New downtown parking study

Brent Finnegan -- November 9th, 2009

It seems like downtown parking is a topic that’s never quite been settled. As WSVA reports, the number of restaurants and shopping options downtown are growing, and the city and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance are commissioning a study of downtown parking, in order to gather “data and recommendations for meeting current and future parking needs within the city.”

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27 Responses to “New downtown parking study”

  1. Erik Kimsey says:

    I have a few questions for the city in this matter:
    What about downtown residents who search fruitlessly during business hours to find a parking spot remote to their place of dwelling? Residents who procur tickets and fines, or are towed!, because they gave no place to park other than in public spots. I know. I lived downtown for three years, was ticketed more times than I care to count and was towed at least three times. The city’s worried for downtown visitors?! What about the thousands of dollars each month with rent checks and utility bills that is downtown’s silent revenue? I think it’s time we think about downtown resident parking (stickers, hang-tags, some form of parking permit) while the city is pondering the construction on another concrete scab for “visitor parking”. Is resident parking situation a factor in this study?

  2. Dan says:

    Does HDR already have a position on more downtown parking?

    The city needs to balance the need for parking with the need to have a dense walkable downtown. One of the reasons for the success of downtown restaurants is the fact there is somewhat of a restaurant district that is an inviting space for pedestrians, has a lot of diversity, and is easily navigable by foot. Parking garages, while necessary to some extent, are not very nice places to be if you are outside of a car.

    There are already some mostly empty surface lots downtown that aren’t doing much to contribute to the vibrancy of the city. What if there was a downtown circulator bus that ran on evenings and weekends? Maybe some of those empty lots would be used by restaurant goers if there was a quick and easy way to get around the different parts of downtown.

  3. nicklaus combs says:

    the parking tickets need to go (you don’t see target, applebees, etc… towing/ticketing their customers out of their lots). you want to encourage people to come visit downtown businesses. tow a car that is parked in the same space for multiple days but get rid of the ticketing. erik’s comment above about a resident parking strategy is also spot on.

  4. Jamie Smith says:

    Parking is much like religion and sex, everyone has an opinion.
    Why would anyone with a car rent a place to live without giving advance thought to parking?
    The distance between the municipal parking lot and the old post office is equal to the distance between the two ends of the Valley Mall. People are just plain lazy. They want to park in front of any destination they might have!

  5. cook says:

    While we are mentioning groups of people who need access to downtown parking, keep in mind the dozens to hundreds of people summonsed to appear in several downtown courtrooms each day.

  6. MB Green says:

    I agree with Jamie. I haven’t ever noticed a parking problem downtown. People are lazy.

  7. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    Not many people will argue that suburban sprawl culture has left people feeling entitled to drive up to the front doors of each and every place they need to go.

    The pertinent problem is how to shift that culture. How do you get conditioned suburbanites to be okay with parking their vehicle in one spot and walking to several different locations without returning to their cars?

    The easy answer is one we all know: density. If there is a critical mass of desirable businesses/services clustered densely downtown you can easily visit all on foot. (You know, this is a principal Wal-Mart and malls have managed. Customers park way out in parking wastelands but once inside, find myriad desirable consumers items in easy walking distance)

  8. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    What are the possibilities for adding levels to the two current parking garages? (I am guessing there are structural and zoning limitations)

  9. Along the lines of what Nicholas is saying, I remember reading this post on Boing Boing in August. It’s basically the economics of “free” parking subsidies. It was interesting.

    The cost of building all that parking is reflected in higher rents, more expensive shopping and dining, and higher costs of home-ownership. Those who don’t drive or own cars thus subsidize those who do.

    Of course, the flip side of that is: it would seem downtown has to offer free parking to compete with the big box and chain stores. It’s the only way to level the playing field. On the other hand, downtown Charlottesville has very little free parking, and seems to be doing just fine.

  10. Emmy says:

    I think the idea of adding to the existing decks is a good one. When I visit downtown I usually don’t have much trouble finding a place to park unless there is a lot going on in the court houses, or snow has caused the upper portions of the decks to be closed. If either of these things happens, then good luck.

    As for those who live downtown…well I suppose most people who move there do expect to park and walk to their home. However, I don’t find it lazy to want to park near your home. If you go to the store and have a lot of bag to bring in, then walking from one of the decks to an apartment on Market Street wouldn’t be a lot of fun.

  11. David Miller says:

    I’d like to take a minute to address some of the questions brought forth here. Eric, you need to lease a space on one of the upper decks. That is the solution for you, no more tickets, towing or scrounging for a spot. Each parking space is worth $22,000/annually for retail and restaurants, the current on street parking focuses on providing space for those dollars while providing secure reliable parking on the tops of the decks for people like you and I who barely leave downtown.

    Nick, the reason for having to ticket is that there is a great deal of abuse of the time restrictions, if left to a Mall/Target style parking system (if you can call a free for all a system) then there would be no parking for our customers, we’ve tried it and it wasn’t pretty. Currently the parking system is working better than ever but this study is being done and we are consulting with everyone involved to plan for the future. Your input is invaluable, please keep it up.

  12. David Miller says:

    Brent, I agree with both points. First being that we are subsidizing free parking, second being that we didn’t always have free parking and it was a nightmare to see our customers constantly feeding meters and still paying tickets often. Not good for competition against Big Box, hopefully the system that we have and continue to tweek as we go forward is a good compromise between the two contrasting options.

  13. David Miller says:

    Nicholas, unfortunately the decks cannot support additions. The footers were not designed for additional weight.

