Orange County

Study: Carrboro needs to better manage downtown parking

Carrboro leaders should better manage the town’s existing parking supply, rather than focus on building new parking decks or acquiring new lots. That’s according to a consultant hired to conduct a 10-month study of public parking downtown.

Timothy Tresohlavy, a transportation planner with VHB, presented the findings of the survey last week.

“Quantitatively, there is sufficient parking,” Tresohlavy told the Board of Aldermen. “Qualitatively, we could make a lot of improvements.”

The town owns or leases 710 parking spots downtown, but some residents and local business owners have voiced concerns that this is not enough, prompting the in-depth study.

More than 600 people participated in the survey, either by responding to questionnaires or attending public meetings. Respondents said evenings between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. are the hardest times to find public parking in Carrboro, a finding supported by three separate observational studies of parking habits.

Though lots may seem crowded at peak times, Tresohlavy said the data show the town has a workable surplus of available parking, provided planners take steps to maximize the way visitors use it.

The report emphasized education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation to better manage the existing supply.

Tresohlavy recommended the town employ more consistent signage and information about parking availability, combined with better lighting and connected sidewalks to encourage people to walk a little further to their destinations.

And he suggested enforcement of time limits could be handled in a more genteel manner than traditional parking tickets.

“Enforcement is not about writing tickets these days,” he said. “It’s more about having a downtown ambassador program.”

He cited cities across the country that have introduced similar programs, designating town staff members to help visitors find their way around during peak traffic hours. He described the role of the ambassador: “Be visible, be friendly, provide direction and help.”

Looking ahead, Tresohlavy said 655 new spaces associated with planned developments will be adequate to accommodate 10 projects already in the works. On top of that, he estimated the town could absorb an additional 120,000 square feet of office space, 92,000 square feet of retail and 30,000 square feet of new dining options.

According to the report, town-owned or leased spaces account for just 18 percent of Carrboro’s parking inventory, with four out of every five parking spaces in town under private ownership.

Rather than have these spaces sit empty in the evenings, Tresohlavy said town leaders should consider collaborating with local business owners to make private lots available after business hours, and use signage to designate when public parking is allowed.

Alderman Sammy Slade agreed.

“I think we should consider including a ‘good business’ sticker alongside that, to make it a program where we’re encouraging businesses that there’s a better way to be business-friendly or supportive of town efforts,” said Slade.

Alderwoman Jacquie Gist said she wants to make sure that collaboration goes both ways. She said she’s heard from downtown business-owners who struggle to provide adequate parking for both customers and employees, and she’d like to see the town offer some assistance.

“We have municipal lots that have space in them,” Gist told the board. “I would like us to pursue letting private employees park in our underutilized lots during the day with a sticker, so that that their customers can park near their businesses. We need to share too.”

Tresohlavy recommended annual data collection to track the progress of any initiatives to change parking habits. Town planners will bring forward a formal plan of action for the board to consider early next year.