Municipography, Parking in Downtown Raleigh

Municipography is a summary of current issues going through the Raleigh City Council and other municipal departments in the city. The point is to try to deliver any video, photos, and text associated with the discussions happening at City Hall or elsewhere. Since this is a downtown Raleigh blog, the focus is on the center of the city.

I recommend email readers click through to the website to see the embedded video.

in downtown Raleigh is being discussed once again. If you haven’t heard yet, this latest city budget added some new fees to our downtown decks at times that were previously free.

Please keep in mind that this only applies to the city-owned parking decks that predominantly are located in the core business district. There are no city-owned decks in the warehouse district or Glenwood South, for example, so this wouldn’t apply to anything in those areas. State, county, and private decks do their own thing but with the city owning eight decks total, this change is big enough to take note of.

A quick side note. This change does not apply to the convention center deck, the performing arts deck (that one to the south of the convention center), and the Blount Street deck so only five of the eight city-owned decks would have the new changes.

To start things off, I went straight to the budget and found a few interesting snippets.

In order to better support the maintenance and cleanliness of the decks, a flat $5 night and weekend parking fee is included in the budget and will take effect December 31, 2015. This new fee will fund a dedicated cleaning crew, equipment upgrades, and additional staffing for the parking attendant booths.

– Page 10

Implementation of night and weekend paid parking is expected to generate $950,000 in revenue during the initial six month period beginning December 31, 2015. This revenue will offset the cost of a dedicated janitorial crew to provide 24-hour coverage for cleaning and sanitizing the parking decks ($250,000 for first six months). Funds are also budgeted for increased contractual services to staff the parking decks during the night and weekend hours ($250,000) and to upgrade parking deck equipment and software ($450,000).

– Page 127

Some additional actions listed in the budget here are:

Work with McLaurin Parking to sub-contract a janitorial crew of 12 workers dedicated to cleaning and sanitizing the parking decks to address the challenges of increased nighttime and special events activities in the decks.

Begin priority structural repairs in the Wilmington Station, City Center, Cabarrus and Performing Arts Decks based on priorities identified in the 2013 Kimley-Horn Deck Assessment Report.

Engage a consulting firm to conduct a parking study of current parking space inventory, space commitments and future obligations and provide recommendations for new deck locations and capacities on the east and west sides of downtown. This study is essential for the city to maintain an available parking supply that can accommodate the demands of new business development, downtown residential life and the increasing number of downtown activities.

– Page 127

The proposed $5 flat fee would go into place 7pm-7am every weeknight, all-day Saturday, (that’s up until 7am Sunday morning) and after 1pm on Sunday. This plan is already approved per the budget.

The daytime worker versus the nightlifer is a bit different and it seems the decks are getting pretty dirty with this rise in nighttime use. The current funding model is seen as outdated for handling today’s use of the city’s decks and a change is needed.

A group of downtown business owners have gotten together and are trying to work with the city. They see the proposed change as too drastic and want to see the hours reduced and/or a phase-in approach take place.

Below is the presentation to the city council from Public Works about the changes and some follow-on discussion. If you can’t see the embedded video, click here.

Unfortunately, some raw numbers would have made this presentation great and allowed us to have some data to play with. There was a bar chart shown but the point it was trying to make wasn’t too clear so I won’t share that in this post.

It’s irrelevant though as most of us can agree that Friday and Saturday are seeing increased parking deck use, some filling up completely, and we’re capturing no revenue here to offset the needed repairs and keep them clean.

As a city, we’ve decided to run our parking as an enterprise fund. In short, that means it has to pay for itself. By that adopted process, we must explore ways to get more revenue flowing as the fund is currently in the negative.

In addition to paying off debt, what I’m most interested in is what the new visitor experience will be like as a result of this $5 flat fee. Currently, six staff members are in charge of the eight city-owned decks. They take care of maintenance and cleaning. With the added fees, this number would increase to 12, according to the presentation.

Does that result in a better looking, better operating facilities or are we just keeping pace? That’s yet to be seen.

