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City Beautiful 21 » Carrboro, Parking, Pricing » Carrboro Parking Study Gathers Good Data, But We Need to Start Charging for Parking at ONE Lot

Carrboro Parking Study Gathers Good Data, But We Need to Start Charging for Parking at ONE Lot

On Tuesday night, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will take up a resolution to turn the recently completed Carrboro Parking Study into a plan for downtown parking. When they do, they should recommend some additional actions to town staff beyond those in the study.

Those additional actions are:

  • To initiate steps to begin charging for parking at the Rosemary Street lot (on the corner of Rosemary Street and Sunset Drive) as soon as possible, using new parking technology like Asheville already has, with prices that vary according to demand, including the price dropping to FREE when demand will not keep the lot 85% full. A Request for Proposals from parking app/technology vendors may be appropriate.
  • To invite downtown businesses with significant parking capacity and light usage to put some of their private spaces “in play” as part of the public pool of priced spaces. This is also a feature of the Asheville system, which allows businesses to make their spaces public when they are not using them.


Why are these actions needed?

There are several good recommendations in the Carrboro parking study conducted by VHB. Those recommendations include making parking signage consistent, and installing Walk Carrboro wayfinding signs to let people know it is a short walk to downtown destinations from less centrally located lots like the Town Hall lot.

The study also clearly states that no new parking needs to be constructed in the next five years because of how underutilized the existing supply is due to so much of it being limited to single use parking within private lots. It’s great that the study made this clear, as it is the most important finding.

However, the primary recommendation, which the VHB staff called out in bold, saying The significance of this initiative cannot be understated,” – is encouraging shared parking arrangements among downtown businesses. There’s only one problem with this key strategy- it’s been available to us for decades, and basically nothing has happened. There’s nothing about this study that makes it more likely to happen. Will the town Economic Development director spend more of their time trying to establish these agreements? Will the town transportation planner, a position that has just been vacated? Unlikely. Both of those positions have a big purview already.

The town of Carrboro should not waste time trying to play matchmaker between business A and B, or businesses C, D and H. Instead, it should establish a paid parking system that works for public lots that allows individual businesses to add some number of their private spaces to the public system. This expands the number of spaces available to the public without needing to build new public spaces.

But Carrboro Just Isn’t Ready to Charge for Parking!!

I’ve heard this, over and over again, for the 16 years I’ve lived here. But then DC, DW and I went to eat at Al’s Burger Shack last week and saw this:

Yes, Chapel Hill has put in a new parking lot, right next to the Rosemary Street Lot owned by Carrboro.And here’s the kicker:

Yup, Chapel Hill is charging hourly. 3 feet from the free Carrboro lot. Guess how full the Rosemary Carrboro lot is going to be if we don’t put a price on it? Spoiler: VERY. This lot was among the fullest in the data from VHB, but with a new paid lot from Chapel Hill immediately adjacent, everyone who wants to park in that lot will try the Carrboro one first unless we equalize the pricing. This is why moving to a parking pricing program for Carrboro that allows businesses to put spaces into a public pool makes more sense than ever.

It’s time to charge for some of our parking, and provide a system that businesses can join. This is evidence that our downtown is a valuable and cherished place where people enjoy spending time.


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Filed under: Carrboro, Parking, Pricing

7 Responses to "Carrboro Parking Study Gathers Good Data, But We Need to Start Charging for Parking at ONE Lot"

  1. DaveMabe says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. A dynamically priced parking system would be ideal for both Chapel Hill and Carrboro. I also agree that a large portion of the time the price should be free. In theory a system that properly sets prices would be far better than “free” (i.e. routine shortages) or the widespread but very inefficient “fixed price all the time” model.

    I’m a little surprised by the findings of the study. My guess just from experience would have been that Carrboro has far less parking that the study was apparently able to find. I’m curious if these findings came as a surprise to others?

  2. Patrick says:

    Dave, thanks for your comment. I was not surprised that there was parking capacity being underutilized. I was surprised at the scale of how much was underutilized, which is enormous. Here’s a link to my write up of some of the data from June:

    The negative threat of towing scares people away from several lots that I think would do great as part of a dynamically priced system. The Daniels building lot at night and on weekends is a terrific example. They could put their spaces in play, remove the threat of towing, offer great parking access to evening destinations like Tyler’s or Steel String- AND make some money! If we had a parking system like Asheville’s.

  3. Ray says:

    Was VHB and/or Town Staff aware of the new parking lot that Chapel Hill built?

  4. Patrick says:

    I’m not sure. The lot was only established in the past few weeks and is a very low-investment effort with gravel and very little pavement. I think it was accomplished as part of the Rosemary Street improvements that Chapel Hill recently completed to add bike lanes and improve sidewalks.

    It’s quite possible that the decision to proceed with the lot was made after VHB had already made recommendations. I still think the existing conditions without the lot warranted charging for parking; the presence of the Chapel Hill lot makes it even more necessary.

  5. DaveMabe says:

    Patrick – so there’s plenty of parking capacity now only in theory, right? The threat of towing (overt or veiled) makes the effective capacity at this point far less. Couldn’t business owners coordinate and do this now without help from the town? Seems like if there’s an opportunity to improve parking and make some extra money through a private solution it would make sense to do that.

  6. Patrick says:

    Dave, YES- in theory, business owners could coordinate and do this without help from the town. At the same time, that option has basically been on the table, well, forever- with no results. And part of the problem is that the potential downsides for agreements are hard to bear for an individual owner with a few dozen spaces but easier for a stakeholder who controls hundreds of spaces (the Town).

    Imagine you’re Bank of America in downtown Carrboro. You have very clear towing threats all over your lot, and your spaces are effectively “unavailable” through intimidation. Let’s say you sign an agreement with one restaurant for the daytime. What if your lot is overwhelmed with diners and bank customers can’t use the spots anymore? Your negotiation failed to help you. What if you only offer 8 of your 25 spots to test the waters? No restaurant is going to strike a bilateral agreement with you because instructing patrons to “try public lots and these 8 particular spaces” isn’t helpful to the customer, it’s more complex. “Try ANY parking space in ANY lot with a CarrPark logo sign, oh and by the way- here’s an app to locate empty ones for you in real time” – that’s easy access to many more opportunities for convenient parking.

  7. DaveMabe says:

    I went to Mel’s today for lunch. Second time in a couple weeks that there were a lot of booted cars in the lot next door from people trying to eat at Mel’s. Seems like devoting a few spaces to CarrPark would work well there.

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