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Travis County commissioners to consider parking program

Tuesday, August 3, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

Travis County commissioners are scheduled today to consider launching a pilot program that, ultimately, could reduce the number of employees who wait years, some as many as seven, for a designated parking space.


Currently, 650 of the county’s approximately 1,800 downtown employees are on the waiting list. Broaddus Planning, the firm that the county hired to pull together a master plan for a downtown campus, will recommend that the county switch to a system whereby employees are issued permits to park in a zoned area instead of being assigned a single space.


That set-up would allow the county’s current inventory of about 1,200 spaces — that doesn’t include the 675 spaces Travis County acquired when it bought a high-rise at 700 Lavaca Street in June, according to Catherine Skerl, a project planning manager with Broaddus Planning — to be used more efficiently.


The pilot is just one component of a larger effort to develop a long-term blueprint that accounts for additional space needs through 2035 for the county’s downtown complex. Broaddus Planning is handling the effort and has reached a point where it must know what assumptions to use for calculating parking needs over the next 25 years.


Stephen Coulston, vice president of Broaddus Planning in Austin, emphasized to the court at a July 13 meeting that making a decision about assumptions to be used in the process would not constitute a policy change. However, a memo dated Aug. 3 to the commissioners from the county’s Parking Committee states that “the assumptions adopted by the Court will be incorporated into the policy changes that the Committee will recommend for the Court’s approval later this Fall.”


Broaddus will also ask the court to consider trying to reduce parking demand by 5 percent by promoting the use of alternate transportation to and from work and to consider existing parking resources, such as remote parking with shuttle services to the Heman Marion Sweatt courthouse, so the county won’t have to build additional parking garages for visitors and jurors.


Coulston told the court at the July 13 meeting that its parking problem doesn’t stem from a lack of available downtown spaces; rather, the issue is how the county uses those spaces. Other urban Texas counties issue permits for zoned areas, instead of assigning spaces to employees.


“The impact on that has a direct correlation to cost as it relates to whether we would need to build more parking structures to accommodate the existing parking policy or whether we can revisit as a planning assumption a revised parking policy,” he told the court.


Coulston’s firm is in the process of developing three potential scenarios for a downtown central campus. Parking is just one of many elements to be included in the overall proposals, which the court was supposed to receive next month. However, the scenarios likely won’t be done until early October, Skerl told In Fact Daily last week.


The court held a nearly hour-long discussion at the July 13 meeting, which covered numerous factors that must be considered as part of the parking discussion.


Coulston told the court that charging employees for parking permits would decrease the demand for the spaces. The money employees pay could then be used to hire a management firm to ensure the maximum use of spaces. The Parking Committee, though, is recommending that employees not be charged for permits, according to the memo.


However if paid parking is implemented, it is recommended that all employees, including those who do not work downtown, be charged on a sliding scale based on salary,” the document states. “In order for paid parking to be fair and equitable to all County staff, there should be no exceptions to the charge regardless of rank, position or work site.”


Certain days of the week are more high-traffic in downtown Austin than others, Coulston told the court. For instance, jurors, on average about 500 of them, report to court on Mondays, and Fridays are busy parking days because people visit the jail to pick up inmates before the weekend.


“It has been a challenge and still is a challenge downtown,” Commissioner Ron Davis told Coulston during the discussion. “Folks don’t even like to come downtown because it is a challenge to try to find a parking spot. Let’s face it for what it is.”

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