  14. Barnabas says:

    Underground is the way to go here.
    Two-three levels of underground parking under the parking lot next to Jack Browns and/or the Bank parking lot. With the new structure that is going in there, parking in that area is going to be at a premium.

  15. MF says:


    There is a reason Harrisonburg used to be called Rocktown. If you dig more the 15 feet below the ground in most places in Hburg you will encounter large amounts of rock deposits. Which would make building an underground parking lot an extremely expensive endeavor.

  16. John Marr says:

    The underground parking idea is interesting. Sadly, I think both of those lots are privately owned. Since one of those lots has long made money in the form of parking meters for it’s owner I don’t think they’ll be giving it up anytime soon.

    Overall I feel like downtown has ample parking. I’ve never had a problem finding a space. However I’m also willing to walk a block or two to my destination. I like the free parking in the decks, getting rid of the meters was a great idea. Hopefully any future changes will be just as successful.

  17. David Miller says:

    I just shudder imagining the months of blasting that would be required if someone did try to dig down three stories, I live close to UE and it was excessive

  18. Renee says:

    I think all of the spaces in the parking decks should be 10-hour spots. I work in court square and usually pay the meter in the private lot by Jack Brown’s because sometimes all of the 10-hour spots in the parking deck behind Dave’s are full, and they do give tickets if you stay in a 3-hour spot longer than 3 hours.

    On the same vein, I think all of the parallel-parking spots and spots around Court Square should be 2-hour. Most of them are already. 30 minute spots don’t really make sense to me. 30 minutes is just too short for most downtown activity and people that want to grab a bite to eat, but know that there’s a chance their lunch will take longer than 30 mins, have to look for the 2 hour spots.

    Also, I think there should be one or two 15-minute spots convenient to each large building. I often need to just run up to my office to get something, and I appreciate having a spot nearby that is available often enough. So the 30-minute spots could be changed to either 2-hour or 15-minute spots.

    I’m glad there is a lot of free downtown parking, and that when it is full, I can usually get a meter spot for 25 cents/hour. It is WAY better than JMU’s parking situation. We have to keep in mind that with the growing population at JMU and the growing popularity of downtown, we may be near a “breaking point” for parking, so I’m glad it’s being looked at.

    The mini-shuttle idea is a good one because people would be more willing to park in decks like the one up at Kline’s if they knew a bus would be coming by in 5 mins or so. It would be especially helpful at peak times when the Water St. deck is full. I think if that were implemented, there should be a “call bus” button, though, so the vehicle wouldn’t have to be driving around constantly for hours every day.

  19. Renee says:

    Also, technology exists that could allow the “call shuttle bus” button to have a display with the approximate arrival time of the bus (or with a more advanced display to show where the bus is located on a map) as well as a countdown once you press it. So, if the bus is 7 minutes away and you’d rather not wait, you can decide not to press it and walk, or if the bus is only 2 minutes away you can press the button and wait to be picked up.

    I know with downtown being fairly small, I wouldn’t want to stand and wait for a bus for more than a few minutes to get around, but I would park further away (leaving more space inside downtown for short-term visitors) if I knew I could get a quick ride if it’s raining or dark and I don’t want to walk.

  20. David Miller says:

    Renee, a quick off the cuff for tonight, I like your idea about the shuttles but I prefer the taxi private option for this role. It seems more efficient and already existing. More tomorrow.

  21. John Marr says:

    Just a random thought – Aren’t both the parking decks downtown pretty much the same distance to court square? With that in mind. I’ve never understood why the one on Water Street is sometimes crowded while the one on Wolfe is almost a ghost town.

    Also I agree with Dave about the taxi service. It seems like a really intense and expensive option to put in a public busing service to move people two or three blocks. It also occurs to me that no matter how you arranged the bus stops there would likely still be some walking. With everything so close togethor I have my doubts as to whether a person would really wait 5 or 10 minutes for a bus which will drop them off a little closer to their intended destination instead of just walking the 5 minutes it would take to “hoof” it in the first place. If it’s raining or a person has a large amount of baggage a taxi is a great option.

  22. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    John, while the decks may seem equidistant from the downtown proper, the Water St parking is much closer to most of the restaurants (Dave’s, Clementine, Shenk’s, Earth & Tea, Beyond, Finnegan’s, Jack Brown’s, etc) and most shops are also on the south side of the square.

  23. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    Other than Kline’s, Blue Nile and Indian American, the area north of the square is still a relative wasteland.

  24. Barnabas says:

    There is nothing in downtown that is not within walking distance of either parking deck. However having a van or bus service availbe for the dissabled and or elderly especially during the bad weather months should be considered. Even if they run on a limited schedule having that schedule posted at each deck shouldn’t be a problem.

  25. MB Green says:

    I wouldn’t mind my taxes having to subsidize a new multi-level parking deck (or rebuilding to two that already exist, so they can be multi-level) IF they were going to do away with the parallel onstreet parking and put in bike lanes in their place.

  26. Dan says:

    If there are five parking garages downtown, everyone will drive their cars downtown. If parking is limited and hard to find, more people will find other forms of transportation when going downtown. I hope someone at the city realizes that building more parking garages induces more demand on parking and auto facilities and will necessitate the further construction of more parking garages. If we invest in a different long-term vision of downtown the things that are already great about downtown will be even better! Before any valuable space downtown is used only to store our cars we should think about what kind of downtown we want 20 or 30 years from now.

    I’m not sure how a large public investment in more parking lots can be justified when so many spaces are currently unused.

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