Coin-fed meters and hand-placed tickets have been the basis of downtown Lawrence parking for decades, but modern updates — including the potential for a smart system where spots can be reserved electronically — are on their way. The updates are part of a plan to solve longstanding parking problems throughout the city.
“One of the issues is simply technology,” said Brandon McGuire, assistant to the city manager. “The metering system is in large part the same system that was in place 60-70 years ago.”
Changes to downtown parking and other high-density areas will be part of the city’s first comprehensive parking plan. At its most recent meeting, the City Commission voted to make a request for proposals to create a plan for the operation and development of the parking system downtown, in east Lawrence and neighborhoods adjacent to the University of Kansas.
Mayor Mike Amyx said the problems created by the city’s lack of a comprehensive plan are evident, and that development in those areas have increased the demand for parking.
“I think it’s fairly apparent that problems exist because the streets are full of parked cars,” Amyx said. “On one hand, it’s a good problem to have because there are a lot of people in and around our downtown, but obviously it puts a lot of pressure elsewhere for parking, especially during big event times.”
As part of the strategic plan, consultants will do a three-step process: conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the existing parking system, facilitate forums for stakeholder input, and develop a strategic plan document for management of the system.
“I think it’s wise to take a moment and really look at the strengths and weaknesses of our parking system and get recommendation on how we can make it better — have somebody from the outside look in and just really give us a comprehensive look at it,” Amyx said.
Accounting for development
Increasing development will likely be a big part of the parking analysis. Downtown, East Lawrence and KU neighborhoods have all gained hundreds of additional residents as multiple large-scale apartment complexes have been built in recent years. Part of the strategic planning will mean adopting clear parking policies when it comes to new developments, McGuire said.
“There has been lots of infill development, which is a great thing, but it does have an impact on the public parking system and also the private parking system,” McGuire said. “That’s really where one of the big policy discussions will happen for the City Commission.”
The city's current zoning law doesn't require downtown businesses or apartment projects to provide any off-street parking. All developments, both new and existing, can legally rely solely on public parking spaces throughout downtown.
As far as parking issues in neighborhoods, one possibility that has come up is a residential parking permit. McGuire said such a permit will be one of the considerations, and that input from stakeholders such as residents, developers and KU will all be part of that discussion.
“I’m not exactly sure what that would look like — we want to let the data and the stakeholder feedback drive those considerations,” McGuire said.
McGuire said looking at technology is going to be a central part of the study, and possibilities will go beyond additional electronic payment stations, which allow patrons to pay with credit cards. Currently, the only places where downtown parkers can pay via credit card at electronic payment stations in the Vermont and New Hampshire street parking garages.
“So looking at technology is going to definitely be one of the central points of the study,” McGuire said.
Additional options could be the incorporation of online, app-based or automated ways to reserve parking. Hundreds of cities use electronic reservation systems across the county, including Minneapolis, Denver and Cincinnati. Traditional parking is still an option, but patrons can also reserve spots for specific time periods via online platforms, smartphone apps or an automated phone system.
Amyx said the study would help commissioners decide what kinds of technology would work in Lawrence.
“It’s brand new to me and brand new to our community,” Amyx said. “It’s something that before I make a commitment, I’m going to have to have a real understanding of what that part of the program entails. I’ll look at that pretty close, and I’m willing to bring all things forward.”
Throughout the process, there will be chances for community members to provide feedback on the parking plan, including facilitated forums.
“I think the opportunity here as we go through this is there’s going to a be a lot of stakeholder engagement, and I think that’s important,” Amyx said. “It’s all kinds of people that will be involved in that.”
For both downtown and neighborhoods, the proposal states the primary goals are to make parking more efficient and effective, but also ensure equity. McGuire explained that the equity consideration will mean looking at how policies and prices will affect residents, as well as downtown employees and patrons.
Once the plan is complete, it will be part of a City Commission work session, during which time feedback can be given as part of the public comment portion of the session.
McGuire said the city staff hopes to recommend a parking consultant to the City Commission sometime next month, and that the final comprehensive plan will be complete by summer, in order to be included in the 2018 budget process.