Problem Solution Essay Parking Problems

Amy Haelsen has some war stories about the old intersection of High and Washington streets in Dedham Square.

Before the completion of the Dedham Square improvement project late last year, the intersection, absent of any signal lights, was like a dangerous game of Frogger, with pedestrians and cyclists weaving and dodging away from motorists more focused on finding a place to park than on the road ahead, she said.

For many, the obvious culprit was the lack of parking. Except it was not. A parking study found that between on-street spots and municipal lots, Dedham Square actually had plenty of parking, but it was not being managed properly.

Like Dedham, an increasing number of suburbs, including Hudson, Salem, Belmont, and Stoughton, are turning to the parking study as a key to revitalizing struggling centers, and addressing gridlock at vibrant downtown destinations.

Burdensome residential parking requirements that can restrict new development in town centers are being revisited, while the mentality of building parking structures or paving over valuable land to create surface lots is slowly giving way to more creative solutions to manage existing parking space, said Jessica Robertson, transportation coordinator for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council , a regional planning agency serving 101 cities and towns in Greater Boston.

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Photos: Many suburbs rethinking parking

Although one parking plan does not fit all, Robertson said that in most suburban communities the lack of parking is more likely a perception than an actual problem.

“Most of the time it’s a matter of [installing] better signage, or [implementing] restrictions and pricing to urge people to fan out and use the other spaces,” she said. “You really can get more out of what you currently have; you’re just not using it better — fixing your pedestrian infrastructure, maybe you need more sidewalks, more crosswalks, making intersections safer for pedestrians, adding biking, having a structure where people park downtown once and go to more than one location.”

Haelsen, who is executive director of Dedham Square Circle , a downtown preservation nonprofit, said she was nearly struck while crossing the intersection on a couple of occasions, and has local friends who would nix plans to take their children out for ice cream and elsewhere unless they found parking on the same side of the street as where they wanted to go.

“It was like the Indy 500. If you were on the crosswalk, you were like a sitting duck,” she said.

Improvements in Dedham Square included getting rid of the paid permit requirement in one lot and turning it into free public parking, as well as replacing old-fashioned meters with electronic pay stations that cater to people running quick errands by allowing them to park free for the first 15 minutes, but restricting the maximum length of parking to one hour, capped at 75 cents.

The changes have been good for small businesses, said Cheryl Doucette, assistant manager at The Blue Bunny bookstore.

“If people don’t want to pay for parking, they can go to Legacy Place or something like that and they can park for free, and then you lose that business,” Doucette said. “So it’s been a lot easier now that people know that the parking in the lot is free all day.”

But improving the pedestrian experience by adding signal lights and widening sidewalks, among a number of other tweaks, is also playing a crucial part in making parking available as more people buy into the idea of walking, said Richard J. McCarthy Jr., Dedham’s planning director.

“Essentially, the bigger challenge when it comes to planning is to get people to change their mentality in the suburbs, which is [that] you’re going to have to walk a little farther,” McCarthy said. “In the suburbs there’s an assumption you’re going to be in structured parking or off-street parking, but the assumption in the city is you’re going to have to walk a distance. In the suburbs it breaks down. . . . Everybody wants to park in front of a business. We’re all guilty of it.”

Communities that have undergone parking studies have implemented solutions like increasing the cost of parking along main commercial streets, and maintaining free or reduced-price parking a block or two away from main commercial areas. Those minor adjustments, Robertson said, ensure steady turnover of coveted Main Street spots during peak hours, and entice people who need to park for longer periods of time to seek spots a few blocks away from their destination by offering cheaper rates and longer time limits.

Despite having a number of parking garages and lots, one of the most common complaints about downtown Salem was that there was not sufficient parking, said Lynn Duncan, the city’s director of planning and community development. A parking study revealed that while parking was plentiful in the garages, including one that was 50 percent vacant, cheap on-street parking in the bustling downtown area was overused.

