• Ongoing coronavirus / COVID-19 discussion: how is the pandemic affecting your community, workplace, and wellness? 🦠

    Working from home? So are we. Come join us! Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, planning adjacent topics, and whatever else comes to mind. No ads, no spam, no social distancing.

Planning: general Could my small town use a parking authority?


My small, rural town of 10k is getting ready for some MASSIVE changes and revitalization downtown, and with all the expected changes, the conversation about feasibility and execution often comes back to parking.

Existing conditions are that we have well over 1k parking spaces downtown, but a good portion of the residents (probably around half) believe there's not enough parking available. This is objectively and obviously false (which we will soon prove in a parking study), but the perception remains. The city manager likes to tell the story of how the city fought the state DOT over the removal of 8 parking spaces, including appeals to the state legislature and nearly $100k in legal fees. Parking is a touchy topic.

A main part of the revitalization is filling unused upper stories of our historic buildings with residential units. A lot of our stakeholders think the next biggest question is, 'where will they park?'

Well, I would estimate that any given weekday, a maximum of 60% of our parking downtown fills up between the hours of 8 and 2. (Yes, just 8 to 2.) My inclination is that all the extra capacity during the day and the near-empty parking at night will easily serve the residential units sufficiently. Part of the problem, though, is that parking is under the control of countless different owners, most of whom have now idea what the value of their spaces is or how to best utilize them. Most spaces are reserved 24/7 for a single use.

What if our town had a parking authority that owned or controlled most of the parking downtown? I imagine that owners would either sell their land to the authority or pay a service fee for the authority to manage the parking. The authority could then lease the vast majority of parking downtown to the appropriate users: metered parking on streets, and off-street spaces leased mainly to business during the day and mainly to residential permits overnight. Owners that pay a service fee to the authority would get a cut of the revenue. Obviously signage on individual spaces and/or lots would be needed, and wayfinding so people know where to find the space they're looking for.

There are a lot of different ways to alter that model, this is just a concept in the mind of one who's never had experience in parking authorities at all. What are your thoughts? (And I'd rather get past 'the public will never accept it' type comments - I'm looking to craft the best proposal possible and just present it as an option. We're not going to just stand in front of the public tomorrow and declare a new order, I just need ideas and critique.)
You say this is a "small, rural town of 10k". You also say that there's a City Manager. I have a few questions on the structure of government--specifically, the planning department:
  • Is the CM the manager of the small, rural town?
    • If not, then how does the CM fit into the equation?​
    • If yes, then does the CM have any responsibilities other than managing the small, rural town?​
  • Do you report to the CM?
    • If not, to whom do you report?​
  • Are you directly in charge of figuring out how to get more parking spaces for the downtown or for the increased number of residential units?
    • If you are not directly in charge of this, then what is your role in it?​
  • Is there a mayor and/or any other elected official(s) who have input into the parking situation?
  • Is there a board of commissioners that has input into the parking situation?

One preliminary observation:
Existing conditions are that we have well over 1k parking spaces downtown, but a good portion of the residents (probably around half) believe there's not enough parking available. This is objectively and obviously false (which we will soon prove in a parking study), but the perception remains.
From reading the rest of your description, I reckon that even when your parking study disproves the residents' beliefs about the parking situation, the residents will hold onto their beliefs.

In fact, even if you were to create 50% more parking spaces--managed by a new, expertly-run parking commission--I'd bet that a good portion of the residents would still insist that there's not enough parking.

The planners on this website are top-notch, and if you stick by, you'll be amazed at some of the ideas they'll give you. Also, after you make 5 posts on this site, you will get private message (PM) capabilties, which are very helpful.

One last thing: The Friday Afternoon Club has almost every non-planning topic imaginable, and is not just for Friday afternoon times. Welcome to Cyburbia.


If you haven't done it already, a shared parking model study will show things like hours of operation for uses and parking capacity, but my experience says the public won't buy it. Like estromberg said, if I have to walk more than 100' there isn't enough parking. You don't get a lot of the opinions to change until you get enough population where you can get away with ideas like not everyone needs a car. I can also see problems of the public hating what they might consider a heavy handed government solution. Does your downtown have parking meters now? It's a hard sell. I would see if there is a way local business owners can set up their own parking authority through the chamber of commerce or something like that. If it's done more organically the public is more accepting. Maybe parking on main street is reserved for businesses and parking around the side and back is shared? Maybe the new renters can pay a premium to have or share a parking space?


