Sunday Commentary II: Solving the Downtown Parking Conundrum


It has been awhile since we have looked at the downtown parking issue.  Yesterday, as I went through the staff report, the problem became very clear.  The first phase of parking changes were very scant and ineffectual, and even then, two years later, they have not been implemented or are just about to be funded.

While the Parking Task Force was unanimous on its recommendations, there was enough dissent in the community to put off the main teeth of the recommendations for another day.

As staff notes, the second phase “has not yet been authorized and includes the remaining recommendations from the Downtown Parking Task Force.”  These are all the key changes from establishing paid parking, to moving employee parking to the neighborhoods, to converting Amtrak to paid parking, and, most importantly, expanding the parking supply.

The paid parking issue is divisive and I’m not sure why.  Most places I have lived other than in Davis have paid parking.  And, while parking can be quite expensive in places like San Francisco, most of the time it is a small cost.

The model I like is when you have several parking garages, make the first hour or 90 minutes free and then charge a rate thereafter.  That allows, and in fact incentivizes, short-term parking while mitigating the costs for longer term parking.

The other model is what we are currently doing in the E Street parking lot.  People park, they can put money or a card on their space and they get an allotted amount of time and then have to move or face a fine.

I would like to see an analysis of how that model is working – are there vacant spots, does the city get any revenue, does it work in general?

A few years ago the consensus seemed to be that Davis had more than enough parking spaces, that people just were not utilizing the parking garages, instead preferring the on-street parking.

The data seems to bear that out.  The  city did a survey back in April on four days: April 4, 6, 8, 9.  Occupancy rates were collected between 9-10 am, 12-1 pm, 3-4 pm, and 6:30 – 7:30 pm.

According to the city, “the ideal parking occupancy rate is in the vicinity of 85%. At this usage, the parking supply is being efficiently used while spaces remain available for new arrivals, preventing vehicles ‘circling’ downtown blocks in search of a parking space.”

The city found, “The average parking occupancy rate for the days and times collected was 70%.”

However, “Downtown experiences parking ‘peaks’ during the lunch and evening timeframes. During these peaks, downtown parking closely reaches capacity resulting in vehicles circling around the block to find spaces, resulting in added congestion.”

The city separated on-street parking from off-street parking.  Naturally, on-street parking occupancy rates were far lower and more impacted than the parking garages.  And G Street had a low occupancy rate, as low as 25 percent, while F Street’s parking garage was averaging 71 percent, with some peaks above 85 percent.

While the data is helpful, I wonder if a single week’s sample done twice a year is really getting at the issue.

Anecdotally, it seems there may be more problems than the data would suggest.  Recently, the Vanguard moved to G Street and has asked its employees and interns to park in the garage on G and 4th.  It has been reported at times that the lot there is completely full and there is no parking to be found.  That may coincide with popular movies – but, given the proximity of a movie theater, that cannot be an unanticipated problem.

While it may be true that most of the day we have enough parking to allow normal business to function, it seems me that you need enough capacity to cover normal peak daily hours.  Just as you would not want to build a roadway or freeway that cannot accommodate peak flow hours, so too would you not want to design a parking system that fails to accommodate your lunch, dinner and entertainment crowd.

From my vantage point, we are bumping up against peak capacity during those hours during peak times and days of the week.  Most of the time it seems that if you circle the block a few times, you can find something – but how many paying customers are you losing?  How many people are being deterred from coming to the downtown because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking?

Paid parking on the streets may allow people who really need the convenience of on-street parking to use it, while pushing people to the garages who want longer term parking or do not want to pay for it.  That may help the distribution problem, but I don’t think paid parking solves the capacity problem.

What we really need is a new parking garage.  I have always advocated one that enters on Olive Drive behind Design House, goes over the tracks, and ends up on 1st and F where the surface lot is.  But that takes money and, in the post-redevelopment world, that is lacking.

Ironically, the city had the foresight to attempt to use their remaining redevelopment money for a lot on E and F between 3rd and 4th Streets.  I was opposed to that idea at the time and still do not believe it was the right location for a parking lot.

