MATTHEWS – Consultants have advised town leaders that to improve downtown parking, they’ll want to resist the urge to build spaces before beefing up enforcement and partnering with the private sector.
The town enlisted Alta Planning + Design last year to conduct a downtown parking and mobility study. The firm returned before town commissioners on Jan. 27 with a representative from Stantec to discuss their findings.
For the parking piece of the study, consultants began by counting the number of spaces, as well as the number of vehicles using them, to determine how parking ebbs and flows on a typical day, according to Joel Mann, principal of Stantec.
They counted 3,659 parking spaces, of which 2,983 are private off-street and 676 are public spaces. Of the public spaces, 467 are on-street and 209 are public lot. The largest concentration of public parking is in the middle of downtown.
“That is the parking that everyone is going to want to use most,” Mann said. “One, it is centrally located. It’s right next to everything that is going on downtown. Two, there’s no ownership to it.”
However, having desirable parking next to desirable land uses without any kind of time limit or enforcement is what leads to shortage, Mann said.
“We need to have more of this publicly accessible parking,” Mann said. “I think that jives pretty well with what people have said. They feel like there is a shortage and that we need to have more of it. I am very careful to say that we don’t need to construct more necessarily, but we do need to add to what is publicly available, what is predictable and what is used.”
Stantec developed a parking program that includes six steps, each increasing in complexity. The framework identifies events that would trigger the next step and actions to get started.
The first step consists of treating all of the parking downtown as a managed district. This involves understanding where spaces are located and work with businesses to ensure available parking is accessible.
The study explains how Matthews could create “virtual public spaces,” in which the town could make some of the private parking more public through leasing arrangements. Consultants even offered suggestions to calculate such leases.
“This is parking you don’t need to build,” Mann said. “This is parking that exists today.”
Future steps involve enforcing existing regulations, providing parking management services to businesses, working with developers to add parking, offering developers the option to pay a fee instead of parking and building more spaces.
While adding parking would seem like the logical first step, Mann puts it last for good reason.
“You want to get those other things in place first and have a management system that really understands how to treat existing parking as an asset before jumping ahead and building more of it or else you’re going to replicate these problems on a larger scale,” he said.
Stantec identified three areas downtown that could sustain future parking, such as lots on Trade and Matthews streets, Charles and John streets and a church site.
Luke Mabry, senior pastor of Matthews Presbyterian Church, is among members of the Matthews Transportation Advisory Committee, which helps town commissioners make decisions regarding mobility. He attended the presentation and noted there are two other churches in close proximity to his.
“I think I speak for all of us in saying we want to be good community players,” Mabry said of the churches. “We don’t use those lots when a lot of people do. I think it’s reasonable to compensate those churches for wear and tear on their parking lots, but I think all three would be certainly amenable to any kind of sharing program we have in the city. I know we are.”
Enforcing parking rules was a key point of the presentation.
“We recommend when you start looking at managing parking that it is not about trying to generate revenue,” Mann said. “It is not about trying to generate turnover and push people out. It is really just trying to manage to a level of availability.”
The industry standard for parking is that enforcement involves a time limit to park and then graduates to pricing. He doesn’t believe that Matthews has reached the point of pricing yet.
After the presentation, Town Manager Hazen Blodgett asked if there was modern technology the town could use in place of a parking enforcement officer, which he described as the “bad guy driving around town.”
“This will be a tough nut, I think, for the community,” Blodgett said.
Mann replied there is technology the town could use but most code enforcement is still human-driven. However, the town could move away from penalties in favor of guidance.
“It’s really important when you start rolling this out to make sure people know how the whole system works and what the options are,” Mann said.
For example, if people can’t get what they need to do done within a two-hour parking limit, there are more appropriate places to park.
Editor’s note: The discussion about parking is part of a broader study on mobility. Pick up next week’s edition for more recommendations that consultants gave to town leaders on mobility.