Going through this as well (& have been for many many years). We hear the cries of 'there's not enough parking" when there is ample parking. It's really more of there's not enough parking in front of my store/restaurant because my customer can't park in front of my store and has to walk. One problem is the store owners park in front of their own store, taking away valuable customer parking.

We have created 2 separate 26-space parking lots one block off the Square with no time restrictions or meters to alleviate the problem. Guess what, No Dice! Both of those lots have open parking spaces during the 10-2 run, which is the busiest time when many on-street parking is used. We showed them aerials photographs of own downtown compared to WalMart and measured that if you get lucky to get to park in the second space in any aisle and get a gallon of milk at WalMart, you need to walk further than from the new parking lot the city created to the Square. What was their complaint? You couldn't see the door so it seems further.

We have done parking studies at various times of day, including the peak lunch time, & there are always available parking. One guy graveled the lot next to his restaurant "for safety" and people park there. It was not an approved land use and he contends "its not a parking lot, but people use it so what can I do" attitude.

The funny thing about all this is our city has a community theatre on the Square that has 3 parking spaces on-site. But you know what, whenever there's a play, people find a place to park and walk a block or more to see the play...& no complaints.

This is an no-win solution. You can not convince people that this is only a perceived problem versus a real problem. Good Luck!


I would interpret the statement from the CM as a way of saying expectations on this subject need to remain low, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Although, I'm assuming here the city fought the state DOT because the city wanted to keep those 8 spaces, yes?? Just checking here since the local politics in a lot of places could work the other way.

Whenever a subject is sensitive to the public, language matters and just about anything stated can be taken out of context. I agree with the other comments here in the vein that if you are the sole voice on this issue of 'there's too much parking downtown', you will inevitably get crowded out by all of the voices saying there isn't enough. Anything you can do to avoid having a conversation about "eliminating parking" even if there is too much parking (or even if you're not actually suggesting to eliminate parking) will work against you. I would think you will instead have to keep the conversation focused on "revitalizing downtown." What is the context of the revitalization? Are most people happy and excited about it, or are they upset and divided? Is the revitalization the result of the town executing an economic development strategy, or is it more good luck than anything? Are there other improvements planned for downtown, like wide sidewalks with street trees and furniture? Some of those questions may help inform how realistic it is to steer the revitalization conversation towards whether or not an overabundance of free parking is actually inhibiting any revitalization related goals.

I would think that to the degree parking will become more of a scarcity, yes having any sort of authority that is tasked with managing the availability of parking in a more centralized fashion rather than leaving it up to individual property owners makes sense. However, I could see others arguing that mandating additional parking for any new development is going to be a more effective way to reduce the costs for the general public. I'm curious why you think the owners downtown will be open to selling a portion of their land to the authority or pay a fee for it to be managed? I would think, if your business owners downtown also believe there is not enough parking, they will be unwilling to do either option since it implies a disincentive for customers to park in front of their establishments. Is there any on-street parking or other public parking available in your downtown currently? It may make things far simpler to just have the focus remain on a strategy for the public parking either in the ROW or publicly owned property (meters, time limits, etc., anything other than just "more") and let the private owners do whatever they want with their land assuming it meets code (hopefully if there are any minimum parking requirements they are not too onerus, but that is a different conversation). If the revitalizion is successful, the property owners may sort it out themselves by finding a higher and better use for their land based on changes in the market.

One way or another, the conversation on whether to establish a parking authority (or any other version of an agency controlling parking even if it is the local government) will have to convince enough people that fewer parking spaces per person downtown is OK, and to the degree it also means more restaurants, businesses, housing, etc. etc. it is actually a good thing. How specific will that parking study be? Will it show in excruciating detail just how much parking is available at all kinds of locations and hours of the day? There may need to be some truly over the top hand-holding in order to get enough people on board.