In 2011, city officials adopted a comprehensive parking plan that kept the cost per hour at garages low, while creating different pricing levels at on-street parking meters ranging from $1.50 per hour along busy streets, like Federal and Church streets near the courts and commuter rail station, down to 50 and 75 cents per hour in the outskirts. Increasing meter prices along the most popular areas has ensured downtown Salem maintains a recommended on-street parking availability rate of 15 percent, or about one vacant space per eight spots, which is roughly one empty spot per block, Duncan said.

In addition to the tiered pricing, the city extended meter time limits to four hours to encourage people to shop and dine without rushing or being concerned they will get a citation. Downtown employees are also encouraged to buy monthly garage passes at a discount to discourage them from using valuable on-street parking, she said.

While revenue from parking has remained neutral since the changes were adopted, citations have gone down, Duncan said. Like Salem, the goal for many communities restructuring their parking management plans is not to penalize residents and visitors with parking tickets, but to make it easier for them to find parking appropriate to their needs while doing business downtown.

“It has worked out to date. . . . Salem people very much want to keep the historic buildings, and people do not want to see those buildings turned into garages or lots,” Duncan said. “We really do see it as an economic-development issue.”

Addressing the town center parking conundrum is at the heart of all the elements surrounding smart growth and the very reason Hudson has begun its own downtown parking study, said Michelle Ciccolo, community development director.

“[Parking] has been a long outstanding issue in our downtown for several decades,” Ciccolo said. “The issue ebbs and flows with the economy, and with the number of businesses and residents in downtown. Parking studies are really downtown revitalization studies, and they’re really important. . . . So getting the parking equation right, making sure we focus on not just cars, but [also] walking, is important.”

Downtown Hudson has become something of a restaurant destination, increasing the need for parking on nights and weekends, Ciccolo said. But more urgently, some studies have suggested that once nearby Highland Commons shopping center is fully occupied, the downtown rotary will become so much more congested than it currently is that it would garner a failing grade, she said. If it is changed to a two-lane rotary, or replaced with a traffic light, downtown Hudson could lose 32 parking spaces, she said.

As part of the study, residents and visitors to downtown Hudson are being asked to participate in a survey about parking activity downtown and preferences for improvements, including whether the town’s goal of adding more residential development above existing one-story commercial structures downtown should be contingent on parking requirements.

Robertson, of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said as more people desire to move back to town centers and downtown areas, town officials should consider relaxing residential parking requirements. A survey of municipalities in the planning council’s region found that 63 percent have parking requirements that are higher than the current vehicle ownership rate. Only 6 percent required fewer parking spaces than would be needed by the average household.

Parking, she said, is a hot topic, evidenced by the 350 attendees to a Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s conference on parking, held in Boston in April.

“One of the big revelations people came away with is shifting how you think about parking as something that’s necessary — a predetermined amount to anything — to one of the different ways you can use your urban space,” Robertson said.

“If you’re choosing to use your space for parking, you’re choosing not to use it for something else.”

The price of parking

■63 percent of municipalities in the Metropolitan Area Planning Council region have residential parking requirements that exceed the average vehicle ownership per household.

■$20,000-$50,000 per space: Cost of building an above-ground parking garage

■$15,000-$20,000 per space: Cost of a parking lot

Salem: increased the rates of meters in busy downtown areas from 50 cents per hour to 75 cents to $1.50 per hour to encourage turnover. People who need to park all day, such as employees, have access to $25 monthly passes good at some on-street and parking-lot spots, and $65 monthly passes for garage parking.

■ Dedham: improved the pedestrian experience by adding 12 new bike racks and 43 ornamental street lights, and reducing the length of a dangerous crosswalk from 693 feet to 494 feet. After construction, Dedham Square gained 24 parking spaces, for a total of 115 on-street and 138 lot spaces.

■ Hudson: surveyed about 60 residents on the town’s master plan and residents identified downtown parking as the second-greatest challenge facing the town after downtown vacancies. Main Street/Route 62, the heart of the downtown, carries approximately 10,000 vehicles per day.

