“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

This of course is one of the quotes that is credited to Yogi Berra. The quote is an oxymoron, however it is repeated on a regular basis in a variety of manners. Probably the way that is most often stated in Colorado Springs is as follows:

“Downtown is dying, nobody goes there because you can’t find a place to park.”

Have you made this statement before? It’s okay, I won’t call anybody out, but chances are, this has been stated by you, or at a minimum, to you. This statement is a fallacy unless you are talking about a place that literally does not have any parking (I’m not sure that a place like this exists in the United States). I hear it in Downtown Colorado Springs often. Yes, there are places to park. Downtown has on-street parking on the majority of its downtown streets. It also boasts a large quantity of parking structures.

The issue is a fundamental one, people (in particular, those who live in the suburban portions of cities) are accustomed to parking in front of the place that they would like to visit AND, they are used to parking for free. Although parking is abundant most of the time in Downtown Colorado Springs, it is not the parking on street right in front of the business that is desired. I would challenge you that at any given time, aside from before and during a major event in Downtown Colorado Springs, you will find a parking place either on the street or in a parking structure within a five-minute walk from your destination. It could easily take you five or more minutes to park and walk to an interior store in a mall for some perspective.
For the skeptics, I offer the following as a means of mitigating the “parking problem”. For the non-Colorado Springs readers, many of the same points probably apply to your city, but hopefully your city already figured it out:

Not all parking spaces are created equally. Some have a much higher level of turn-around and demand. Generally, these are parking spaces that are on the street, near a hub of restaurants, or retail shops. In Downtown Colorado Springs, they are the on-street parking spaces along Tejon Street between Colorado Avenue and Platte Avenue. Cars are often seen circulating for the perfect parking space where the destination is visible. Increase the price of these parking meters, consumers will still pay for the convenience. Contrary, offer those parking spaces that are less desirable, i.e. upper decks of a parking structure, for a lower price, or better yet, Free with a time limitation.

Parking structures (which are less desirable than on-street parking in Colorado Springs) charge for evening hour parking when the surface parking spaces are free. This makes no sense at all, it is the perfect example of an imbalance of supply and demand.

  • Increase the time that parking meters need to be observed from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm within two blocks of primary retail and restaurants. The issue with the 9:00 – 6:00 time, is that the employees of the restaurants and retail shops take the on-street parking spaces after the point of the meter observation because the parking structures otherwise charge for parking at these times.
  • Retrofit all parking spaces to accept debit/credit cards. This includes adding a debit/credit machine at the entrance of a parking structure. Perhaps this alleviates the need for a paid employee at the exit of the parking structures? Generally speaking, people don’t carry cash or coins, but most have a debit/credit card.
  • Market the changes that are made so that the residents are aware that changes are being made to make parking easier downtown. Public Service Announcements are effective in getting the word out during newscasts.
  • If evenings and Sundays are to have free on-street parking downtown, extend this to the parking structures as well. Parking in spaces with less demand should be the same or lower price to spaces on the street with high demand.

My last recommendations have a more global consideration, but with the same goal in mind:

  • Increase the amount of bicycle parking spaces and the necessary infrastructure to get the bicycles there. In Colorado Springs, where many of our cyclists are Lycra-clad with expensive bicycles, a public/private bicycle valet may be a consideration, as would a membership service that offers showers/lockers.
  • Modify the design of the street with 60-degree parking spaces in lieu of 45-degree parking spaces. We have considerable lane widths throughout downtown, and by increasing the parking angle, decreasing the drive lane, additional parking spaces will be gained.
  • Improve transit with more frequent transit options. BRT, or Bus-Rapid Transit, should be an obvious transit solution between major hubs of Downtown Colorado Springs, the Citadel Mall, Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, Pikes Peak Community College and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.