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Downtown visitors swamp subcommittee with parking survey responses

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

A joint subcommittee of the Urban Transportation and Downtown commissions, tasked with studying downtown parking, was inundated with of survey responses — many with additional written comments — when they asked people to elaborate on their downtown parking experience.


Commissioner Chris Schorre presented the results of the survey at the most recent Downtown Commission meeting, adding a number of caveats to the results: the survey was drafted by committee members; respondents were basically self-selected; and the methodology was non-scientific.


But the parking subcommittee received a staggering 8,500 responses to its survey, along with 3,800 written comments, which Schorre admitted was about 10 times the response rate the committee had expected in a mere three weeks.


“All of the subcommittee members, the five of us, were given a stack of this and have been using this as bedtime reading material,” Schorre told the full commission. “It provided a lot of insightful information.”


As might be expected, those who drove to downtown Austin for pleasure liked their parking on the street and they liked it free. But Schorre and fellow committee members Dustin Lanier and Michael McGill also crunched some additional numbers and teased out various scenarios, such as how far people who liked free parking were willing to walk to get a free parking space.


According to the survey results, about 80 percent of the respondents who valued free parking over general convenience were willing to walk three blocks to a spot. And 38 percent of those respondents were willing to walk five blocks or more.


Responses to the survey appeared to be split fairly evenly between those who work downtown and those who came downtown for pleasure.


Asked to rank one or more options as to how they handled parking when they came downtown, respondents chose on-street parking the most often (75 percent), followed by surface lots (32 percent), parking garages (20 percent), valet parking (5 percent) and pedestrian options (4 percent).


On-street parking was more common during the day, but even those who came downtown in the evenings for pleasure, up to 60 percent,  still often ended up using the on-street parking option.


The amount of time at a parking meter downtown varied by time of day, with daytime office workers staying more than 5 hours. Those who arrived between 5:30pm to 9pm often stayed 1 to 3 hours. And those arrived after 9pm often indicated they would stay at least three hours and some more than five hours;


Asked to rate hot-button issues, respondents indicated which statements were somewhat or very important to them: removing time limits from on-street parking (49 percent); more public parking garages (64 percent); reducing the number of on-street spots that belong to valet companies (77 percent); improving meter enforcement and, hence, improving turnover rates (23 percent); spending allocated meter revenue on pedestrian improvements (46 percent); and providing additional wayfinding signage to provide directions (32 percent);


When drivers were divided between those who liked free parking and those who liked convenient parking, those who liked free more often agreed with the statement that extended parking hours might mean they would come downtown less often. Those who liked convenient parking were more likely to agree with a statement they would come downtown more often if parking were easier to find.

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