With all the talk of new retail, office space and even new residential properties in downtown Kent we realized that we had to revisit the parking issue so last week an expert parking consultant began counting spaces and cars to get a baseline of what is, or isn’t available downtown. Parking has proven to be one of those in the eye of the beholder issues with opinions expressed in very strong language from both sides of the fence. There are those that will pound their fists on the table saying we need more parking downtown but likewise there are those that say we’ve got plenty of parking it just requires a willingness to take a short walk. Rather than pick a side and get in the middle of this argument unarmed we’ve hired a firm that specializes in quantifying parking needs and developing strategies that balance the competing interests shouting for more or less parking.
The parking data will be instrumental in our effort to make sure the new redevelopments have what they need to support more retail, office and residential space. But more importantly this data will be part of our larger effort to make sure we are thoughtful in our planning which means our goal is to be sure the new stuff works well with the existing downtown business needs.
We hope to accomplish that by bringing in an urban planning expert to work with a team of Kent businesses, property owners and city staff to develop a master redevelopment strategy that takes everything into consideration, including parking. We’re having final interviews for the urban planning firms this week so we should be able to get started in June. As that project moves forward I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
In the meantime, here was a very interesting article about the relationship between vibrant downtowns and on-street parking. We all know that for some unknown sociological reason, consumers are fine parking in garages and walking long distances through a mall to get to their stores but when it comes to downtown shopping consumers want on-street parking very close to where they want to shop. The report points out that ironically on-street parking is a critical part of creating a pedestrian friendly atmosphere which is what vibrant downtowns are all about.
Here’s the article:
What Street Parking Can Do For DowntownsBy NORMAN W. GARRICK AND WESLEY MARSHALL
May 18, 2008
As in other parts of the country, Connecticut towns and cities are struggling to revitalize their downtowns. Some of the planning and design decisions made in the 1950s and 1960s make this goal more difficult. One such decision is the elimination of street parking from many of our town centers.
Although this practice of not accommodating street parking is now routine, there has been little research done to assess its impact on urban centers. However, a growing number of urban planners have pointed out that centers that have retained street parking, along with other compatible features of pre-1950s town centers, are some of the most successful downtowns in the country.
In order to address this dichotomy between conventional practice and emerging urban theory, we at the University of Connecticut designed two studies of on-street parking and its impact on downtowns. One was based upon case studies of six New England town centers (West Hartford; Northampton, Mass.; Brattleboro, Vt.; Avon Center; Glastonbury Center and Somerset Square in Glastonbury). In the second study, we investigated how street design affected vehicle speeds and safety, based on a study of more than 250 Connecticut roads.
What we found through these studies was that on-street parking plays a crucial role in benefiting activity centers on numerous levels. Here are some of the main benefits.
• Higher efficiency: Users of the downtowns consistently selected on-street parking spaces over off-street surface lots and garage parking. The on-street spaces experienced the most use and the highest turnover.
• Better land use: Using the curbside for parking saves considerable amounts of land from life as an off-street surface parking lot. Medium-sized town centers can save an average of more than two acres of land by providing street parking. This efficiency can allow for much higher-density commercial development than is possible if the center relies solely on off-street surface lots.
• Increased safety: We showed conclusively that drivers tended to travel at significantly slower speeds in the presence of features such as on-street parking and small building setbacks. Slower vehicle speeds provide pedestrians, cyclists and drivers more time to react, and when a crash does occur, the chance of it being life-threatening is greatly reduced. In short, on-street parking can help to create a safer environment.
• Better pedestrian environment: Our study results showed that centers with on-street parking and other compatible characteristics such as generous sidewalks, mixed land uses, and higher densities recorded more than five times the number of pedestrians walking in these areas compared with the control sites, which lack these traits.
Nearly every town in the state has the street space available that could be used for on-street parking. Town leaders should consider it. Our results suggest that on-street parking is a tool that can help create a vibrant and safe town center environment.
Norman W. Garrick is an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Transportation and Urban Planning at the University of Connecticut. Wesley Marshall is a doctoral candidate in transportation engineering and urban planning at UConn.
Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant