If we build it, they will park

We walked to our downtown E. Franklin Street church Easter morning to avoid a lengthy search for parking.

The Morehead lot fills up quickly, as does Lot 2 on the corner of E. Rosemary and Columbia streets on a typical Sunday morning. Sometimes the Wallace Deck has no room, either. Bub O’Malley’s gravel lot used to serve as overflow parking, but now it posts “No Parking, Towing Enforced” signs every six feet. Although I know some of the town’s “boutique” lots that often have space, they’re all on the west end of downtown. By the time we drove there and walked back east, we might as well have walked from home.

The town recently added some spaces on the west end of downtown in a lot behind buildings on the south side of W. Franklin, accessible via Basnight Lane and S. Roberson. Even so, we have a deficit of some 250 spaces, and that has hampered growth. A proposed music venue, office and apartment project is on hold until the town can create sufficient parking spaces. The town’s Land Use Management Ordinance does not require downtown property owners to provide any parking.

At the Town Council work session last week, we heard a proposal to add up to three levels of parking to the Wallace Deck, which would add 100 spaces per floor. The cost would be $2.4 million for one story and $8.4 million for three floors, the much higher price for three stories coming from the extra structural support needed to hold the weight of the two more levels of cars.

We previously had explored putting offices or apartments above the deck, but realized that we wouldn’t have enough parking spaces to accommodate those new tenants.

Adding one more floor of parking seems the prudent choice. The deck needs a $1 million weather membrane that had been value-engineered out at construction and now has caught up with us. Adding a level of parking would eliminate the need for that work.

The spaces wouldn’t pay for themselves until after the construction loan is paid off, but we need to support downtown businesses that have told us for years that potential customers stay away for want of a place to park.

Some folks have a theory that making it hard to drive or park will encourage people to walk, bike or take the bus. They forget that a third of our population is senior citizens, that grocery stores prefer a super-store model over building small neighborhood stores, that the majority of parents have tight schedules trying to balance work with children’s activities, and that many people work hours beyond the bus schedule.

Back to that walk to church: We arrived sweaty and parched, our hair flecked with oak seeds, and mascara bleeding down my cheeks. Our fellow parishioners are a forgiving lot, but had we been going to a business meeting, walking or biking would have been impractical.

The town could add a penny to the Downtown Service District tax or raise the parking fee to $2 per hour from its current $1.50. Either way, we need to move forward with adding parking downtown where we can.
— Nancy Oates

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7 Comments

  1. Dave Mabe

     /  April 17, 2017

    Has the town ever considered a dynamically priced parking system? That is, one where the price to park would vary based on demand/availability. In fact, a lot of the time the price could be free since there are only certain times when there are extreme parking shortages.

    If done properly this would eliminate the shortages. You could imagine checking your phone for the current price and decide whether you should walk or not.

  2. plurimus

     /  April 17, 2017

    Dave, Great idea. Market driven parking, ala Uber’s “surge pricing”. I think that ideas from the new economy, leveraging the social media enabled by technology along with the goals of parking vs. public transit vs. getting people out of their cars should be considered in the context of the ebb and flow of Chapel Hill traffic and special events is a worthy effort.

    Being able to collect detailed data on mundane things like parking has the ability to reveal patterns and underutilized capacity.

  3. Bart

     /  April 17, 2017

    Surge pricing would be interesting – possibly useful. But.

    I’m one of those parents with tight timelines who already doesn’t go downtown for much. Disappearing lots, pop up towing, competition for spots and distance from where I want to go are all issues for me. One must build in time for parking: the hunt, paying, and walking to somewhere.

    Surge pricing won’t help me with any of that though. People go downtown when things are open. It would likely make it more expensive but not reduce the effort at all. The kind of parking might change: homesteaders vs errand-running, workers vs shoppers.

    But I’d still be going downtown hoping I could park in order to do what I need to. I hate not being sure I can do something I need or want to do because of PARKING. I pretty much choose not to shop where I have that extra problem. Just an extra hassle I don’t need.

    We could just label downtown for urban dwellers/bus riders only. That, at least, would be honest in terms of what many seem to believe and push for. I don’t have time or the inclination to argue with this, I just shop at Target and eat at restaurants outside of downtown.

    I know I’m not the only one who got the message.

  4. Dave Mabe

     /  April 17, 2017

    Bart said: “Disappearing lots, pop up towing, competition for spots and distance from where I want to go are all issues for me. One must build in time for parking: the hunt, paying, and walking to somewhere.”

    These are all exactly the kinds of problems that dynamic market pricing would fix! It would be much easier to find a parking spot than it would be without it.

    It would be much more predictable. Right now if it’s busy and I think I might have trouble finding a spot I’ll most likely skip the trip (like a lot of people). With dynamic market pricing I would know that there are spots available and I could decide whether the price was worth it given my reasons for going. As it is now sometimes there’s literally no choice at all – no spots available at any price! That’s what’s unpredictable and frustrating.

  5. Nancy, how much of our parking revenues going to pay down the West 140 OVERALL debt and all the parking lots we purchased/leased to make up for the shortfall it created?

    Adding to the Wallace Deck is a terrible idea. Better to self-off that prime real estate for a better use and use the proceeds to beef up parking elsewhere.

    Finally, we got a crap deal with the University Square redevelopment – maybe time to negotiate additional public spaces in their new lots.

  6. Betsy

     /  April 23, 2017

    Dave is spot on — As it is now sometimes there’s literally no choice at all – no spots available at any price! That’s what’s unpredictable and frustrating. And that is precisely why we rarely go to Franklin Street to dine or shop. I’m anxious to see how the parking will be at the urban Target. If there’s parking available I will gladly go there. If not, I will continue to shop at the Target at Southpoint. Oh well, not what I want to do but the parking situation in Chapel Hill many times leaves me with no choice but to shop and dine outside of downtown.

  7. Nancy

     /  April 23, 2017

    Will, the problem is there is no elsewhere. I’d like to see us build a deck on the west end of downtown, but the most logical space, behind Basnight Lane, is owned by a few different people who won’t sell. We can’t spend the money to build a deck on land we don’t own. Second best spot would be to partner with UNC to build a deck on their surface lots on Rosemary, but UNC won’t commit.

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