Editorial: Planning for parking

The city should focus on updates to existing parking and incentives for smart growth in the future.

It’s good that the city of Lawrence is taking input as it looks to develop a 10-year parking plan for the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.

But as city officials collect data from a survey on downtown parking, it’s important to remember that perceptions of downtown parking issues sometimes belie reality. More often than not, there is adequate parking within a reasonable walking distance to meet residents’ and visitors’ needs. That said, modernizing spaces that already exist, incentivizing future development to add new parking to accommodate for growth, and maximizing the use of existing city assets in the downtown area should all be priorities in the city’s 10-year plan.

Through March 28, the city is conducting an online survey via Lawrence Listens about parking. The survey is comprehensive and focuses on a dozen downtown neighborhoods including East Lawrence, Old West Lawrence and the Oread Neighborhood.

The sample size is small so far, but preliminary results show residents are largely satisfied with current options for parking downtown and in their downtown neighborhoods. A majority of survey respondents indicated the meter rates and parking times are reasonable. A significant number indicated they would be willing to pay more for an improved experience that makes parking easier to find, use and pay for.

An improved experience means more modern parking options, such as meters that accept credit cards and mobile phone apps that allow residents to make parking payments, identify open spaces and see parking options before heading downtown.

A strategy the city can address is to better promote existing parking assets within walking distance of downtown. Also, the use of remote lots with shuttles during peak times should be a part of any long-term plan.

Ultimately, one of the key components of any 10-year parking plan is how to appropriately and equitably incentivize new downtown development to add off-street parking, including underground parking garages. New development is the most practical way to fund such parking, but it’s clear developers want tax incentives to offset the cost. The cost of a parking garage can be the difference between whether a project moves forward or not.

Lawrence’s parking problems are minor, especially when compared to other cities with popular downtown shopping, entertainment and residential districts. The city’s 10-year parking plan is a smart way to make sure parking doesn’t become a bigger problem.