The days of searching through pockets and checking under the seat for quarters, dimes and nickels to feed the meter may soon be over in Downtown Stockton. At a public meeting Tuesday evening hosted by the City of Stockton’s Economic Development Department, representatives from two design consulting firms presented their initial ideas for what will eventually be a new downtown parking management strategy and sought public feedback.
Dennis Burns of Kimley-Horn Associates and Vanessa Solesbee with The Solesbee Group talked about a potential “paradigm shift” coming to downtown’s current parking strategy.
Developing a new downtown parking management plan is part of the city’s bankruptcy refinancing deal. It is believed that the city could be doing more to manage the cost of current debt associated with construction and maintenance of downtown parking structures.
Previously, the city released a study in 2007 calling for an increase in surface parking lots to meet projected parking demand increases. The increases were based on various slated construction projects, including the new County Administrative Offices and courthouse, and the belief that Stockton’s economic growth was rapidly outpacing the current downtown parking supply.
However, the study never materialized into action as Stockton quickly slipped into insolvency and tackled consequences of the national recession. Seven years later, at Tuesday’s meeting, it appeared that the 2007 plan’s recommendation of additional surface parking lots was being set aside for fresh ideas.
“We’re wanting to take a different approach,” said Burns. “Parking is the front door to hundreds of businesses. It’s the first and last impression you get of a downtown. It comes down to creating an experience.”
The duo spent much of the day touring the city, gleaning what they could from initial impressions. According to Burns, historic preservation, event venues and underutilized public spaces topped the list.
“I really think you’ve got a beautiful city,” he said.
Parking, however, was another matter. Both presenters described the current coin meters gracing many downtown streets as “archaic” and discussed the merits of implementing more modern meters with improved user interfaces and “enhanced customer friendliness” with features such as payments with credit cards.
The concept of demand-price parking – a strategy where more congested blocks’ meter prices are set higher than emptier blocks’ to control the supply and demand chain – was discussed after members of the public expressed concern over meter locations being placed in low-occupancy areas.
Other public concerns included a lack of bicycle and shared-car (such as Zipcar) parking facilities and the overwhelming dominance of many current downtown parking structures. Burns and Solesbee took notes on the public’s recommendations and added that they would be talking to local businesses and other stakeholders over the next few days to develop a comprehensive needs assessment.
“My ultimate vision for the future would be a true integrated parking program, one where we’re not focusing on single-occupancy vehicles or single-use parking facilities. There’s a consensus now that we’ve overbuilt parking,” said Burns. “Parking was very utilitarian, everything was a dull gray but now there’ve been many technological advancements. It’s much more multi-dimensional, more integrated.”
A draft presentation of the new downtown parking management strategy will be released in the first week of April for public review and comment.