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Downtown parking study calls for more expensive street spaces

Thursday, November 10, 2016 by Syeda Hasan

Streamlined technology and more expensive parking spaces – those are some of the recommendations of a new report that looks at improving parking in downtown Austin.

The $260,000 study analyzed parking in the area bordered by Interstate 35, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Lamar Boulevard and Lady Bird Lake, along with the South Central Waterfront just across the lake. These preliminary findings stem from a community survey commissioned by the Downtown Austin Alliance, a nonprofit group of local businesses and community members.

Jeff Tumlin is with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, a San Francisco-based transportation planning consultant. The organization surveyed more than 1,300 residents for the study.

“One of the things we first wanted to know is what is Austin wanting to be when it grows up, so we can figure out what kind of a parking system is needed in order to support that,” Tumlin said. “We then went out and collected an immense amount of data to determine the state of parking today, and now we’re in the process of developing some recommendations that align Austin’s goals with its parking policies.”

The recommendations include streamlining parking rules and technology and keeping a percentage of parking available at all times. Along with the online survey, researchers took a comprehensive inventory of both public and private parking spots. They estimated that there are more than 71,500 spaces in the downtown area, but only 6,405 of them are on-street parking.

Tumlin said street spots tend to be cheaper than garages, which drives high demand and can lead to a lot of drivers circling around, looking for a place to park.

“A majority of respondents have actually experienced trying to come to downtown Austin, not being able to find a space, and giving up on their trip and going someplace else instead,” he said.

Dewitt Peart is president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance. He said the goal is to improve how we manage parking going forward, factoring in future growth.

“The parking consumes real estate, and so what is the highest and best use of real estate, and should we be really consuming an overabundance of land for parking?” Peart said.

Austin residents hardly agree on the answer to that question. Researchers say that while survey respondents all want more transportation options, they disagree on solutions. Some support improving the city’s use of existing parking stock, while others say we should build more and make it free.

There will be more opportunities for public input, and the Downtown Austin Alliance is set to issue an implementation plan for its recommendations in February.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Ed Schipul made available through a Creative Commons license.

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