A compromise between the approved plan in the budget and the downtown business owners that think this is too much, too fast was looked at. A number of alternatives were put together, changing hours, changing the fee rates. The preferred alternative from city staff looks like this:

  • $5 flat fee
  • Thurs 7pm to Fri 7am
  • Fri 7pm to Sun 7am

Note the weekend enforcement drops Sunday and goes from Friday night through Saturday until the early morning hours of Sunday. Saturday all-day hours seem to be the key capture time here and revenues from Sunday to Wednesday night are not that significant.

In addition, the decks would be color-coded to help in locating the deck that you parked in, (a common complaint by the way) reduced monthly spaces for downtown employees, and a special program with Marbles Museum for complimentary parking.

Here is a breakdown of some nearby cities and what they charge in downtown on nights and weekends.

Peer City Parking Rates

A $5 flat fee, when compared around the state/region, is not ridiculous by any means. Still, some feel that the fee would deter visitors and be yet another obstacle for retail in downtown to grow.

Personally, I welcome this $5 flat parking fee during our busiest nights and weekend days. I even think Sunday should be included. What I hope to see in exchange are spotless parking decks, well-designed wayfinding, new elevators, and top-notch customer service. (in-person and through technology) People are willing to pay if the experience is very positive.

I even think on-street metered parking should continue to run, that way parking in a deck is more attractive and removes congestion off the streets.

If the city won’t do it, we’re just making private parking decks and lots more likely to rise up. The conversation on this topic continues, at the city council, during their Nov 3 meeting.

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16 Comments

  1. First, why do they need to be staffed by an attendant? Long term, would it not be better to invest in an automatic system?

    Second, the city decks currently charge on nights and weekends during “special events” but it’s near impossible to keep up with all the “special events.” However, my main point is that when they do this, they only accept CASH. This is an insult to a city that like to think itself tech-foward. Square? PayPal Here? Sparkpay? No, that would make too much sense. The only good think is when you park in the deck early and get a paper ticket, then leave after they’ve switched to the “five buck special event” and the exit gates are already up.

    They city seems like it is tripping over itself with ineptitude on parking – study some automatic or tech-savy alternatives before yet another swing-and-a-miss.

  2. As far as I am aware, ALL city decks allow credit card and have machines. This said, we’ve all been behind the one moron who can’t seem to understand how to insert a credit card, etc. so I’m guessing this is why an attendant is needed.

    the privately owned decks are the ones that oftentimes take cash only and I have a sneaky suspicion as to why……..ease of avoiding tax liability when you don’t have credit card receipts. The city should require all private lots and decks to accept credit cards.

  3. I wonder if they’ve explored any validation scenarios. For example, if you park at a city deck and get your slip validated at a local business, the business pays the city $3.50 and the cost to the user is “free”. The city still gets some money and the businesses still get their “free” parking. However, some people for whatever reason wouldn’t get a validation so they would still pay the $5. I can also see business only validating after a tab is paid, or even having a minimum tab for validation, which could keep abuse down and only have the business pay for actual customers.

  4. As the city grows and the supply/demand equation changes for parking, the city will need to re-evaluate all sorts of policies including how they want to manage and support the number of cars coming into the city center. It would seem to me that, as the DT residents grow in numbers, the impact of those traveling into the core of the city changes. That is to say that the city has less dependency on those who drive and more dependency on those who walk or take RLine to local establishments. This doesn’t mean that those drivers no longer matter but that they matter differently going forward than they did five or ten years ago.
    I suspect that any final resolution of this issue will in fact not be final. How we manage, encourage & discourage car use will continue to be a topic as the context changes.

  5. The city should definitely explore automated options but attendants do provide the added benefit of being available to provide information and a sense of security. Instead of a flat fee, I think a tiered system would be more appealing (first hour free, 1-2 $2, 2+ 5).

  6. I think it is idiotic to charge everyone to come downtown because some people (apparently?) don’t like there being vomit and pee in them. Guess what, it’s a free parking deck, not your living room. I’d much rather park in the deck for free than pay $5 every time to have it be slightly cleaner. We can’t even get decent retail or a grocery store downtown, and we’re already trying to push people to Cameron Village and North Hills? Sorry, this idea should’ve been shot down when it got to Council.