Sources: Metropolitan Area Planning Council; professor Donald Shoup presentation at MAPC conference “sPARKING New Ideas: Parking Strategies for Stronger Communities”; city of Salem; town of Hudson; town of Dedham

Katheleen Conti can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.

Backup of Opinion: How to Solve Campus Parking Problems Without Adding More Parking
By Daniel R. Kenney
SOURCE: California State University/ Paublic Affairs
Copyright: Source Copyright. Cites source as Chronicle of Higher Education 3-26-04.
Included here under Fair Use Doctrine for teaching purposes.

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Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs
Friday, March 26, 2004

Chronicle of Higher Education 3-26-04

Opinion: How to Solve Campus Parking Problems Without Adding More Parking

Clark Kerr, a former president of the University of California system, once defined the university as "a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking." However tongue-in-cheek that characterization was meant to be, it certainly rings true on many campuses today.

Faculty members, administrators, and students always want their colleges to build more parking, no matter how much is available. Sometimes, indeed, more parking is needed. Most students today grew up being chauffeured everywhere until they were old enough to drive, and, in a recent survey, almost 7 out of 10 said they owned a car. Moreover, they drive those cars often: Two colleagues and I, in the course of writing a book on campus planning, have interviewed many students who confessed to driving from their dormitories to classes that were only a five-minute walk away.

Institutions can usually serve their missions far better by not adding more parking, and by discouraging the use of cars on the campus. The overall deterioration of the college environment can largely be traced to the automobile.

In a vicious cycle, dependence on driving and the availability of parking cause campus facilities to be dispersed beyond reasonable walking distances. As a result, the need for more roads and more parking continually escalates. Each parking space and associated access roads pave over about 300 square feet on a campus -- and when institutions run out of room for surface parking, they build garages.

Automobiles increase health and safety risks. We estimate that student injuries or deaths caused by automobiles on campuses have occurred at as many as 20 percent of all colleges. In addition, a dependence on cars promulgates a sedentary lifestyle -- a primary factor in more than 25 percent of all deaths from chronic disease in this country. And, of course, cars pollute the air and damage the environment; they are the single largest contributor to global carbon-dioxide emissions.

Even if people aren't in immediate danger, the current orientation toward driving everywhere discourages a sense of community on campuses. Large parking lots are generally not places to linger and talk.

The automobile can also drive a wedge between an institution and its neighborhood. In many nearby communities, a college can be the largest traffic generator. What's more, some institutions have bought up land in surrounding areas and torn down houses to create surface parking. Such barren parking lots can destroy the character of neighborhoods and perhaps even cause them to decline. Ultimately, that hurts the college itself: Being surrounded by traffic and parking lots, perhaps in a declining neighborhood, does little to enhance its image.

Higher education's reliance on the automobile has direct financial costs as well. On most campuses, parking is free or so heavily discounted that the fees rarely cover the cost of providing it. In fact, for every 1,000 parking spaces, the median institution loses almost $400,000 a year for surface parking, and more than $1,200,000 per year for structured parking. The amount not recovered in fees is typically buried in the budget and charged to all students -- drivers and nondrivers alike -- as a part of their tuition. Everyone pays to subsidize parking.

At a round-table discussion during a meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, we asked some campus business officers why they didn't charge the full cost of parking. The immediate answer, amid a burst of laughter, was, "Cowardice!" Faculty members and administrators want reserved spots and resist higher charges. The business officers perceive that students and their parents, already paying tuition, would also oppose higher fees. Some administrators on urban campuses also note that increased charges for parking might force more people from the college to park in the neighborhood, increasing already strained town-gown relationships.

What can colleges do to escape the tyranny of the automobile?

