Guest Commentary: Thoughts on Paid Parking

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By Will Arnold

This Tuesday, my City Council colleagues will discuss, and potentially take action, regarding how and where we park our cars in Downtown Davis.

By virtue of my wife and I owning a business downtown, Mother & Baby Source, I am required to recuse myself from the Council decision on this issue.

But recusal from official duties does not waive one’s right to speech, and I feel I ought to share some thoughts on the subject.

Our current downtown parking situation is not ideal. Mother & Baby Source, for example, is a regional destination for new and expecting parents and, as one might assume, convenient parking is important to our customers.

We hear a good degree of frustration from customers about the current parking situation. Predictably, parking is impacted when customers need it most. At certain times of day, cars circle the blocks looking for a spot to park.

It feels very much like there is not enough convenient parking to meet customer demand.

This has been the case for a number of years. In an effort to address it proactively, a group of citizens was formed in 2013 to seek solutions to our parking issues. This group was called the Downtown Parking Task Force. Its members were downtown business owners, property owners and other stakeholders. They studied the issue for a year, and their work resulted in 19 recommendations.

Some of these recommendations are what might be called “low-hanging fruit,” including upgrades to our parking enforcement technology, better signage, and restriction of delivery vehicle double-parking during the lunch rush. Completing these measures, while important, only works around the edges of our parking issues. Other, more impactful measures remain in progress.

One task force recommendation is to increase the overall supply of parking downtown. Current demand, combined with significant growth of UC Davis student enrollment, and our express desire for Downtown Davis to be a destination for out-of-town visitors and shoppers, make this an attractive proposition, in my opinion.

But parking garages are exceedingly expensive and, absent outside funding, not something the City can afford on its own. I am encouraged by recent efforts to explore funding for a garage on the Amtrak lot, but the result of that process is many years away.

Other cities have approached this issue by providing shuttles or other transit options to allow customers to park on the periphery, or even well-outside downtown, and be transported in. The task force recommended transit options be improved and expanded, and that a transportation alternatives campaign be undertaken. I believe this is a critical initiative that ought to be prioritized by the City, including the allocation of additional resources.

Then there is the important task of better managing our current parking supply.

One effective way to increase available customer parking is to reduce the number of non-customers parking in convenient spots. Nearly a quarter of parking spaces downtown are occupied by employees, and incentivizing them to park elsewhere is a priority. Toward that goal, the City has streamlined the “X” permit process and increased the number of employee parking options, with further expansions in the works. I support these efforts.

Other non-customers who park downtown include Amtrak riders and UC Davis students and employees heading to campus. Many of these folks are customers at other times, but if one parks downtown just to leave, it is not the best use of a downtown parking space.

For example, a number of Capitol Corridor riders from Sacramento drive to Davis to board westbound trains because the Sacramento station charges for parking and we do not. I believe converting our Amtrak lot to paid parking is an advisable step to address this issue and, combined with time-limited street parking, will remove the incentive to utilize our Amtrak lot in this way, freeing up spaces for downtown customers.

However, the proposal that has received the most attention is the recommendation by the task force to install parking meters throughout a large portion of downtown. This would ensure customers can reliably find a spot to park, albeit for a price (between 50 cents and one dollar per hour, depending on the time of day).

Many of these newly-open spaces will be the ones currently occupied by employees and other non-customers. But some customers have expressed that they will decide not to patronize downtown because of the added cost and inconvenience.

Installing parking meters downtown is also a very costly and character-altering proposal. Their significant initial expense is only recoverable by their continued use, meaning they will be a permanent fixture of our downtown. In other words, once parking meters are here, they’re here to stay.

For this reason, I believe a prudent approach is to exhaust our other parking-related efforts, such as the ones described above, prior to making this permanent and costly change to our downtown.

In addition, our Downtown Plan Advisory Committee is in the midst of its work, and long-term, large-scale changes to our downtown character ought to wait until their efforts have concluded.

Finally, there are concepts that are not part of the official recommendation, such as a parking validation program, that I believe warrant further exploration prior to implementation of paid street parking.

I do not envy my colleagues in dealing with this difficult issue. It is a discussion based in large part on a number of frequently-changing variables and assumptions. But such is the nature of policy making.

I believe each of them, as well as our City staff, consultants, task force members, and others engaged on this issue, share the goal of fostering a vibrant and successful downtown for all.

Together, we can work toward solutions that honor the character of our wonderful downtown.

Will Arnold is a member of the Davis City Council


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Thoughts on Paid Parking”

  1. Alan Miller

    I am encouraged by recent efforts to explore funding for a garage on the Amtrak lot, but the result of that process is many years away.

    This was looked into over 15 years ago.  It may not be impossible, but the challenges are significant.  Any parking structure needs a certain minimum surface area and geometry just for the ramps, no matter the size of the structure.  Because of the fixed location of historic structures and the rail crossing, along with the oddly rounded, concave-triangle shape of the lot, the remaining surface area of the structural footprint would yield a relatively small number of parking spaces per floor (relative to a city block), making the structure extremely expensive per space.  This was from talking consultants with experience in the area.  HRMC would of course have some weigh-in on how the structure would affect the historic resources on the site as well.

