Stakeholders: These initiatives need to happen to improve downtown Austin parking

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Over the next year or two, the city of Austin and the Downtown Austin Alliance will implement 10 initiatives the entities hope will be the first steps toward improving parking in the city’s urban core.

The initiatives, which DAA President and CEO Dewitt “De” Peart said will start almost immediately, include initiating conversations about a shared parking program with public and private entities, as well as restructuring the parking fees to be based on demand.

The impending actions are part of a nearly yearlong study that relies on invested stakeholders to ensure the study doesn’t sit on a shelf and become neglected, said Peart, whose DAA organization represents downtown property owners, businesses and other stakeholders.

“I think we’re getting to a point now where there is enough pain and aggravation and frustration that people are going to want to see this work,” he said.

The study—conducted by consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard—found about 30,000 of the downtown area’s estimated 71,504 parking spaces are unused during peak periods because they are either inaccessible or too far from drivers’ desired locations. About 30 percent of the congestion is caused by drivers searching for the least expensive parking, and parking rates are inconsistent, Nelson/Nygaard found.

The first step to reducing the parking congestion, according to Peart, is to form a Parking Action Team made up of stakeholders such as city officials, the DAA, the Austin Transportation Department, Movability Austin and Capital Metro.

This group, which Peart said will be formed within a month, will be responsible for making sure the first 10 strategies developed by the consulting firm are executed.

“Something that we hear over and over again from across the community is, there are things that need to be done immediately,” Peart said. “That’s what’s driving this implementation portion of the plan, which is probably the most critical element to whether or not this whole effort is going be a success or not.”

Initiating shared parking partnerships is next. Stakeholders will meet with public and private partners and talk about what a shared parking structure looks and feels like. A pilot program with 1-2 parking facilities will follow.

Other initiatives the group hopes to complete within two years are:

  • Expanding the affordable parking program, which gives discounted parking to hourly, shift or low-income employees downtown;
  • Modifying the pay structure to make parking prices based on demand
  • Increasing citation rates and create more enforcement to deter more illegal parking
  • Installing real-time availability signage at all downtown public parking facilities to show how many spots are available
  • Starting discussions with Capital Metro about the possibility of a downtown shuttle service that would circulate the area or become a park-and-ride shuttle.
  • Ensuring items such as requirements and incentives for shared parking, as well as more flexibility for downtown development approval, are reflected in CodeNEXT, the city’s land development code rewrite

Some of the initiatives depend on Austin City Council approval before becoming policy changes, such as the proposal to create a pay structure based on parking demand.

Separate from Nelson/Nygaard’s recommendations, City Council last week approved extending on-street downtown metered parking on Wednesday nights from 6 p.m. to midnight. This will go into effect gradually over the summer, according to the Austin Transportation Department.

The DAA will present the findings, recommendations and action plan to the Austin Mobility Committee on Wednesday.

Peart said there hasn’t been any cost analysis for implementation. Some of the initiatives—such as forming the Parking Action Team, holding conservations with garage facility owners and modifying language in the land development code—will cost nothing.

Costs to add wayfinding signs have already been covered by a city bond passed several years ago, and revenue from parking meters can also be reinvested into the parking initiatives, Peart said.

“We need to look at what’s achievable with precious resources,” he said.

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Marie Albiges

Marie Albiges is the new editor for the San Marcos, Buda and Kyle edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covers San Marcos City Council, San Marcos CISD and Hays County Commissioners Court. Marie previously reported for the Central Austin edition. Marie moved to Austin from Williamsburg, Va. in 2016 and was born in France.

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