Posted November 17, 2014 in Articles
Author: Erin O'Brien
While that quote comes from Chris Bongorno, transportation planning manager for University Circle Inc. (UCI), he is quick to point out that the complex parking situation in University Circle cannot be summed up in a single sentence. He also readily admits that the major thrust of the study's findings -- that the existing 37,000 parking spaces in the University Circle area are sufficient in an aggregate sense -- will likely raise some eyebrows.
"That will instigate a lot of reaction because that's not the perception or reality to some people," he says.
Anyone who frequents University Circle by car knows the impetus behind the study. Parking can be tight, and it's not uncommon for employees and visitors to park some distance from their destinations. While the number of bike commuters and transit users is growing, it's safe to say that the vast majority still drive.
Although the findings of the District Parking Study, which is part of the larger Moving Greater University Circle Transportation and Mobility Study, are still in the draft stage and not yet publicly available, Bongorno gave Fresh Water a fascinating insight into this otherwise utilitarian topic and the study's results.
"Where there are (parking) constraints is during peak times," he says, adding that identifying different parking supply and demand markets is critical. Rather than building more expensive parking garages that do not command sufficient revenue to cover the associated debt, says Bongorno, the informed option is to "find more creative ways to coordinate management and use of existing facilities."
He cites the Veteran's Administration Medical Center's two large garages, which are near peak use during the day, but no so at other times. "In the evenings, they make those garages available to the public," he says, which is convenient for attendees of events such as Wade Oval Wednesdays.
That's easy enough to understand. Who hasn't looked on with frustration at a No parking – Violators will be towed sign in front of a desolate office building parking lot on a Sunday? Hence, with 15 different organizations in the University Circle area giving 15 different messages about how to park and get around, there is significant room for coordinated efforts.
"This is not something that would be easily achieved," concedes Bongorno, adding that parking lot owners have reasons why they want to manage their own facilities, but that it can be done. He cites the recent transformation of Uptown, where surface lots were replaced with dense and dynamic mixed-use development. Getting UCI, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University to commit to shared-use of their area garages was instrumental in obtaining zoning variances for the new projects, which eliminated parking spaces and incurred more users.
"That's worked there," says Bongorno. However, challenges persist, particularly with communication. People can't always find those spaces, which is often a problem with transportation management and will be addressed at large as the project proceeds. Currently, there is a shuttle service that ferries employees between outlying garages and their workplaces.
A $100,000 Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative Planning Grant from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency is funding the study, along with matching contributions from private philanthropic partners. Phase two, the Transportation and Mobility Study, began in September and is scheduled for completion in early 2015. Work on the final phase of the study, the Transportation Management Implementation Plan, will begin in spring 2015. NelsonNygaard, which specializes in developing transportation communities, is the lead consultant on the project.
"They're really experienced in multi-modal transportation planning around the world," says Bongorno, noting that they've done work in Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit.
Evoking the image of enormous parking lots surrounding malls or big box stores that are often half empty, Bongorno asserts, "We can't build for the day after Thanksgiving. That's not the type of district that we want. We want a district that is very efficiently using its existing assets while maintaining and promoting a walkable and very vibrant 24/7 district."
Another goal of the project is simply to make people remember their experience after they arrived, instead of being focused on parking challenges.
"We don't want people who go to MOCA or the museums or Piccadilly to say anything about their experience driving there or parking. That's not part of their memorable experience. We want it to be about what they saw, who they ran into, and how that ice cream tasted."
"We want transportation to be out of the conversation unless they're saying how easy it was."