Yes, you read that right. There are usually 2,000 (or more!) parking spaces empty at all times in downtown Carrboro. But we don’t have a way to allow private businesses to partner seamlessly with each other and the town to make these spaces available to the public in a way that balances individual lot owner goals and overall access goals for the downtown, so these spaces go unused when they could be more full.
Until we figure out how to address this untapped parking capacity for the benefit of business owners, the Town, and residents, there is absolutely no reason to build another parking space with public money in downtown Carrboro. It represents a massive opportunity “hiding” in plain sight.
In February, the consulting firm hired by the town to conduct the parking study, VHB, reported the following:
- The Town of Carrboro owns 359 public parking spaces in 3 lots
- The Town of Carrboro leases 356 public parking spaces in 5 lots
- Private Property owners control 3,333 private parking spaces in 145 lots
- Total Downtown Parking = 4,048 parking spaces
- Carrboro’s parking supply is 82% private spaces and 18% public spaces
Lunch Time is Crunch Time
VHB conducted parking counts and determined that peak usage for parking lots overall occurred between 11 am and 1 pm.
As you can see, the public parking spaces (the combined blue and red area) are more uniformly full, while the private spaces vary greatly. It’s also worth noting that the town leases or owns 715 parking spaces in total, and these counts never get above 500. So our public parking system still has capacity at all times of day.
This second chart by VHB shows how much capacity is available in terms of public, leased, and private spaces.
Parking Availability Varies by Block and By Lot
VHB put together two helpful maps showing parking occupancy by block and by lot. Here it is by block, with publicly owner or leased facilities emphasized. For example, the dark green rectangle to the right of the letters 300 E Main is the parking deck by Hickory Tavern/Hampton Inn. It’s clear that parking, while still having capacity, is most scarce (up to 85% full) in the Carr Mill Mall section in the middle.
When you break parking availability down by lot, you see much wider variation in how full the lots are.
Still, three of the public lots, including those on Laurel and West Weaver St near PNC Bank, are close to half empty or have greater than 50% of their spaces available. Even the large lot just south of Open Eye Cafe shows at least 30% vacancy at lunch time. The small lots by Friendly Barber are tapped out, as is the lot by Carrburritos and Bowbarr on Rosemary. The parking deck also shows at least 30% vacancy.
What The Green Means – Opportunity
But look closely at the green lot in the middle towards the bottom, just a little bit below the “W” in the “E Weaver St” text. I’ve circled that lot in PURPLE. (click the image to make it bigger)
This is the Bank of America Lot. It has 25 regular spaces plus some for people with disabilities. What the parking study is telling us is that at the biggest crunch time for parking, a lunchtime rush hour, when a lot of people come to downtown Carrboro to eat at restaurants, with Tyler’s to the left of it, Acme to the right, there it is – stuck in the middle with at least 15 parking spaces free, ALL the time. The lot surely has signs saying “Parking for Customers only” so nobody parks there unless they’re going to the bank. But the bank clearly has far fewer customers coming by car than their lot can accommodate. In fact, VHB’s analysis tells us that Bank of America could keep the ten parking spaces closest to their door for themselves, and rent out the other 15 for public use- and not ever have a customer come to the bank and not be able to park for free in one of those ten spaces.
So why doesn’t this happen? Simply put, there’s not a system to buy into. This problem is too big for any one business in town to tackle on its own, but if the town set up the infrastructure and technology to make it EASY for Bank of America to release its parking spaces, the barrier for the bank to become a partner would be greatly reduced. What would such a system look like? It would look something like the system Asheville already has for its public spaces, but would allow businesses to opt in for some portions of their parking lots. I’d call it “CarrPark.” If the town set up a system like the one in the link for its public and leased lots, then opened up invites to businesses, then lots like the Bank of America who clearly have capacity could be invited to join, and even get some revenue for renting their spaces. If Bank of America wanted to be cautious, they could only decide to lease ten spaces to the CarrPark pool at first. That means the public supply would go from 715 to 725. If it worked well, and Bank of America customers were still happy, the bank could consider moving to 15 spaces, and the public supply would go from 725 to 730. See how this works? Incrementally, without having to worry about giving up ALL their parking, business owners could expand the general parking pool, making everyone feel LESS of a parking crunch.
How to Price a “CarrPark” System
Best practices suggest that if you set the price of parking lots to to the lowest price possible that keeps them 85% full, but no more- then people find parking to be easy and convenient. If a parking lot in the CarrPark system is less than 85% full at any time, it’s free! When demand goes up, though- the price rises to help keep the lot convenient. Revenue from the system would cover the cost of operations and provide some revenue to business owners for each space they share as an incentive to participate. Revenue beyond the incentive would be used to fund other access improvements to downtown such as better evening transit service and bike/ped access projects.
Carrboro Parking Meeting June 16th: 5:30 – 7:30 PM, Town Hall
The next meeting on the Carrboro Parking Study will be Thursday, June 16th, at 5:30 PM at Town Hall, and the agenda includes future parking management strategies. I hope to see something like the CarrPark system presented as one of the options. Please attend if you can!