What does future hold for parking?

Mobile GR wants $8.57 million for parking capital projects, including construction of new surface lot near Downtown Market.

May 19, 2017
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The Grand Rapids City Commission recently got a preview into what parking and mobility in the city will look like in the coming years.

As part of the city’s ongoing preliminary fiscal year 2018 budget review, last week the commission heard presentations on the vital street fund, the sidewalk repair fund and stormwater, as well as Mobile GR’s plans for the upcoming year.

For FY18, Mobile GR is asking for nearly $8.57 million to support parking capital projects, a nearly $2.65 million increase from the 2017 budget. That includes a line item budgeting $1.5 million for potential parking expansion, which would increase to $2 million each of the next four years, a total of $9.5 million set aside for parking expansion in the five-year budget.

Mobile GR Parking Director Josh Naramore said the department maintains that line item in the budget for potential capital projects every year, and the 2017 budget allotted $2.5 million in parking expansion.

“The money is available if we decide to build a new ramp,” Naramore said.

Mobile GR’s plans for 2018 off-street parking availability include the construction of a new surface lot on South Ionia Avenue near Downtown Market, which would create about 300 parking spots near the DASH and Silver Line service area. Naramore said Mobile GR is hopeful the new lot will alleviate the parking crunch caused by the imminent closure of lots in Areas 4 and 5, which displaces about 595 people. The department has been working to migrate those monthly parkers to other lots for about six to eight months.

One major proposed change for the next year’s budget is moving the salaries of parking violation checkers and enforcement staff out of the city’s general fund and into the parking fund. That would shift about $900,000 in costs — which includes a request to hire two more checkers — to Mobile GR’s expenditures.

“This is really to better address the growing on-street operations with necessary staff and resources,” Naramore said.

Ticket revenue from parking enforcement will continue to be distributed into the general fund.

Additionally, Mobile GR and the parking services department are asking for $550,000 from the general fund for the next three years to implement a program where the department would work with downtown employers to manage demand for parking spaces and increase supply of those spaces. In essence, this would decrease the general fund’s expenditures by $350,000 over the next three years, after which the general fund would save $900,000 each year.

The new “Transportation Solutions” program proposed for 2018 would cover employer outreach and programs, exploratory options to facilitate more carpooling, and car sharing programs and transit passes. Naramore said the department has looked into programs like “Split” in Detroit, which utilize carpooling to alleviate parking stresses. Ridesharing services, such as Zipcar or Detroit’s Maven also have been explored, but Naramore said preliminary conversations with those organizations about bringing their services to Grand Rapids are stalled.

“Both have indicated that they are working in larger markets right now,” Naramore said.

The department also is paying close attention to the rapid developments with autonomous vehicles in the coming years, which Naramore said could dramatically shape the way parking looks in the next 15-20 years.

“We’re looking at what the future of mobility holds,” he said. “This is the biggest area of change and disruption, the focus on moving people and not just vehicles.”

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