Our new city council member will hear increasingly about the parking issues because the city has been doing things that will continue to make it much worse. In addition to the ongoing parking issues, large numbers of new complaints come to us every time a new building goes up or road changes are made because they see how parking is being removed and population is added without adequate parking.
City Council candidates will have multiple complex issues to deal with. When it comes to the parking issue, you don't need to start from square one. We have spent a lot of time learning about innovative parking programs in operation today. We did not just complain - we gathered professional opinions and offered solutions. We and many others participated in the recent parking study. A great deal of research and professional work has already been done but was discarded by a small group at City Hall.
You can expect the same resistance to your efforts to change city policies on parking. They will only consider doing things that are within their current policies and toolbox. Those policies are the problem. City Council can change them. It's clear that solutions won't happen unless our council member is willing to stand up to those at City Hall who have shown a strong determination to lower the amount of parking in our area and not be honest with the public about it.
Without a Parking Plan, thousands of people increase the time that they drive in circles daily to find parking. That doesn't just cost people money and decrease quality of life. It hurts the environment significantly by increasing traffic and air pollution! It also breaks environmental laws. The City has made this worse for years with their policies that are based on theory, not data and reality.
For instance, the Downtown Plan has a "Park once" plan for visitors but did not plan for a way for residents to park. It lowered parking requirements for new residences to one space per unit. It did this without any data to show how much parking was needed. Even a 2300 square foot unit gets only one space.
During a parking study of this area, several professionals gathered data and worked on solutions. Those professionals were evaluating how much parking was needed in new buildings. Some city leaders removed that and other important evaluations and solutions from that study despite the city's legal obligation to include them in the study and to bring that information to City Council. The staff report for the parking study told City Council that, "KOA found no evidence that new development in Downtown has triggered any parking shortage, or that there is need to reconsider parking requirements for new development." That statement is not true nor does the parking study support it.
Make it all work together. Increasing the use of alternate modes of transportation (buses, bikes, scooters, walking) is a good thing but that alone does not provide adequate transportation. Data shows that people here already use alternate modes at a very high rate but they still need a car. Parking and transportation work together. Parking reform would need a balanced plan that includes many factors and programs. Parking management is needed to coordinate those programs and an evaluation of new parking revenue is needed to fund improvements including parking management. Much of what is needed could pay for itself.
We need more than just building parking. Everyone starts out proposing one or two solutions. That is unlikely to make a noticeable difference but multiple coordinated efforts can make a big difference. We have learned a great deal in the 7 years we spent learning about modern parking planning and trying to get the city to look at solutions that work in other areas like ours. The first thing that modern parking planning does is to make the best use of existing parking. Any additional parking is thoughtfully planned after data is collected. Large parking structures weren't included in the recommendations for a parking plan, below, because the professionals said that the cost was high and small amounts of parking added in several locations is more effective than an occasional large parking structure. The best scenario is when people can park close to homes or businesses. For safety, residents shouldn't have to walk long distances alone at night while loaded down with belongings.
What did the professionals say we need?
Funding Plan. The City has steadily refused any parking planning or improvements due to budget restrictions yet when the parking study began to evaluate new revenue streams, as parking studies do, the city removed that work from the study. Here is an example from the Seattle parking study showing how an evaluation of parking revenue could help. Such a tool could be used to plan for parking improvements, assuming there is a plan in place to set aside at least new revenue streams to fund improvements. Currently the City is putting the parking ticket and meter revenue into the General Fund. None of it goes into parking improvements or programs.
Parking management. Our city hasn't had one for years, which is rare for a city our size. Parking management is spread over several departments, none of which coordinate or plan parking for residents. The City has refused to consider hiring a parking manager when we've asked multiple times. The City needs to hire a parking consultant to organize and implement programs plus a full time professionally-trained parking manager to continuously manage the parking issues.
Data. Data is needed to create a Parking Plan that's based on reality. The parking part of the Downtown Plan was created without Data. After we looked through everything that Senior Planning staff sent us, they told us that the one-space-per-unit rule was picked off of a list of other cities' parking requirements; no other information about those cities was included in their consideration. In fact, the study that was done before the Downtown Plan looked like a typical study except it was missing data to show how much parking the new buildings would need and the plan was not balanced to include residents and employees. It looks like the planner did a proper job in the study, then someone removed essential components, which is what happened during the more recent parking study that ended in 2018. The City has repeatedly refused to reconsider its parking policies that are based on the theory that if they choke off the parking, everyone will switch to alternate modes of transportation. At a Planning Commission meeting August 18, 2017, we finally got commissioners to start asking questions. Commissioner Van Horik asked what the Downtown Plan's reason was for reducing parking to one space per unit, regardless of the size of the unit. Linda Tatum, senior Development staff answered that the goal was to, "...provide parking in a manner that would reduce the number of vehicles that were driving and encourage people to use alternative modes of transportation such as biking, walking, and public transit..." Data for this area shows that people already take alternate modes at a high rate but still need a car. A plan is needed that is based on reality, not wishful thinking.
Parking Plan. The City refuses to consider having one. It already has a Bicycle Plan, Pedestrian Plan, Mobility Plan, and a Downtown Plan that only considers a parking strategy for visitors. If a Parking Plan coordinates with these and public transit, it can enhance them. The area needs a comprehensive Parking Plan that is balanced to include the needs of businesses, residents, and employees. The Parking Plan should be based on data and professional evaluation to know what will work in an area like ours. The city removed most data and evaluations from the recent parking study that did not support their current policies. Before they did that, the parking professionals were analyzing the following to be included in their recommendations (a partial list):
A full evaluation of how much parking is needed for residents in new developments and how to park them.
a block by block evaluation of how much parking is needed and available to residents in that area. (The data for this was already collected and evaluated. The city removed it.)
The city can partner with developers to add parking in the new buildings. It's cheaper than building stand-alone parking structures. This was recommended by the city's own parking planners prior to the Downtown Plan but was never implemented.
An evaluation of new parking revenue streams combined with a short, medium, and long term funding plan for parking improvements
Residential Permits coordinated with the needs of businesses
Garage inspection requirements before allowing residents to purchase a residential street parking permit. Residents who have a garage would need to show that they can park in it, per current law.
Pricing changes to encourage use of distant parking
shuttles or other safe transportation to/from distant parking
Assistance to private parking lot owners to address their concerns about sharing their parking with the public at night.
Planning assistance and Loan programs that help property owners add parking. These can be secured by a lien like prior property improvement loans.
Pilot programs funded by the parking study settlement
Automated parking including parking carousels that have a footprint of only 2 parking spaces. These come in different styles. They can be underground or on alleys.