Economic Development and Government

Downtown parking spaces will come with higher price tag

June 19, 2015
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Despite some lots filling up downtown, enough overall parking remains available to meet the current demand. How long that will be the case isn’t easy to predict.

The good news is the Parking Commission is trying to stay ahead of any demand increases to ensure spaces are available for drivers who need them. The bad news is in order to meet that demand, parking rate increases are likely for many of the most coveted downtown parking spaces.

The Parking Commission recently received recommendations from Sam Schwartz Engineering, a national traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm that has been conducting a parking and mobility study in downtown Grand Rapids on behalf of the commission.

The study considered 18,000 parking spaces, about half of which are under city ownership and include off-street and on-street spaces. The other half are privately owned spaces.

The study found that, currently, several downtown parking ramps are nearing or at capacity, particularly in the Arena South area, while others, such as the Ionia Mason facility, have very low usage.

Worker demand for parking via monthly parking passes in Arena South is high and so is daily visitor demand. According to the study, more than 86 percent of both city-owned and/or city-operated parking facilities in the area are reserved for monthly cardholders, and the sale of the Arena 1 lot means the area’s parking supply has decreased as demand is increasing.

Mark de la Vergne of Sam Schwartz Engineering said part of the problem in Arena South is that different types of parkers are vying for the same spaces. He explained there are typically three types of parkers: those who are motivated by convenience, those who are motivated by reason, and those who are motivated by a bargain.

“Convenience parkers” are willing to pay a premium for a space in close proximity to their destination. They are motivated by location more than price.

“Reasonable parkers,” he said, prefer free parking as close to their destination as possible but are willing to pay or walk a longer distance, as long as it is within reason and they understand why their choice is logical.

“Bargain parkers” value price more than any other quality when making a choice on parking, and will take transit or walk as part of their commute in order to save money.

“Arena South is underpriced,” de la Vergne explained. “It’s become prime parking and the price is attractive to everyone. There is too much overlap.”

Sam Schwartz Engineering recommends the Parking Commission raise parking rates on the most coveted lots and decrease parking rates on the least utilized lots, which de la Vergne said should disperse the three types of parkers accordingly.

Currently, the city has more than 900 monthly weekday parking passes available for purchase within its facilities.

In the past, parking increases have been tied to the Consumer Price Index, which de la Vergne said does not reflect supply-and-demand economics and has limited increases to between 1 and 3 percent per year.

De la Vergne said his firm recommends doing away with the CPI-driven rates, which would require action by the Grand Rapids City Commission. The new rates would change the average current monthly parking price from $93.57 to $101.79.

While many of the monthly card fees would see around a $10 monthly increase, Arena South lots would be hit hardest with much larger increases. For example, under the proposed rate changes, Areas 2 and 3 would go from $76 to $107, while Areas 4 and 5 would jump from $56 to $107.

De la Vergne said the recommendation is for a phased-in rate change in those lots facing dramatic increases to cushion the blow.

Bargain parkers might see small gains in the form of $5 to $10 per month in savings from the recommendations, which also include lower rates in lesser-used lots, and one lot, Ionia Mason, has a future price tag of $0.

He noted these adjustments are not set in stone and should be monitored to see what impact the higher or lower prices are having on demand and then adjusted as needed to keep the appropriate balance throughout the city’s lots.

Sam Schwartz Engineering is also recommending rate changes that would bring all metered spaces within the boundaries of Michigan, Wealthy, Division and the Grand River to $2 per hour, while making the first hour of off-street hourly parking $1.

The change will help make off-street parking more attractive and keep meter turnover at an optimal rate for downtown retailers and restaurants.

In addition to a higher on-street parking rate, the firm is also recommending enforcement hours be extended to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the meters in area bounded by Michigan, Wealthy, Division and the Grand River should include Saturday enforcement.

With evening events growing downtown, de la Vergne said event parking is also underpriced, and he recommended the Parking Commission raise its event-parking rate to $10.

The off-street and on-street parking recommendations are part of a much larger set of recommendations that also include suggestions for the implementation of a car share, bike share and increased transit options, guidance on additional parking ramps, and a detailed implementation plan stretched out over at least a five-year period.

The full set of recommendations will be tied into the GR Forward plan, which is scheduled to be unveiled later this summer and will include an extensive public outreach effort to garner feedback. That feedback will be used to inform the finalized recommendations, which the Parking Commission will consider for implementation.

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