Why Managed and Paid Parking Matters

July 6, 2020

paid parkingParking: many consider it a blessing and a curse. When in a city, it’s a joy to find parking, but very frustrating when you can’t. If you live in the suburbs or rural areas, you may not even think about parking in the same way, as parking spots are often numerous and free. In most cities downtown areas, paying for parking is the norm, not the exception. Although people may gripe about this, paying for parking can provide numerous benefits to city residents, businesses and visitors alike, including increased turnover and more availability of parking spaces, reduced traffic congestion, parking facility cost savings and resources for economic development.

The Cost of Free Parking

It’s typical for people to think that parking should be free and publicly available. However, not everyone needs parking, and in urban areas, there are only so many available parking spots. Whether you have to pay parking fees or not, people still bear the costs of parking – cost of pavement, street cleaning, facility maintenance, security services, and other services. These come directly out of tax dollars, and are passed on to residents and consumers in other ways such as through higher rents and prices that city businesses charge for products and services . 

Therefore, parking is not really free. There is a choice, however, between paying directly or indirectly for parking facilities. Paying directly for parking is actually more equitable because with free parking, people who don’t use public parking spots are paying for other peoples’ parking. 

Benefits of Paid Parking to Local Commerce

When there isn’t paid parking and management, convenient parking spaces tend to be in high demand. Without having to pay a meter or to use a facility, people tend to stay in spots longer – sometimes all day and many times longer. This leads to other would-be parkers spending more time driving around, wasting time looking for convenient, available spots close to their destination, or worse – leaving in frustration. Paid parking encourages longer-term parkers to use less convenient, but less expensive spaces. While businesses in urban areas tend to be worried about paid parking, it actually increases turnover and ease for customers to find a parking spot nearby and closer to their business.  Plus, data shows that  customers will pay for convenient, easy to find  parking spaces closer to their destination.

Efficient and Environmentally Sound

Having free parking not only negatively affects local business, but also provides an incentive to rely more on cars, crowding city streets and making it harder to drive and park. As mentioned above, free parking increases the time people drive around looking for parking. All of this increases traffic congestion and carbon emissions. When people have to pay for parking it encourages them to use public transportation and alternative modes of transportation to urban centers, including on-demand transit, microtransit and biking.  Recent studies have found that in dense cities, public transportation use is significantly higher in areas where parking is more expensive. 

Paid Parking and Economic Development

Parking  fees can be used to help finance  local governments to  make improvements for residents and visitors, and to enhance economic development investments such as public private development, transportation and mobility alternatives, connectivity, as well as repurposing parking facilities through community development partnerships.  Roads and parking facilities are valuable municipal assets. Building and maintaining them can be costly. Parking fees allow governments to recover these costs from those who use them, including non-residents. 

Cities can also use revenues from parking fees to finance neighborhood improvements such as more street and sidewalk cleaning, increased security, public space and placemaking  amenities such as landscaping, benches, fountains and walkways, or community-wide events, and marketing for commercial districts. Monies can also be used to make improvements to alternative modes of transportation that will help reduce parking and traffic problems such as wider sidewalks, improved and safe walkability, biking resources and on demand transportation including microtransit.

Paid Parking in Norwalk

In Norwalk, paid parking is the norm in the urban South Norwalk, West Avenue and Wall Street areas. Parking pricing in Norwalk is a part of an integrated parking management program overseen by the Norwalk Parking Authority. Use of technology that calculates congestion and occupancy rates allows the City to vary parking pricing for less trafficked hours and spots as well as to create and manage flexible parking spaces to accommodate short term parking needs such as curbside pickups and deliveries. 

Many of the complaints about parking stem from inconvenient payment methods. The Norwalk Parking Authority has been on the cutting edge of payment technology, having offered a pay-by-phone option for several years, and most recently, text to pay and online parking reservation options. The maintenance, security, enforcement and improvement of parking facilities and on-street parking in Norwalk is not subsidized by the taxpayer, but through parking fees by the user, with over 70% from out of town, making parking in the city more efficient and equitable. It has also generated revenues that have been used to benefit residents, businesses and visitors such as public art, and the promotion of local businesses via a parking validation program and Norwalk Now, and citywide investments in parking facility improvements and enhancements. 

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