University Circle has a parking problem—it has too much. More specifically, it has too much parking 90% of the time, and not enough smart technology (yet) being deployed for the few, peak hours when visitors and residents might compete for one of the district’s 35,000 on- and off-street parking spaces.
That can be fixed. Without falling back on the expensive option of building more structured parking.
But, parking lots are like drugs—easy to pick up; harder to know when to stop. Nonetheless, Case and non-profit developer, University Circle, Inc. managed to break the addiction by doing what most Clevelanders at the time deemed impossible. With the $125 million Uptown development, they built over a surface parking lot in the city and instantly changed University Circle from a low to a high-rent destination. Accolades followed, including a selection by The Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence as a finalist.
University Circle’s claim as Cleveland’s second downtown feels legitimized by Uptown and its design centered around the needs of pedestrians who frequently use it to access the vibrant mix of shops, bars, restaurants and major cultural institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Art.
All hasn’t been rosy, though. Complaints about not enough parking—from visitors and some tenants—started almost instantly. Uptown is an important test for University Circle as it grows and has to field the perennial complaint about parking.
Sensing this resistance if you will, UCI hired the nation’s premier transportation demand management (TDM) firm, New York-based NelsonNygaard to figure out a strategy that plays to University Circle’s strengths as an urban “eds and meds” district. NN recently completed similar plans, like the TDM plan for Seattle Children’s Hospital, which led to a goal of reducing their single-occupancy vehicle trips by 40%.
NN recommendations are grounded in empirical evidence. The firm’s 2014 report “Parking in Mixed-Use U.S. Districts: Oversupplied no matter how you slice the pie” brings together lessons from parking studies NN conducted for 27 other cities and towns. Bottom line, all of the mixed-used developments they worked on battled a perception of not enough parking that didn’t match with real vacancy rates.
“For town centers with paid parking, oversupply ranges from 6 percent to 133 percent, while it ranges from 24 percent to 253 percent for those who do not charge,” NelsonNygaard reported.
Among the factors, the driving-alone rate of a region—in the case of Northeast Ohio 84% drive to work alone, well above the 70% median in the N/N study—is a big contributor.
For University Circle, NN also completed an inventory of parking as part of a management plan. It provides an understanding of the market segments and behavior of those seeking parking.
So, for example, they found that the biggest segment of parkers in University Circle are residents and employees. The group is the most open to negotiation for an alternative to driving in exchange for reducing their costs for parking, NN says. University Circle could free up some parking by making a stronger connection to RTA and public transit services—two new Rapid Stations, a high-frequency bus-rapid transit HealthLine and making sense of the district’s many shuttles, NN adds.
A much more intentional effort is needed in pointing people to transit or biking—from wayfinding signs to parking cash out incentives to “de-coupling” parking from rent negotiations.
Other recommended ways to manage parking include mobile technology and a strategy that makes it clear where parking can be found.
“When cities do not manage supplies through metering or other approaches, which leads to full block faces and off-street lots on the blocks with the most popular businesses and significant vacancy just a short walk away.”
Some habits die hard, and so, University Circle will have work to do. For example, convincing developers that a 700-space parking garage in the middle of University Circle’s walkable town center and next to a brand new train station works against what they are trying to cultivate. Or convincing the big anchor institutions that a trolley, like RTA’s green classic in downtown Cleveland, is worth spending a little more money to get lots more buy in to their “park once” strategy.
University Circle doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. They may, however, need to formalize the TDM strategies aimed at the fast growing resident and employee population. Like downtown, University Circle has a tremendous base already on which to build and achieve its goal of reducing car trips. A plan for a reasonable number of parking spaces to always be available in University Circle is now part of that.