Everybody complains about how parking downtown is a nightmare, and now we have the proof. The Downtown Austin Alliance, with the help of transportation firm Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, has released the first-ever Downtown Austin Parking Strategy.
"Downtown Austin is a world-class destination that will continue to grow at a rapid pace. In the next 10 years it is possible that Austin will add up to 25 million square feet of new development within the downtown study area. This amount of growth has the potential to create additional parking issues if the city and its partners do not take a thoughtful and strategic approach to adding and managing new parking supply," reads the detailed report.
To address these issues and identify possible solutions, the team collected data and community input for over a year. You may be surprised to hear that downtown Austin actually has over 71,500 parking spaces — the equivalent of 490 football fields. Unfortunately, 64 percent of those spaces are privately owned and only 36 percent are available to the public at all times.
The public spaces, most of which are located directly on the street, are significantly cheaper than the private spots; the average difference between the two is $2.44 per hour. It's hard to locate the deals, however, because 65,099 spaces are off-street (usually in a private garage or lot) and only 6,405 are on the street.
The Downtown Austin Alliance says this disparity between cost and availability is causing a dire need for public, affordable, easy-to-find parking and leaving many pricey spaces empty.
"There are many situations, depending on the time, day, location, and user group, in which parking is very difficult to find. However, even in areas with high demand, and even during peak periods, there are typically underutilized parking spaces within a relatively short distance," the report sums up.
While visitors to the downtown area certainly add to the congestion, the demand is fueled by employees. Most companies located downtown lack incentives for employees to use alternative means of transportation, whether it be carpooling, walking, biking, or taking public transit. As a result, most of them commute alone.
So how do we fix these parking problems? The Downtown Austin Alliance has drafted an Implementation Plan that calls for more public, affordable spaces in addition to clearer signage and explanations. The thorough list of recommendations includes reducing prices, exploring new technologies, creating more incentives and options for alternative transportation, and establishing a better relationship between the entities that manage parking spaces.
Getting ideas these in motion will be hard, but the Downtown Austin Alliance is ready for the challenge. "Implementing these recommendations will not be easy. Deliberate and continued recognition of the project goals and desired outcomes is key to overcoming inertia, resistance, and growing pains along the way," the report acknowledges.
"Improved management of parking will enable Austin to unlock its development potential and continue to grow sustainably while reducing overall demand for parking and minimizing traffic congestion."