Eliminating all driving and parking is neither desirable nor possible. But each college should evaluate its traffic and parking situation and consider both the quantifiable costs and the less quantifiable, but perhaps more significant, costs of the destruction of quality of place, learning environment, and community. The remedy will vary, depending on the institution: An urban institution like Brown University, in dense Providence, R.I., will have a different approach from a suburban, commuter-oriented place like George Mason University, in Virginia. After years of experience planning dozens of campuses, however, we can recommend some general areas to explore.

One approach is to set more-appropriate parking fees. Politically it may not be possible to change the parking-fee structure all at once, but an institution can establish a goal of raising charges over time to reflect the full cost of providing parking.

Pricing strategies should also include incentives to promote desirable behavior -- for example, offering subsidized parking for car and van pools. For example, the free-parking program for car-poolers at the University of Washington has reduced purchases of single-occupancy-vehicle parking permits by 32 percent over the past decade.

Some institutions express concern that recapturing all parking costs will drive fees so high that they would create hardships for lower-paid employees and needy students. As a remedy, colleges can offer parking subsidies for such employees through cafeteria-style benefits, or add some portion of the parking costs into the financial-aid packages of needy students.

Institutions should also create transportation options that include:

Bicycles. As much as possible, colleges should create bikeways and convenient bicycle parking. If a regional bicycle network exists, the campus bike system should connect to it. Colleges might want to follow the example of the University of New Hampshire, which runs the "Cat Cycles" program. Students can sign out bikes free and use them to go anywhere on the campus for up to a week. At the end of the week, they can return the bikes and sign them out again, if needed.

Car pools and van pools. At the University of Washington, those who use car pools can park free, while others pay $192 per quarter. "Without vigorously managing our parking and providing commute alternatives, the university would have been faced with adding approximately 3,600 parking spaces, at a cost of over $100-million," says Peter Dewey, assistant director of transportation services. "The university has created opportunities to make capital investments in buildings supporting education instead of structures for cars."

Mass transit. More than 70 colleges give free or reduced-price transit passes to students, faculty members, and administrators. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, for instance, student fees pay for free bus and light-rail service for all students. The program helped increase public-transit use by students from 300,000 to almost two million trips per year between 1991 and 2002, and surveys show that 41 percent of that increase replaced trips in single-occupancy vehicles. The promotion of mass transit at Colorado has allowed the university to avoid the construction of nearly 2,000 parking spaces, a saving of $3.6-million annually.

Many colleges run shuttle buses to serve high-volume destinations on or near their campuses. Rice University, which has limited parking, operates a well-organized, frequent, and free shuttle-bus system that connects the campus with off-site graduate-student hous-ing, remote parking lots, and neighborhood areas.

A long-term strategy, yet ultimately the most effective, is to build or reorganize campuses so that most destinations are within walking distance of one another. If campus buildings that serve a variety of uses are located conveniently together, then more facilities and services will be reachable by walking or bicycling. Colleges should design their campuses so that people can walk from any classroom to most others within the 10-minute interval between classes. Frequent destinations should be close to their normal origins; for example, the recreation center should be close to campus housing, and campus housing should be close to academic facilities. Even when the entire campus is so large that walking everywhere is not realistic, each area should provide a mixed-use selection of services, so that people don't have to drive often, if at all.

Landscaping, shade trees, covered walkways, and good lighting after dark can all enhance the quality of the pedestrian experience, as will a chance to see and be seen by others. People will happily walk 15 to 20 minutes if the experience is pleasant.

Tackling the issues of the automobile's impact is not easy, but it can have great rewards in terms of safety, environment, town-gown relationships, and -- most important -- creating a sense of community and collegiality on the campus. Many institutions have taken the lead in controlling cars on their campuses, and they are saving money in the process. In fact, colleges may offer our society's best and only chance to introduce new habits into our culture and to educate students on the benefits of not driving.

Daniel R. Kenney is a principal and director of institutional planning at Sasaki Associates, a planning and design company. He is co-author, with Ricardo Dumont and Ginger Kenney, of Mission and Place: Renewing Community on Campus, to be published this fall by Greenwood Press.

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