Although the growth and success of Vancouver’s downtown area is resulting in some clear pressures on available parking supply, the situation is not yet a “crisis,” according to Community and Economic Development Director Chad Eiken and Rick Williams, parking consultant with Rick Williams Consulting.
Eiken and Williams presented some information on parking in the downtown Vancouver area and the city’s downtown parking investment policy during a Vancouver City Council Workshop the evening of Aug. 6. This was the first of a series of workshops discussing the topic of parking in downtown; a second one to discuss policy direction on future investment in parking structures is tentatively set for Oct. 1.
Williams provided council members with some of the city’s parking policy history, informing them that prior to 1999, the city had no formal management or investment policy or strategy in regards to parking; parking was added on a case-by-case basis mostly to attract employment. Examples include Riverview Tower and Main Place.
From 2000 on, however, Williams said the city has continued to prioritize patron/short-term demand parking.
“The private sector leads provision of employee and residential parking; the city leads in visitor parking,” Williams said.
Currently, Williams said parking demand in downtown is up and forecasted to increase, and parking supply is static to declining. In addition, some obstacles include that the travel mode shift (people switching to alternate modes of transportation such as biking, etc.) is lagging, and the cost to build new parking structures (roughly $40-$60,000 a stall) is challenging.
Williams told the council that the city’s current policy on parking focuses public parking investments on patron parking; discourages the city’s role in providing employee or resident parking; and consists of pay-as-you-go options (no new public parking garage has been built since 2004). He said now there is an opportunity to revisit the city’s policy in light of the current and forecasted environment.
“The parking program is an enterprise fund; it needs to be self-sustained,” Eiken told council members.
Eiken said some of the city’s immediate areas of focus in regards to parking include optimizing existing lots, adding surface parking and adding on-street parking. He said about 1,225 spaces will be added from city lots, surface spots from the new Vancouver Waterfront Development (for the new restaurants and the Waterfront Park), the Port of Vancouver, a lot purchased by Hurley Development and some added city on-street parking.
In regards to some short-term areas of focus (happening in less than one year), Eiken said the city plans to increase inventory of on-street spaces (e.g. restripe some spots to angled parking to create more spots, etc.); revisit parking rates to ensure market competitiveness; explore expanding hours/days of paid parking (possibly weekday evenings, weekends, etc.); and implement the parking payment mobile app.
Mid-term and longer-term areas of focus for parking include pursuing low-cost options for satellite parking; encouraging owners of underutilized lots to lease parking spaces; assisting businesses in connecting employees to alternative transportation modes; identifying key bike corridors and necessary improvements; exploring public/private partnerships to add off-street parking capacity; completing improvements to key bike corridors into downtown; and advocating for enhanced transit options.
Eiken and Williams stressed to the council that more structured parking alone cannot solve the growing parking needs in the downtown area.
“We can’t build ourselves out of the parking situation,” Eiken said during a previous conversation in June. “We would need 19 parking structures with 450 spots at each one (to accommodate parking needs). Parking structures are part of the solution.”
Another parking solution that Eiken said the city has been looking into is an hourly wage employee parking zone. The city actually started offering this in May in an area that used to have free parking; and it was an area that mainly consisted of Clark County employees who were parking and walking to work. Eiken said they converted the area to hourly wage permit parking as an option. Employees who make $15 an hour or less qualify. Eiken said they will continue to look at modifying this option.
While there are peak times when it can be difficult to find decent parking downtown, such as during lunch time on weekdays, weekend evenings or during events, Eiken said there are some lulls in between, and less than 85 percent of the parking spaces are occupied during any given time during the less busy times of the day.
Many Vancouver community members have voiced their opinions in regards to the parking situation in downtown.
“More parking is definitely needed,” said Silja Stanley, in a Facebook comment on a Vancouver Business Journal post. “I live in the Hough neighborhood and downtown workers are filling our neighborhood with cars. Many of the homes in our neighborhood do not have driveways, so residents are having to fight for parking spots with downtown workers. Especially people who work in the county building.”
“Parking should not be an enterprise-funded venture,” said Ben Grobe-Heintz in a Facebook comment. “Its ability to make downtown Vancouver completely unlivable necessitates funding beyond what can be raised by parking management. Quite ridiculous that things have gotten so bad with the only excuse being a better system won’t fund itself. But I think the Waterfront will largely take care of itself … nobody will go down there except for those who live down there, probably.”
“Our once quaint downtown is growing at a fast pace,” said Reshell Dougals, owner of Not Too Shabby Boutique in Vancouver, in a Facebook comment. “With that comes the issues that accompany the increase of visitors/traffic. The increase cost of parking and the cramped availability is what all cities deal with, Vancouver is just catching up. Focus on (the) bright side of new businesses and, finally, more choices to eat.”
Eiken and Williams will continue to give ongoing presentations on the topic of parking in downtown to business groups in August and September, including the Parking Advisory Committee and the City Center Redevelopment Authority. A second council workshop is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 1, and following a second workshop, a resolution will be drafted to formalize the council’s policy regarding investment in public parking.