TRAVERSE CITY — Parking in downtown Traverse City can be a challenge during the summer, and experts looking into the issue have reached some early recommendations.
Thomas Brown, a transportation planner with Nelson Nygaard, presented some preliminary findings from a transportation demand management study to an audience at the State Theatre on Wednesday. The firm is conducting the study for the city Downtown Development Authority.
The average parker pays $20 per month for their space, while the average space costs $200 per month to maintain, Brown said. What parkers pay doesn’t come close to covering maintenance costs. At the same time downtown employers and employees told those conducting the study that most downtown workers earn an hourly wage and work part time.
“So that $20 can be a real burden and a barrier to employment downtown,” he said.
Now consider the tourists who may be willing to pay a good amount for parking, Brown said. It all means the city must ensure it provides a wide variety of parking options at different price points so the downtown remains accessible to everyone.
Pricing can also be used as a tool to manage demand; by lowering prices in less-used spots the city can encourage people to park there instead of in the highest-demand spaces, Brown said.
Making it easier for commuters to use transportation alternatives could make a big difference on parking demand as well, Brown said. That’s true even if 5 percent or fewer downtown parkers make the change, especially commuters who park for at least eight hours per day, five days a week.
“Reducing demand isn’t about taking away options, it’s about finding that smallish percentage in almost every community that is interested in trying something new, whether it’s cycling, transit or living close enough to walk to work,” he said.
Many downtown employees who responded to a study survey showed an interest in biking to work, Brown said. The best months for cycling coincide with the heaviest demand for downtown parking — there’s typically plenty of parking in the late fall, winter and early spring.
But there are barriers for those who want to pedal to work instead of driving, Brown said. Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails are a good way to get into town but respondents said they weren’t comfortable biking on city streets.
A connector bus route could be one possible solution, Brown said. The Bay Area Transportation Authority currently is seeking input on a route that would make trips every 12 to 15 minutes between Northwestern Michigan College, downtown and Munson Medical Center. Cyclists could park their bikes and use such a connector route for the last segment of their commute.
Connector routes and bike-sharing services would also create what Brown calls “park-once” opportunities, he said. That means someone visiting several destinations downtown can park once and walk, bike or bus to the places they’re visiting, instead of driving and parking at each one.
Switching to a monthly parking pass over an annual one, as the DDA did in July, encourages commuters to bike in the summer months, Brown said.
Other possibilities include setting aside better parking spaces for carpoolers, partnering with private lot owners to provide more spaces and building parking garages jointly with private developers who would incorporate retail or apartment space into the structures, Brown said.
The DDA sought the study after holding off on several ideas to improve downtown parking, city Parking Services Administrator Nicole VanNess said. DDA officials wanted experts to look at not only the downtown’s parking situation, but how it can move forward with other mobility options that would leave the city well-positioned to handle future growth.
Looking to the future is crucial as developers look to build several projects on the downtown’s west end, VanNess said.
She was encouraged to see that some of the study’s preliminary recommendations are already under consideration by the DDA.
“So far, some of the stuff they have talked about is stuff we have planned and talked about, it’s just we were gun-shy about pulling the trigger because we didn’t know if it was the right decision,” she said.
The study’s final report is due in October, Brown said. He and others conducting the study will work on a list of final recommendations.