Presidents Corner: Let’s Talk Parking
Parking in downtown Fredericksburg is a hot topic, akin to religion or politics at thanksgiving dinner: everyone has an opinion and they are often deeply held, and with good reason. Parking in historic districts is pretty different from parking in the vast span of asphalt that sits in front of big box stores and shopping centers. In downtown Fredericksburg, instead of row after row of spaces with cart returns at every corner, we have spaces along the roadsides, or tucked in small lots a few blocks from your favorite shops. Instead of a wide flat lot we have a big parking garage that, although free for three hours, is often ignored.
As a member of the parking commission representing Fredericksburg Virginia Main Street, my mission is to make sure the unique parking situation in downtown is not a deterrent for our guests, ensuring that the business owners have a flow of happy customers in and out of their storefronts. But Downtown is growing and changing, and there are now new pressures on the system. People are eager to park on Caroline Street from dawn to dusk to shop, dine and experience the downtown businesses. The Sophia Street lot is brimming with employees and visitors all day. William Street overflowed into a new lot leased by the city, almost as soon as it was acquired.
And I am excited by these changes. It was not so long ago that the streets of Fredericksburg were not busy and the historic buildings were in danger of being felled in the name of progress and economic need. Dealing with parking management seems to pale in comparison to these issues.
Last summer Walker Parking Consultants conducted a survey, prepared a report, and recommended actions to manage our current parking supply. I have included the slides from the most recent presentation of this report from Michael Conner, but for those with little to no time, the long and the short of it is this:
- Downtown has enough parking overall, it’s just in the wrong spots.
- Downtown is charging for the least convenient parking (in the garage) and making the easiest and most valuable parking complimentary (curbside).
- Downtown has A LOT of special interest spaces (space restricted to only this person or restricted to that use).
- Downtown has lenient hours of usage and really lenient violation fees.
- Downtown’s parking is expensive to maintain and we are revenue-negative at this moment; meaning that we, the taxpayers, are subsidizing the current parking and future parking maintenance. And parking maintenance is not cheap. Spaces and lots need to be cleaned, paved, and lined regularly. We need parking enforcement to find and collect violators. And the parking garage has a whole other host of expenses and maintenance concerns that, if not kept up with, can lead to huge bills in the future.
The general take away from the study is that we need to plan how to manage our parking. Walker gives a few suggestions (paid curbside parking, free garage, shuttles to outlying lots, changes in signage and times of parking restrictions), but ultimately the burden of what to do falls on us as a city. We must all consciously decide how we want to manage the parking supply. Do we want to make our guests pay to park along the streets, or do we want to keep it complimentary and find funding for the system in other ways? I urge you to read through the slides Michael provided and engage with us as we sort out what is best for our city and our customers.