Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members approved a three-year plan Friday to improve the city’s parking system and offer new programs to help with downtown employee and visitor parking.
The plan aims to implement several suggestions made by Nelson\Nygaard after the consulting firm recently completed a transportation demand management (TDM) study, which analyzed downtown parking needs and potential solutions. DDA CEO Jean Derenzy and Parking Administrator Nicole VanNess presented a proposal to DDA board members Friday to roll out key changes to the parking system over the next three years.
“It’s not just (about completing) the transportation study…but what does it say and how can we implement the goals and objectives there to get to the efficiency and opportunities for our parking system,” explained Derenzy, noting that addressing parking was identified as a “high priority” in both the DDA and city commission’s strategic plans. “As we grow as a city, parking will continually be an issue to encourage business development and growth within our downtown and our city area.”
Year one of the implementation plan calls for collecting data on vehicle counts and parking occupancy downtown through new license plate recognition technology, which DDA board members authorized staff to purchase in January. While VanNess acknowledged “there’s a big perception that there is no parking or that it’s very difficult,” she said obtaining accurate occupancy data would help the DDA understand if that was truly the case or if better education and outreach might help drivers know where and when parking is available. The occupancy data will also help drive parking system upgrades in years two and three, she said.
Also key in year one will be introducing a new program called the Downtowner, which will cover rides for downtown employees on Bay Area Transportation Authority’s (BATA’s) city and village loop routes. “The parking (system) would reimburse BATA for the rides essentially,” VanNess said. “Rather than providing a cheaper permit or bringing that (parking) demand downtown, we’re offering an incentive to perhaps choose a different option and then also not have to worry about the parking.”
While the free rides might not work for all employees – such as those working late nights – VanNess said recent occupancy data collected manually by staff shows the “core pinch is really during the daytime” when buses are running. BATA is also planning to roll out a high-frequency express loop through downtown called the Bay Line in June that could offer free rides, with DDA board members agreeing Friday to contribute $5,000 in sponsorship funds toward the loop.
Other action steps for year one include the DDA partnering with private property owners to add three new lots for permit and evening parking. “There are many private parking lots that are primarily used for traditional workday employee parking,” according to Derenzy. “By partnering with the private property owners, we can offer additional permit and evening parking to increase efficient use of the lots while redistributing demand for those visiting downtown in the evening hours and on weekends.” DDA staff in year one will also begin exploring the possibility of introducing a public or private valet service downtown, which could locate valet kiosks in high-demand blocks and “give parkers the option to have their car parked, allowing for a more walkable experience,” Derenzy said.
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