  7. @CX, I like your idea about a graduated system. However, I doubt that they’d go for a free hour. Nonetheless, a free half hour could probably be negotiated followed by $2 up to 2 hours as you suggest and a flat fee afterward.
    @Jeff, while parking might be free to consumers after hours and on (some) weekends, it’s not a free resource. It comes with costs to the city and it’s reasonable for them to consider the construction, operational and maintenance costs when making decisions in the context of the city budget. Also, the city has a brand identity to consider and a dumpy parking garage full of dog shit and vomit for the sake of free parking is probably not the sort of image that the city wants to portray as they entice more business and residents to live downtown and pay the inevitably higher costs/rents and taxes per s.f. that come with those decisions.

  8. Ernest, I support what they are trying to do with Standard Foods, but that will not satisfy the demand for a regular grocery store. I visited it, and it’s very cool. But realistically, most people aren’t going to be living off of head cheese, $3 cabbage, and heirloom lavender. It’s more of a specialty food store than a true, mass-appeal grocery.

  9. Ok, well here’s a small example. I go to Arrow Haircuts, typically in Cameron Village because it’s closer and there’s free parking. Sometimes I visit the downtown one just to support it, or because my favorite barber is there. If I have to pay $5 extra for every haircut there, I’ll just go to Cameron Village. It’s this kind of situation where I feel like we need to consider the businesses downtown, many of whom have also just been hit with sidewalk restrictions as well.

  10. Efficient cities should be setup for the least amount of traveling as possible. Think on a hyper-local level. Urban clusters at Cameron Village, Five Points, North Hills, Hillsborough St, New Bern Ave, etc. Each should have all the necessary amenities for those neighborhoods to reach by walking/biking or short car trips. If you have to drive and are traveling to a location where land is scarce and at a premium then you should expect to pay for the privilege to store thousands of pounds of metal there. Basically parking is not a right.

  11. @Jeff, I fully understand your scenario and I refer you back to an earlier comment of mine. In the past, DT businesses almost exclusively relied on patrons who drove there after work hours and on weekends because, frankly, there wasn’t much housing in the very core of the city or in its districts.
    It was in the city’s best interest to enable car parking so that businesses could operate and survive. Even then, it was difficult to make it downtown save for a few bars and nightclubs.
    Now that there are many more residents downtown, this does two things. 1.) DT now has a base of residents to patronize existing and new businesses and 2.) That base of residents entices others to come DT to patronize the growing base of businesses.
    Do patrons who drive still matter? Of course they do. However, like I said earlier, they matter differently than they did in the past. For its part, the city has less of a need to subsidize the businesses by providing free (Tax payer provided) parking for their customers. Is $5 the right fee? Who knows? Might it be too high? Quite possibly. Time will tell. I highly suspect that this is going to be an ongoing discussion between the business community and the city for the next year to come. If business drops off particularly during weeknights due to the cost of parking, I think you’ll see those fees come down or rolled back. I doubt that charging for parking will stop the weekend crowd at all. However, if business is not affected by the parking charges, the fees will likely remain despite any public outcry.
    Some possible unintended good and bad consequences beyond the one that Jeff outlines might be:
    1.) DT adjacent neighborhoods being inundated with more traffic on nights and weekends as visitors seek free neighborhood parking (this would likely end up resulting in neighborhood zone parking)
    2.) Increased ridership of the RLine for DT residents moving from DT district to DT district. Eventually, this might result in a small fee for the RLine if it becomes overwhelmed. This fee would probably take several years to happen.
    3.) More walking by DT residents (which might result in more business since there would be more sidewalk activity)
    4.) Less drunk driving as more people decide the gap between the price of parking and two uber trips from nearby not being worth the risk of driving after a few beers.
    5.) A bike share program and more bike infrastructure to support intra-DT district commuting. (I hope!!!)

  12. That’s fine. I still park on the street for free and walk an extra 20 feet but I can totally see how that’d be hard for most people.

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