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Thriving Communities / News & Views / New Parking Strategy Could Mean Dollars for Neighborhoods

New Parking Strategy Could Mean Dollars for Neighborhoods

Parking Benefit Districts let neighborhoods charge for parking to fund public improvements

Great Towns | December 15, 2011 | By James Bruckbauer

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Need cash for your neighborhood in Traverse City?

You might want to consider storing cars.

“What? Cars? Really?”

Neighbors often voice concern over having parking on their streets.

It seems like a bad idea. Cars in your neighborhoods? Most people who live in a Traverse City neighborhood, after all, generally want to get away from cars. They like to walk or bike to work, and they don’t want more cars from out-of-town driving down their streets or parking in front of their homes. Especially around downtown.

But, there’s an unfortunate reality that comes with living in a thriving community like Traverse City. The city, with its vibrant economy, will grow, and that in turn means there could be a growing market for storing more cars close to downtown.

When there’s a need for drivers to park their cars, officials usually turn to building parking decks, which carries with it more traffic and a huge public price tag. And that translates into municipalities charging fees to those who park.

To seek refuge from these fees, many visitors and downtown workers find parking spaces in the neighborhoods and walk a few blocks. (Which, by the way, is great for downtown volunteers and low-wage downtown workers.) Then, residents show up at commission meetings and express concern over parking.

So how do meet the needs of a growing downtown while recognizing concerns from residents about not wanting parked cars in front of their houses?

Donald Shoup, in his book, The High Cost for Free Parking, recommends creating Parking Benefit Districts.

Mr. Shoup asks, what if neighborhoods allowed anyone to park on their streets, charged a fee, then used the money to make improvements in their communities? The money could be used for sidewalk repair, installing streetlights, or making changes to roadways to encourage safer, slower driving.

Research clearly shows that people will pay more for parking when they know that their hard-earned money is going to making the city or neighborhood better.

Revenues from parking meters in Old Town Pasadena go to improvements in the district.

A Parking Benefit District is a tool that lets neighborhoods charge market rates for on-street parking to raise money for public improvements. It’s an effective way that cash-strapped neighborhoods manage “spillover” parking and raise money from non-residents coming into the city.

That person who charges $15 to park in their Slabtown yard during Cherry Festival is using this same concept. Only he is keeping the money because it’s his property. With a Parking Benefit District, your neighborhood sets the price, and your neighborhood gets the money. (You may not want to charge that much since you want someone to use the space.)

Here’s how it works: The city issues a certain number of parking permits to residents to use for themselves and/or guests for a price. Commercial district employees (commuters) or visitors can park on the residential streets for a additional fee – either by issuing separate permits for them or by pay-per-park mechanisms using cell phone technology, license plate recognition software, or by providing a 48-hr grace period to pay for the space. The neighborhood group, through the city, then decides how that money is spent.

A few advantages:
• Residents can manage and prevent parking “spillover” from commercial areas by setting market rates for parking on neighborhood streets.
• On-street public space is used efficiently.
• Drivers move slower on streets that have on-street parking. This creates a “traffic calming” effect.
• Additional inexpensive city-wide parking becomes available with virtually no public price tag, which reduces the need for hugely expensive parking structures in valuable business districts.

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