Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Three Trends in Parking Management

Dan McCombie is a Research Associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

I’ve noticed a couple of trends of late in regards to parking and how downtowns are trying to effectively manage the demand for it. It feels important to understand these trends because they all have implications for how customers access downtowns, as well as the toolbox of strategies and tactics we have as district managers. In any event, I would be curious to know if what I’ve observed tracks with what others have also seen. Here goes…

1.       Parking decks (as we know them) are experiencing incremental extinction

There was a Crain’s NY article recently talking about the challenges being faced by Manhattan parking garages. Operators say they’ve felt a lost demand over the past 18 months, citing a 10% drop in the number of “transient units” (cars that park by the day or hour). They attribute this trend to growing patronage of car-share (Car2Go) and ride-share (Lyft and Uber), but made all the worse by rising labor costs and recent rumblings by politicos about possible congestion pricing in Manhattan. Yet this is not unique to New York. Waning demand for structured parking is also being felt in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston where competition from alternative transit choices and concerns over congestion are just as prevalent.

Uber has been unapologetic, responding that it’s all for the better those garages disappear if that creates more space for affordable housing and public parks. Sounds rosy, and there is some sense to it since affordable housing--typically exempt from parking minimum--presents a real option for infill development. But we’re also seeing cities like Philadelphia incrementally knock down their garages and replace them with luxury housing. In other cases, owners are getting creative and turning their underutilized parking structures into trendy food hall retrofits.

To be clear, parking structures are still being built, but increasingly with an eye towards a ten to fifteen year horizon where the use of that deck will likely be fundamentally different based on declines in car ownership and increases in autonomous vehicle use. That means designing for easier retrofitting to retail or other non-residential uses, usually by adding a few feet to ceiling heights. Or it means curbing costs and capitalizing on economies of scale by going fully automated with garages that don’t require human labor and can store more cars in a smaller footprint.

Regardless, in more and more places we’re seeing garages adapt based on the anticipation (or realization) of reduced demand.

Automated garage designed by BRN Architects in Izmir, Turkey
Photo: Inhabitat

2.       On-street parking is off-brand

The literature is rich in urbanist corners about the benefits of turning traffic lanes and on-street parking into bike lanes and larger sidewalks. A really good example of this is the NYC DOT’s report, The Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets, commissioned during Janette Sadik-Khan’s time at the helm of the agency. The report is notable because it seeks to draw the connection between complete streets and economic development, and does so employing an objective methodological approach where local business sales were monitored before and after street renovations. Their change in sales was controlled against sales figures for other comparable commercial corridors within the same neighborhood. After conducting this research, the study conclusively found that complete streets provided benefits to businesses in all types of neighborhoods, “from the central business district to modest retail strips in residential areas.”

I bring this up because more and more people are recognizing the spending power of pedestrians while the notion of creating more space for cars feels counterintuitive and antiquated. So while we see reports and case studies that supports removing on-street parking to bring in a protected bike lane, the literature becomes much more scant on whether or not it makes sense to turn a traffic lane into on-street parking. I draw attention to this because complete streets means supporting as many competing uses as possible, but many streets simply don't have the capacity to do that. If you must choose, what is the argument for parking instead of bike lanes (if there is one)? Yes--I’m familiar with the oft-quoted fact that every on-street parking space is responsible for some $200-$300K in revenue for nearby businesses. I’ve seen this number quoted ad nauseam and out of its original context. That is not to say it’s wrong, but it glosses over many of the variables that are responsible for generating that value.

On-street parking can play a valuable role for commercial districts that goes well beyond providing direct storefront access for shoppers. Good flexible on-street parking can also provide commercial loading areas for vendors or serve as designated pick-up and drop-off points for ride-share services in an effort to ease congestion. It can also have a “teaser” effect in that it suggests to shoppers there is easy and available parking (thereby inducing more shopping trips), but actually increase the utilization of garages and decks as a substitute when curbside spots are at capacity. And at the end of the day, it also can calm traffic and reduce crossing distances which also serves the pedestrian environment. In short, flexible curbside parking has its benefits which may or may not make sense depending on the district.

Ninth Avenue street improvement project
Image: Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets; NYC DOT

3.       “Smart Parking” is smarter thank you might think

A common refrain in many districts is that there is simply not enough parking to suit retail. And this assertion comes from all corners; not just customers but also property owners and merchants. But with the growth in alternative transit choices and with Millennials owning fewer cars, more often than not we’ve found it’s an issue with parking management and not supply. How do we address situations where one lot is at capacity while other lots are underutilized? There are several solutions, but I'm increasingly drawn to the growing number of apps that seek to address the parking management question. Here are a few examples:

·         ParkMobile – Perhaps one of the more ubiquitous options in the market right now, it provides seamless parking payments through an app, with the advantage of allowing the user to feed the meter remotely when their time runs out. The company also provides a website as a way to make reservations with parking garages and ensure a spot is waiting for you when you arrive at your destination.

·         ParkWhiz – Similarly allows users to reserve and pay for spaces seamlessly and allows parking operators to adjust prices and offer deals based on real-time demand data.

·         ParkBee – This UK/Netherlands based company created a partnership with ParkMobile that allows owners of private lots to advertise their spaces to the public (think Airbnb for parking).

The value proposition for many of these apps is not just based on convenience, but also an ability to offer competitive pricing. And they’re being embraced through ever more channels with some car manufacturers incorporating them into the on-board computers (e.g. BMW 2018 models use ParkMobile) and navigation services like WAZE thinking about how they can complement their existing platform.

And apps are only half of the picture. A growing number of parking data collection companies like Streetline and parking management platforms like NuPark are working in coordination with these apps to make getting from point A to point B as seamless and efficient as possible through tech that allows remote gate activation and license plate recognition.

One of several parking management services offered by NuPark

What do these trends mean for district managers?

Does your district still need a large supply of parking decks? Should it substitute curbside parking for a protected bike lane? If there is a strain on parking, is it based on management or supply? Different districts have different needs and there is no one size fits all strategy here.

As Kimley Horn stated in a report for their White Paper Series, parking guidelines developed by the Institute for Transportation Engineers and Urban Land Institute are “routinely applied in areas they should not be”, meaning that standards for standalone shopping centers are being used for downtown Main Streets. For that reason, any parking intervention should really be predicated on an accurate picture of existing conditions and we have a growing number of tools at our disposal to do that and to bring that picture into sharper relief. 

As mentioned, I’m wildly curious to know if others agree with these trends or have observed others that are as impactful.

Source Cited:
Parking Generation – Replacing Flawed Standards with the Custom Realities of Park+; Kimley Horn; May 2016

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