The question is how is the city going to be able to raise money to build a new garage?  One way is if the paid parking revenue generates enough in revenue to be able to save for such a project.

Another option is a public-private partnership where the city with either existing owners or business people partner on a joint project.

A third option is to look for an investor to come from out of the area, and build a garage along with a new business.

I would like to see the council pursue an RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) type process to encourage some out-of-the-box thinking for financing a parking garage.  In the end, that will be a huge boost for the downtown and the city as a whole.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Barack Palin

    Recently, the Vanguard moved to G Street and has asked its employees and interns to park in the garage on G and 4th.  It has been reported at times that the lot there is completely full and there is no parking to be found.

    I have never not found a parking space in the G St. garage and I often park there to go to a movie or a restaurant.  It’s been my experience that it’s especially open during daytime work hours when I would suspect your employees would be parking there.

      1. Barack Palin

        Hey, there might have been a big business meeting or some other event that caused your employees not to be able to find a parking spot there on that occasion, but it’s not the norm and I doubt it happens very often at all.  I just don’t like it being pointed out as being a problem when I know that garage is hardly ever full.

  2. Tia Will

    What we really need is a new parking garage.”

    As a long time traveler to downtown Davis both by car for 20 years and now primarily on foot, I could not disagree more. We do not need a new parking garage for “peak capacity” which will then sit with excess open spaces representing a misuse of available space the majority of the time . What would serve us better are improved and continuously updated signage and potentially smart phone and GPS apps such are now available in some cities to show visitors to the downtown where they are most likely to be able to find a parking spot. We should not be using land and building structures when there are rapidly developing alternative means of parking management that we have not yet maximized.

  3. Matt Williams

    At the risk of repeating myself . . .

    Recommendation 8: “Establish a tiered-fine citation system: $43/$86/$129 & thereafter.”  Status: Not Started. “Will be implemented when we have had time to work with the new License Plate Recognition system and determine if we want to use a Calendar year as the measurement for the tiered fines to be enforced.” Completion: January 2017.
    Not that anyone has asked, but using any specific year is incredibly short-sighted in my opinion.  Since the whole system is computerized, the far easier and far preferable method would be to have a historical parking ticket “drop off” the system after 12 months (or some other agreed to timeframe).  For example, if you got a second parking ticket one year and a day after your first parking ticket, the fine would be $43.  Anything less than a year and the fine would be $86 for the second ticket.
    Recommendation 9: “Upgrade parking enforcement technology.”  Status:  In Progress. “Contract for 3 License Plate Recognition cameras and parking management software approved by Council on 3/15/16.”  Completion: Tentatively going live on 9/29/16.
    This can’t happen soon enough.  Recognition of license plates will be the single most effective method for eliminating UCD student commuter parking in both residential neighborhoods and downtown.
    Recommendation 10: “Invest in electronic information systems. (i.e. mobile application integration with LPR/parking management software).”  Status: Not started. “Will be implemented when we have had time to work with the new system.  Completion: Possibly January – March 2017 timeframe.
    Here too, this can’t happen soon enough. I would add integration with the UCD TAPS system database of student license plates, so that the recognition cameras will be able to instantaneously identify UCD student cars cannibalizing residential neighborhood parking spaces.
    I also believe that the license plate recognition database will support the elimination of “parking space specific” residential neighborhood parking, and go to “vehicle specific” residential neighborhood parking.  That will have two immediate benefits.  (1) it will mean that “lettered” spaces won’t sit empty when unused by the neighborhood, and (2) it will mean mini-dorm residents will have to register all their vehicles to avoid getting parking tickets, which will help the City get a better handle on the impact of mini-dorms on the quality of life in Davis.

    1. jrberg

      Matt – Are you saying that students parked in a 2 hour zone, for example, should not be allowed to do that?  I don’t understand what you mean by “cannibalizing.”  Also, I don’t think TAPS has a database of all student cars, but just the ones that have permits to park in campus lots.


