downtown a better place for shoppers and other visitors, business owners, employees, residents and property owners. Task force recommendations call for regular monitoring of downtown parking, and modification of policies based on observed effects.

With City Council guidance and staff expertise, implementation of task force recommendations will incorporate further refinements that will support downtown’s continued success.

— Matt Kowta is chairman of the Downtown Parking Task Force. Also signing this piece are task force members Michael Bisch, Robb Davis, Sara Granda, Amanda Kimball, Alzada Knickerbocker, Rosalie Paine, Steve Tracy and Johannes Troost.

Special to The Enterprise

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