Various things I found interesting
After sorting through a 300-page collection of background information and committee minutes (plus some odds and ends from last week’s committee meeting), I made the following notes:
Committee member Leanna Tyson says she does not often visit downtown and was unaware city parking lots exist.
E.T. Mitchell said she only goes downtown on weekends (although she does attend aldermen meetings, which are Tuesday evenings).
Five voting committee members represent city hall including the city clerk. I can’t recall a city clerk ever having a vote. At any rate, it would be unsurprising if these five voted as a single bloc.
Three voting committee members represent organizations with downtown interests, but don’t live downtown or own downtown businesses.
A decade-old study
Here are some finds and recommendations in a parking study by Lanier Parking Solutions, from October 2007. (Yes, a 10-year-old study.)
First, “Parking is the glue that holds a downtown together,” the study says.
Visitors and infrequent shoppers, upon whom so much of the economy depends, seemed to feel parking was adequate.Since they generally intended to walk around and enjoy the community. Most tourists do not mind walking a block or two if it means they can find an accessible parking space.
Local residents were the most impatient about parking availability. For example, if they were to go to a restaurant in the core, they expected to park in front of the establishment.
Enforcement of current on-street parking is minimal.
On-street parking is evident and generally well-marked. However, the availability of public off-street parking is very limited. Improvements can also be made to develop wayfinding signage to the public lots and identification of what is public vs. private should improve to preserve the intended purpose of each space.
According to city records, there are 464 on-street parking spaces and 2,672 off-street spaces (922 public and 1,750 private) for a grand total of 3,136 parking spaces in the study area.
By and large most of the parking available within the study is off-street; 85 percent, of which only 35 percent of those spaces are for public uses. Of the 922 off-street public spaces only 211 spaces are adjacent to where Lanier defined as the core of downtown. The vast majority of public spaces are outside the core of downtown or are utilized for special interests.
During the peak parking period, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., parking was at 81.9 percent capacity during a survey taken in May 5, 2007. A repeat survey conducted in June 7, 2007 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., showed parking was at 85.2 percent capacity.
The parking industry has witnessed that utilization over 85 percent in a given area presents a negative impact on the commercial area; consequently, New Bern is quickly approaching that threshold (that was in 2007; it has exceeded the threshold since then).
The survey firm said there are three types of parking problems: insufficient parking near where it is in demand, too many reserved parking spaces, and an imbalance between short-term and long-term parking. “Each of these parking distribution problems exist in New Bern,” the report said.
Employee parking is a critical factor in this equation. Although many business establishments encourage their employees to park away from the core area, it is clear that many employees (as well as the business owners themselves) are still parking on street because it is close to their place of employment. In fact one stakeholder stated, “I occupy or lease 6 commercial properties downtown. In these properties we have 33 employees who park on-street where the customers should be able to park.”
One in five parking spaces in the downtown core was occupied by long-term parkers, the study said. Probably a downtown employee.
Employees who are parking long term in short-term on-street spaces are severely limiting the ability of these parking spaces to turn over and become available for new retail patrons. In addition, this severely impacts the revenue for merchants.
Under the full scenario expected within the next three years (through 2010), if the average customer spends at least $10 shopping, and then the 149 key on-street spaces in the core area would have a value of $10 times 149 times 3 turns is $5,160 per day or $ 1,883,400 per year. If 20 percent of the spaces are occupied by non-income producing parkers, i.e., employees, the downtown merchants are losing potential sales of $376,680 per year. (Editor’s note: talk about burying the lead.)
The study made these findings:
- There was a slight shortage of short-term parking but that shortage would increase.
- About 20 percent of occupied parking spaces exceeded the two-hour limit.
- There is a failure to make best use of off-street parking.
- There is a lack of enforcement.
- Court House parking does not appear to be a problem.
- The study recommended:
Expanding two-hour parking in the core downtown area to the 100 blocks of Middle and Craven streets.
- Parking limits be enforced.
- Build more off-street parking facilities, but also improve pedestrian access and street lighting.
- Develop employee parking strategies to discourage employees and owners from taking up prime downtown parking spaces. Such as? Peer pressure, nasty notes on windshields (the study actually said informational flyers), and so on.
Pay parking was not recommended, unless a parking structure is planned and would need parking fee revenue to complete.