Government and Travel & Tourism

Parking panel mulls priorities

Several changes are on tap by the end of next year.

January 15, 2016
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The city’s parking commissioners have nearly 40 goals they want to accomplish by the end of next year.

Members of the Grand Rapids Parking Commission last week reviewed and discussed a priority plan outlining key policy and action items designed to meet current and future needs of downtown parking customers.

The plan prioritizes a number of policy issues, nearly 40 actionable goals with target dates set for 2016 and 2017, and highlights several recurring or ongoing efforts such as identifying and evaluating the performance of parking price adjustments, and new mobility and transportation demand management initiatives.

Pam Ritsema, managing director of Parking Services, said the plan is an outcome of the mobility and transportation study done for the Grand Rapids area and reflects the efforts of a Parking Commission working retreat.

“We looked at all the recommendations from that plan and worked on this, on setting the priorities and the action items for parking, or Mobile GR,” said Ritsema.

Each of the items were ranked based on urgency and importance, and outlined key challenges, initial first steps, critical achievement target dates, and potential partners, such as: the city’s planning department, the Vital Streets team, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the city’s economic development office, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and The Rapid.

Some of the policy items identified with both high urgency and importance were developing a rate-setting methodology presentation for the City Commission, developing a framework for a parking and transportation demand management ordinance, using a new utilization-data system to refine the monthly permit availability process at each facility, and updating the parking incentive plan.

In terms of action items, a number of goals for 2016 consist of adjusting rates by the end of the fiscal year; evaluating the impact of parking pricing adjustments and developing an analysis methodology; consolidating monthly card programs to daytime, evening and weekends, and 24/7; and using real-time data to track utilization patterns and peaks.

Other goals include: hiring additional staff; developing a Mobile GR website and promoting established and new services; establishing an approach, goals and objectives for employer outreach; pursuing a car-share service for downtown; supporting the expansion of the existing bike share program; and developing transit pass strategies.

“Parking staff did go through all the action items for 2016 and there is a lot in there,” said Ritsema. “It is our intent in calendar (year) 2016 to work on all the action items that were listed for 2016.”

One of the longer-term goals identified for 2017 focused on expanding the cash-out program, which has experienced success and momentum especially after Spectrum Health requested to use the parking cash-out program when it anticipated moving nearly 500 employees downtown to 25 Ottawa Ave.

The plan also identified items such as exploring a Live Near Work program; coordinating with the Vital Streets projects to identify synergies between street designs, parking management, and transportation demand management; and working with the chamber, area businesses and neighborhood associations to identify at least three districts to discuss the application of a Mobile GR Management Toolbox.

While each item has associated challenges, Ritsema said one of the biggest issues will be change as it relates to parking.

“Parking can be a very personal subject to people and any change can sometimes cause anxiety. A challenge I think will be to reassure parking customers that yes, we do have parking spaces, and we want to continue to offer a range of parking pricing alternatives,” said Ritsema.

“We have no intention of pricing people out of downtown and we are also looking at increasing the parking supply, but we also have a goal of a 10 percent mode shift and slowing the rate of demand for future parking,” she said. “So the challenge is going to be to bring that all together.”

Although the prioritization plan was presented as a discussion item during the meeting, the end goal is to have parking commissioners approve the policy and action items and ultimately have the Parking Services staff begin implementation.

“We get to do the work,” said Ritsema in reference to the staff’s role in the process. “For things that require a Parking Commission decision or a City Commission decision, we will bring those as we work through the policy and action items. Some things will come back to the Parking Commission for recommendation and/or City Commission for their approval.”

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