      1. Matt Williams

        No John I’m not saying that.  Students should be able to park in a 2-hour zone just the same way that any other citizen/resident/visitor can.  However, a much better solution for handling the parking of students whose residence is outside Davis would be to have those students park in a UCD lot and take the UCD-provided shuttle from their parking location to their on-campus destination.

        With that said, what proportion of students coming to campus each day are only planning on being there for less than 2 hours?  When I was an undergraduate at Cornell, I would arrive on campus each day expecting to spend 6-8 hours in class, meeting with other students and/or studying at one of the university libraries.  Throw in the time to eat a meal and a two-hour limit would have been unworkable (to put it mildly).

        When I use the term cannibalize, I’m referring to the belief that neighborhood parking should be for the people who have “business” in that neighborhood.  The people who live and/or work there, the people who are visiting either the residents or the businesses there, or the employees of downtown businesses who have purchased an X permit and been assigned a work day space in that neighborhood.

        Regarding the TAPS database, based on a meeting that I had with UCD officials during my campaign, I believe TAPS has put together a database that extends beyond permits.  Don Shor has posted here several times the UCD Campus Travel Survey, which TAPS jointly produces with the Transportation Institute.

        1. jrberg

          Yes, the UCD Campus Travel Survey is very good, but does not include a database of student license plates.  I have even responded to the UCD survey, when I worked at UCD.  There’s a lot of good information in that report, which should be useful to City planners looking at parking and transportation.

          As to your comment about students being on campus for less than two hours, Matt, this ain’t Cornell.  Your experience at Cornell, and my experience at Berkeley in the ’60s, is completely irrelevant to the present day.  Many students commute to campus, go to one or two classes, and then go somewhere else.  Even if one percent of students do this, downtown parking will be impacted.  I know that students do this from my ten years working on campus in the last decade.

        2. Matt Williams

          John, as I noted in my comment, in my meeting with the UCD officials they indicated that TAPS was in the process of going beyond what they had already done in the past with the intent of creating a more comprehensive, and ideally complete database of student vehicles in Davis.

          I agree with you when you say “Even if one percent of students do this, downtown parking will be impacted.”  I strongly believe that impact is in evidence every day in the neighborhoods close to the campus.  The goal would be to reduce that current impact.  It will never be eliminated, but a substantial reduction would be positive.

          I do not agree with your Cornell/Berkeley comment.  If a UCD student who has not been able to find housing in Davis (and is living in Sacramento or West Sacramento for example), is highly unlikely to get into his/her car to make the trip over to campus for his/her classes, the commute distance makes driving over for class and then driving home, and then driving over to go to the library and then driving home, and then driving over to join classmates for a social activity and then driving home.  What he/she will more than likely do is bundle the various activities into a single trip, one that will almost always result in more than two hours of parking.  That is the same travel and parking pattern I experienced at Cornell.  With license plate recognition software the first two hours of parking will continue to be free, but the current ability to “repark” by moving the car to a nearby space will no longer be an option without risking a parking ticket.

          Further, it is quite possible that the residents and businesses in a neighborhood like A/B/University may choose to petition the City asking for a shorter duration time limit than the current two hours.

  4. Mark West

    Where are all the people who regularly comment here about the importance of ‘process’ in City’s decision making? We created a diverse Task Force to determine the best way forward on parking, and now we are ignoring the bulk of the recommendations. Two years in and we haven’t even implemented the watered down version.  The CC should vote to implement the entire list of recommendations from the Task Force or we should all just admit that ‘process’ only matters when it gives you the answer you wanted in the first place.

    1. Barack Palin

      I don’t agree.  We should never implement the entire list of recommendations from any task force until  they have been properly vetted by the city council and the citizens.  These task forces aren’t elected officials and often time some of the members can have an agenda.  The task forces are used to give possible suggestions for solutions to issues but never be the final word.