    Parking structures were considered on city-owned land behind Design House or the Regal Lot or the Boy Scout Cabin.  All had major access or design limitation issues as well, and difficulty getting riders into the station and customers into downtown.  I tried through several iterations of mayors and council-members to purchase the Calori Lot on Olive, directly across the tracks from the station, and build a parking structure and mixed-use project there, with a ped-bike crossing to the station.  Many showed interest and understood the advantages of this site to the City, but it never went anywhere.  That plan is now lost as Lincoln 40 will occupy that site.

    Other cities have approached this issue by providing shuttles or other transit options to allow customers to park on the periphery, or even well-outside downtown, and be transported in.

    That’s been talked about for decades, but with the low density of Davis, the transfer time of waiting, being transported, stopping and starting, and coming to the station and waiting for and getting on the train, would likely yield very low ridership.  Just blocks away is ample free parking in neighborhoods, and the time to walk is minimal compared to the laborious process of a shuttle.  A shuttle for the SMART rail system in the City of Santa Rosa was recently replaced with a discounted parking pass, due to extremely low ridership on that shuttle.  This was predictable, and I doubt a Davis station shuttle would fair much better.

    The task force recommended transit options be improved and expanded, and that a transportation alternatives campaign be undertaken. I believe this is a critical initiative that ought to be prioritized by the City, including the allocation of additional resources.

    Again, low density and high cost with buses.  Uber/Lyft are new and very attractive options from anywhere in town and relatively inexpensive even to most students.  Public transit routes countrywide are seeing a significant decrease in ridership with the advent of ride-share, most especially for trips of a few miles or less (the size of Davis).  It doesn’t help the environment much, but that is the reality today.

    There are a huge number of bicycle spaces at the train station, with more and more added over the years.  So that mode is already happening.  No tube or pod systems on the horizon — so ‘alternate forms’ have largely been played out in my opinion, sans increased bike/ped connectivity to the station to the east, north and south.

    Nearly a quarter of parking spaces downtown are occupied by employees, and incentivizing them to park elsewhere is a priority. Toward that goal, the City has streamlined the “X” permit process and increased the number of employee parking options, with further expansions in the works.

    I hope so, but this was the same problem we had 15 years ago, and we were never able to solve it.  The City couldn’t make employers participate, many employers didn’t care, they couldn’t force their employees, employees would rather re-park nearby than walk a few minutes.  I told two different downtown workers about the ample free parking near the substation just five blocks from their work, about a five minute walk each day.  They still lazy-defaulted to the two-hour shuffle.  Paid parking will help with this.

    Other non-customers who park downtown include Amtrak riders and UC Davis students and employees heading to campus.

    Most Amtrak riders park for a long time, and wouldn’t be able to park on downtown streets with the time restrictions, today or as proposed.  The new proposed five-hour limit would not stop students rushing to one or two classes in a day who could easily make it back in time.

    a number of Capitol Corridor riders from Sacramento drive to Davis to board westbound trains because the Sacramento station charges for parking and we do not.

    That is only part of the picture.  Getting into downtown Sac in the morning is a time-consuming chore in of itself.  Then getting to the available parking lots, walking to the station, and then walking out to the platforms which takes 3-5 minutes in itself — all reasons people don’t drive to Sacramento, on top of the payment.

    Some will choose Sacramento, some will start to drive to the Bay Area, some will park as close to the Davis station as free parking will allow and walk in, and some will pay.  There is no way to know how many of each until after implementation, and even then we won’t know how many were local and how many were from outside of town.

    I believe converting our Amtrak lot to paid parking is an advisable step to address this issue and, combined with time-limited street parking, will remove the incentive to utilize our Amtrak lot in this way, freeing up spaces for downtown customers.

    This is flat-out a false statement, if not a false hope.  I am not slamming Will Arnold personally, this could have been written by any downtown business owner, and has been a hoped-for part of the parking capacity solution, but isn’t.  Even when I was on the downtown parking committee over 15 years ago, downtown business owners kept bringing this up, even as the facts of the Amtrak lot were presented to them, as if clicking their heels enough times like Dorothy would change the reality of the situation.

    Negotiation for the use of the lot for downtown businesses has already taken place, is in place today, may be revoked by the state at any time should transit use increase, and will not be expanded for greater use for non-transit purposes.  I know this because I, along with Estelle Shiroma, negotiated the City-use of the lot between the parties of the CCJPA, City of Davis, State of California and Downtown businesses (via parking committee) in (roughly) 2003.  The wording on the signs in the lot is our text.

    The construction of the Amtrak lot for parking (formerly a grown-over dirt and bushes area known as “The Jungle” as hobos often slept there) was paid for exclusively with State Transportation funds from the CTC.  As part of that agreement between the state and the City for the state to fund the construction of the Amtrak parking lot, the lot is for the exclusive use of Amtrak patrons.  Because the lot was paid for with state funds, Amtrak patrons from anywhere in the state may park in this lot with a permit.  Train riders cannot be denied if they do not live in Davis.

