Downtown’s Parking Problem and Opportunity

The top floor of the Red Hat parking day on a typical Friday afternoon.

The top floor of the Red Hat parking day on a typical Friday afternoon.

A month or two ago, thousands of visitors descended on downtown Raleigh for a convention at the Raleigh Convention Center. Some may have been in hotels nearby but most were driving into town and were looking for parking. The decks underneath the Marriott hotel and city plaza were open and cars filled them as usual.

The problem? No one, or no technology, was there that day to tell those visitors that those areas were for monthly pass holders held by office tenants nearby.

This breakdown in the system that day caused delays and frustrations by office workers. I saw this in my officemates that drove (I happened to walk in that day) and showed up stressed because unlike a typical day, the parking decks were slammed.

It didn’t help that the convention kicked off with a 7 am breakfast that hundreds (thousands?) showed up for, beating the office workers in that day.

This is one example of many showing that our parking supply is reaching a maximum and headaches like this give downtown a negative image to a certain degree.

It’s being worked on though. The feedback is loud and clear.

Parking in downtown is not as easy as parking in the suburbs.

There’s part “duh” to that statement, said by a lot of downtown businesses and office tenants. Some people don’t mind but it helps when their company is large and commands hundreds of dedicated spaces for themselves, whether they use it or not. (see above photo)

I’ve met folks who don’t come to downtown because they hate the parking experience. I’ve also heard of downtown businesses who don’t consider opening in downtown because of the parking experience. Yet, the amount of downtown residents, businesses, and retail has been going up so something is working.

What we may be facing soon is the large build-out of parking decks in the 1990s and 2000s has now reached near capacity. I’m starting to think that the decks along Wilmington Street (City Center deck, Moore Square Station Deck, etc) were actually a major asset in recruiting business and fueling the revitalization of the 2000s and 2010s.

What I LOVE about Raleigh is that we are at least asking the question, “Is this the downtown Raleigh that we want to keep building?”

I feel that the city is 100% acknowledging that structured parking is expensive. In my opinion, I feel the city should be a partner in downtown parking management rather than being in the business of it.

Lots of privately-built parking at The Dillon.

Lots of privately-built parking at The Dillon.

For example, the city is leasing spaces in the 1,000+ space deck at The Dillon in order to support the upcoming Raleigh Union Station. Rather than build it themselves, we have a public-private partnership to help spread out the cost and leave the city flexible in the future.

Instead of the city building more parking decks, offering alternatives to get in and out of downtown must be explored.

When it comes to bike accessibility, more bike lanes have been placed over the past few years. This summer, we should see Raleigh bikeshare up and running. Bike corrals have been popping up. We’re also experimenting with cycle tracks.

Frequent mass transit is the eventual goal to take pressure off the parking problems in downtown Raleigh. With the 10-year transit plan only really starting in 2017, we’ve got a long way to go.

So how do you implement short-term solutions until bus-rapid transit, frequent buses, and a commuter-rail line are running in 2027?

The TBJ (subscription required) published an article about this very thing. The headaches caused by a thin supply of parking are forcing those behind-the-scenes to come up with new ideas.

Everything from reducing parking space sizes to paying businesses for unused spaces is being considered.

I’m going to pick on Red Hat, their parking deck is shown in my photo at the top, but the same applies to other companies in downtown Raleigh as well. I can easily guess that the fine folks there tend to work remote on Fridays as seen from their lack of cars in their deck every Friday.

It gets me thinking that one big short-term solution is not exactly to tackle the raw parking supply issue but rather the parking supply USE issue.

We have to start dropping the mentally that spaces are for a specific company or use. Spaces are for cars to sit in. What the person then does afterward doesn’t matter.

I’m not sure what that might look like but when you take into consideration that structured parking costs around $20,000 per space, you can see real savings here spending money on innovative solutions rather than doing the same old same old.

I think this will be important to follow and I’m hoping that we can get it right. A mishandling of this issue may slow downtown development momentum as transit is coming but still a ways out.

Raleigh’s Parking Requirements

Top of the City Center Parking Deck

The video below was posted this summer from Vox. They explore a topic of mine that’s one of my favorites; parking requirements set by cities. If you can’t see the embedded video, click here.

One part of the video shows the various parking rules based on the type of development such as number of spots for a public pool or library. It got me thinking about what kind of rules Raleigh has for new developments. I went ahead and pulled it out of the UDO.

Parking Requirements from the Raleigh UDO.

Click for larger

It’s nice to see the bicycle parking requirements right next to the vehicle requirements. What isn’t nice is how little bicycle parking is required, especially on the residential side. Bicycles need a home too!

Nothing too crazy jumps out at me (except maybe parking itself having no parking requirements!) but if you believe the approach in the Vox video, the thinking of Dr. Shoup, then these few pages from our development ordinance play a huge factor in how the city is going to be built and how we will interact with it in the future.

Keep in mind there are ways to get reductions from these requirements when building near transit, which should reduce the amount of built parking as the county expands its transit infrastructure over the next ten years.

I also wanted to post this as a reference as I feel it may be important to look back to in the future.

[UPDATE 8-18: I’ve added the snippet from the UDO about parking requirements for downtown Raleigh]

Downtown’s Premier Smartphone App is Ready for Download

(If you can’t see the embedded video, click here.)

This week, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance has launched a smartphone app for Downtown Raleigh. It is ready for your consumption on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The app brings together a variety of features. In addition to listing downtown retail and restaurants, the app is helpful in navigation. The app is one of the best guides on parking and getting directions to and from destinations. It can also alert you about street closures.

This is fantastic to see in the wild and I hope it becomes a companion to all downtowners and visitors.

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.

Parking 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.

Park In Glenwood South Like a Pro


We hear it time and time again. “There’s no parking in downtown Raleigh.”

With so much technology around us, why aren’t we making this parking thing a lot simpler?

I worked with members of the Glenwood South Neighborhood Collaborative (GSNC) on a very helpful web app to guide visitors around parking in Glenwood South. There are actually a lot of spaces right off the main strip in the district that people are not taking advantage of. You can even use your phone to pay for your space.

We compiled all the info and are running it on the GSNC website so I encourage all readers to check it out.

Color Codes Coming to Downtown Parking Decks

Parking is one of those services where having no complaints are a good thing and no real praise happens. I’m not sure enough people rave about how great a parking experience at a place is. So in hopes of less complaints, the city is color coding the downtown decks.

How will they do this? By placing colored signs at the entrances of course. The tweet above shows the signs that will go out. Our parking administrator sums it up:

“We hope the new signs make it easier for Downtown visitors to find their way back to their vehicles,” said Gordon Dash, City of Raleigh parking administrator. “Some visitors have experienced an hour or longer delay before they could find their vehicle, because they didn’t remember the name of the parking deck in which they parked. Color-coding also will make it easier for City of Raleigh Police and the Downtown Raleigh Ambassadors provided by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance to help visitors find their vehicles.”

It seems we’ve done such a good job at making the decks hidden with facades that look like buildings that enough people are forgetting where they park.

You could look at this two ways. It’s simply a “problem we want to have” or parking management needs to be rethought.