      1. Mark West

        “We should never implement the entire list of recommendations from any task force…”

        I understand and in some ways agree with this comment, but then I am in the camp that thinks our over dependence on the process of citizen input is at the core of why we are unable to make decisions in this town. If the process of citizen input is of core importance, then we should implement the results of that input. If it is not important and therefore quickly ignored, then we should stop fooling ourselves, quit wasting everyone’s time, and have the CC just make the decision.

  5. ryankelly

    I dislike driving downtown, not so much because of the difficulty parking, but because I hate the congestion and the fear that I will hit someone eventually.  I’ve only been unable to find parking once in my memory.  This was at lunch and I circled until I finally started to run out of time and drove to the Co-op to grab a sandwich.

    If the City reverts to paid on-street parking, this will give me another reason to not drive downtown.  Maybe that’s the goal.  Currently, I try to bike or walk.

    If they do revert to paid on street parking, I don’t recommend that cars with disabled placards get to park free.  This just invites abuse and there is nothing in the law that this is a benefit.

    1. quielo

      In many parts of CA cities every meter is taken up by the “handicapped”. I used to live near the beach and the handicapped spots there were taken by people who would then lug a cooler and folding chair 200 yards across the sand.  I’m in favor of waiving the charges but not the time.

  6. Topcat

    What we really need is a new parking garage.

    I disagree.  What we really need is for more people to walk, ride their bikes, ride Unitrans, or avoid the downtown area completely during the busy times.

    1. Matt Williams

      I agree with Topcat, and would add one more “we really need” that UCD students who commute to the campus from outside Davis to use UCD provided parking in UCD parking lots.

      1. hpierce

        The highest “paid parking” in Davis pales in comparison to the lowest paid parking on campus…

        UC considers parking a “frivolity”, not part of their mission… so even when they build parking, they charge so much that it is highly unused (current and historic)…

        Hence, near campus, we have preferential parking districts (‘protecting’ residents from the UC related parking in front of their homes), etc.

        UCD needs to change its pricing policy… good luck with that…

  7. Misanthrop

    I always seem to find a place to park in a few minutes or within a few blocks. In my mind this is much ado about nothing. I will say I have had a hard time finding a slot for my bike occasionally on a Saturday. Maybe we should start charging to ride a bike downtown on Saturday.

        1. The Pugilist

          How often do you come during peak hours to downtown?

          An excuse to charge for all parking?  To what end?  If they really want to charge for parking they could do it already.  Instead, they’ve sat on the report for three years.

        2. Barack Palin

          I often come downtown at peak hours.  I’ll go to lunch then see a movie or go downtown for dinner.  Both peak times and I always find parking.  I totally agree with Misanthrop.

        3. hpierce

          Ironic… having ‘paid parking’ increases the costs (installation of equipment to charge, maintenance, enforcement, accounting, etc.) for paid parking… not a simple issue… although some ‘theorists’ may not agree…

        4. Barack Palin

          It’s still a net revenue increase for the City, is it not?  There might be some upfront costs but it will pay off handsomely in the long run.  Also, like any tax, the rates will go higher and higher over the years.

        5. hpierce

          BP 10:36 post… the City cannot, by law, charge more than for services, direct or directly related… public right of way is public right of way… your comment,

          There might be some upfront costs but it will pay off handsomely in the long run.

          is either ignorant, or just plain… well, don’t want to use the ‘stu***’-word, as it might be taken as a personal attack…

          On-street parking fees could be used for financing a parking structure, direct costs, but not anything else…

          Parking fines are not a tax, they’re a fee…

        6. Barack Palin

          is either ignorant, or just plain… well, don’t want to use the ‘stu***’-word, as it might be taken as a personal attack…

          Your comment is either jerkish, or just plain…. well, I don’t want to use the as***** word because it might be taken as a personal attack…..


        7. quielo

          ” don’t want to use the ‘stu***’-word, as it might be taken as a personal attack…” not if it comes from a place of love and acceptance…

  8. Misanthrop

    Depends on Will. Last time it was 3-2 against more paid parking with Dan as the swing vote. Now Will is that swing vote. Although Will might be conflicted out since he owns a store. Then it will be 2-2.

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