    As soon as the lot was built, downtown business owners wanted the spaces available to them, and I remember one in particular repeatedly slamming the City for allowing the lot to be built without allowing City parking.  The reality, however, is the City did not have the funds to build the lot, and train ridership was expanding exponentially at the time as trains were being added.  The state built the lot, with the city’s agreement, for the purpose of train ridership.  (There are roughly 150 spaces in the lot.)

    However, the vast majority of the ridership is weekday commuters, with much less demand on evenings and weekends.  Clearly, the lot had vast capacity beginning about 5pm when commuters began to return from the Bay Area, increasing into the evening, and also on weekends.  Recognizing this, Estelle and I negotiated to have the State  (CTC) recognize that although the lot was for train riders, there was sufficient capacity to allow City use during non-commute hours, as capacity was sufficient that no (or very few) train riders would be impacted.

    That is how the ‘exclusive use for Amtrak patrons 5am to 5pm weekdays’ came about.  Before that, that lot was ‘Amtrak only’ and largely empty on evenings and weekends.  Now, and in great harmony with the expanded restaurant/bar/evening scene downtown, patrons of downtown business may use the Amtrak lot after 5pm and on weekends.  Should weekend train patronage pick up, however, this use could be revoked by the state.  That was part of the agreement.  Use of the lot by downtown businesses during the day is out-of-the-question.  The lot was full at 7:15am this morning as it is every morning, and train ridership is only set to increase in coming years.

    Estelle and I and the City also negotiated with the private owner of the 4th and G Street parking structure, for use of limited spaces for paid Amtrak overflow parking in that building.

    As for charging Amtrak patrons to use the lot, that has always been murky.  Our understanding at the time is that users of the lot could be charged, but only to offset the city’s maintenance costs for keeping up the lot.  The always seemed very difficult to quantify, and I doubt anyone would ever audit the City to confirm, if that is the actual statute.  So I believe the City could charge for parking at the Amtrak lot as stated by recent a CTC letter.  However, this does not change the fact that the lot is for the exclusive use of Amtrak patrons 5am to 5pm.

    The City could attempt to purchase the rights to the lot from the State.  Amtrak and CCJPA would no doubt fight this at it would have a negative effect on train ridership, and I doubt the City would dedicate or seek funding for this purpose.  Any release of this responsibility by the state without compensation by the City would be a misuse of state-sourced tax dollars and a betrayal of state taxpayers.

    So be glad, “Downtown”, for the evening and weekend capacity you get from that lot — it was a lot of work just to get that.

  2. Craig Ross

    The idea that we are going to build anything or create more supply is a flat out false hope.  Will Arnold is simply trying to thread a needle that isn’t there.

  3. larryguenther

    In addition to looking at other, similar towns for data on paid parking, we can also look at data from our downtown.  Much of this data is provided in the documentation for the “existing conditions” portion of the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee, which can be found on the City’s website.
     
    https://cityofdavis.org/home/showdocument?id=10463
     
    In our downtown, we have paid parking and we have free parking.  We have free 2-hour/20-minute street parking, a paid lot at the E St. plaza, a 3-hour free parking garage on G St., a free lot at the train station, a 3-hour free garage on E St., and an X-permit (paid) lot at Richards/Olive.
     
    The train staition lot, E St. Plaza, and E St. garage are heavily used.  The street parking in the core of downtown is heavily used.  Street parking away from the core has more availability.  The G St. garage and X-permit lot are underutilized.
     
    So what correlates to heavy use?  Paid vs. unpaid?  No.  Proximity to the core of downtown: i.e. E St. Plaza and the train station.  This is the area where paid parking is proposed.
     
    It is my experience that simplicity and convenience are highly correlated with compliance in any system.  Right now it seems to me that we have a very underutilized employee parking system (the X permit).  Why not just make that free?  What is the income we get from the X permit system?  Is foregoing that revenue worth making an employee parking system that does what we want: i.e. freeing up parking spaces in the core?  I think it is.

     
    The parking revenue from paid parking downtown is proposed to go toward downtown.  I agree with that.  I believe we should put some of that paid parking revenue into making the X permit free to downtown employees.  That could free up 10%-20% of parking spaces downtown, which would move the parking occupancy rate below the 85% threshold.  According to all studies I have seen, 85% occupancy is the tipping point for the perception that, “there is no parking downtown.”

  4. Ron Glick

    “However, the proposal that has received the most attention is the recommendation by the task force to install parking meters throughout a large portion of downtown. This would ensure customers can reliably find a spot to park, albeit for a price (between 50 cents and one dollar per hour, depending on the time of day).”

    Actually, staff asked Council for the authority to raise parking rates up to $2/hour without returning to the CC. I’m sure Member Arnold will be as surprised to learn this as I was.

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