Source: Carl Walker Inc./Community Impact Newspaper

After nearly six months of study, consulting firm Carl Walker Inc. presented the results of its downtown parking study to City Council during the June 9 council workshop.

“In the 2014-15 budget, the council approved a project to do a comprehensive study and conceptual design related to downtown parking and a downtown parking structure,” Georgetown Deputy City Manger Laurie Brewer said.

The study, which primarily examined parking downtown between Sixth and 10th streets, found that although there is available parking on the west side of downtown, during peak demand times parking is maxed out on the east side, said Andy Miller a senior project manager with Carl Walker Inc.

“My role as the urban planner is to look at how we might better manage what you have now to hopefully give you a little more time or at least to ease the pressure in terms of when you are able to get a parking structure project on line,” Miller said, adding the consulting firm will complete a second phase of the study that will identify possible sites for a parking structure. “What I often have to …  remind [people] is that parking is part of the overall transportation system.”

Carl Walker Inc. identified 1,709 parking spaces—1,069 off-street spaces and 640 on-street parking spaces—in the study area. Of those 1,069 off-street spaces, 610 spaces are owned by the city of Georgetown, 237 by Williamson County and 222 are in privately owned lots.

As part of the study, the consultants spent time observing parking on several occasions, including during the holiday season, on two weekdays in February, during the First Friday event in February and during the Red Poppy Festival in April.

During the parking study, consultants conducted an online survey of downtown business owners, employees and customers that received 561 completed surveys, Miller said. Along with the survey, consultants met with individuals one-on-one and held a public workshop in March.
Miller said he was surprised by the amount of people who responded to the survey.

“[Parking] is obviously an issue that people feel passionately about in Georgetown,” he said.

According to the survey, 63 percent of responders were visitors or customers in downtown, 29 percent lived, worked or owned a business or property in downtown, and 8 percent were classified as others.

Of those who identified as business owners 60 percent said they preferred on-street parking. Fifty-two percent of employees said they preferred to park on-street as well.

“Normally I’m surprised if we get a 20 or 30 percent response from business owners saying they park on the street. In this survey, 60 percent of the people who identified as business owners actually admitted that they park on-street as opposed to parking off-street or in a lot,” Miller said. “That was a finding that surprised me. It’s not something that we normally see.”

Occupancy patterns

Miller said that although on-street parking around the Square is the highest-demand area, the city’s lot at Fifth Street and Austin Avenue, which was outside of the core study area, is consistently underutilized.

On three occasions during the study, Miller said the lot’s capacity ranged from 31 percent to 53 percent. The lot primarily serves Tamiro Plaza and The Monument Café, he said.

The consultants also looked at parking turnover on the Square and found that 23.5 percent, or 50 spaces, had cars parked in them for more than four hours. However, Miller said the results may have been skewed after business owners and employees realized license plates were being surveyed for the study.

“Almost 25 percent of the parking on-street is being abused,” he said. “Early in the process the merchants were on to us. … I’m convinced that the results of our data are skewed. … I can’t prove it, but we’ve seen it.”

Consultants also noted that the parking garage at the Williamson County Justice Center was underutilized. The garage reopened in July 2014 after structure issues were repaired.

Lack of enforcement

Miller said an overwhelming number of people said that parking limits should be more enforced in downtown, especially during the day.
According to the parking survey responses, Miller said most people surveyed do not believe the parking limits are being enforced.

“Your parking enforcement situation is pretty much the Achilles’ heel of your current parking program,” Miller said, adding that enforcing free time-limited parking can be difficult and time-consuming, especially without using new parking enforcement technology. “One of our recommendations is to consider revising your fine amounts downward but be more dedicated [with enforcement].”

Georgetown’s parking policy uses a tiered system of graduated fines. Currently, violators receive a warning for a first offense and fines of $20, $50 and $100 for subsequent offenses.

In 2014 the city issued 175 tickets with $5,280 in fines collected.

“That is an extremely low number [of tickets],” he said.

As of May 2015 the city had issued 33 tickets and 131 warnings, Miller said.

Other recommendations

Miller made several short-term recommendations that he said could help alleviate parking concerns, including pedestrian improvements that would enhance safety for pedestrians walking to and from parking lots.

“It sounds like you are programing budget resources [for pedestrian improvements on Austin Avenue], which is great,” he said.
The study also recommends creating a public valet program on the Square for special events, better signage and labeling of public parking lots, marketing materials that include maps of parking lots, and creating a 15-minute pickup and drop-off parking space at key locations on all sides of the Square. Miller said he also recommends the city begin discussions with Bank of America to allow public parking after 5 p.m. in the bank’s lot.

Rachael Jonrowe, City Council member for District 6, which includes much of the downtown area, said the presentation was an eye-opener.
“I look forward to seeing how staff implements a lot of these ideas into our plan going forward,” she said.