TLR Q&A with Carrboro Board of Aldermen Candidates


TLR Staff Report

The Local Reporter is aware of the the number of forums and questionnaires submitted to candidates. TLR posed one question to candidates in order to be respectful of their time.

What is your view on possible paid parking in Carrboro? What effects, positive and/or negative could it have?

Matthew Clements:
Hiring a $50,000 consultant is a waste of resources. Instituting paid parking over all of Carrboro will add enforcement costs, development costs for an app and or smart meters and take away a competitive advantage for Carrboro. Our businesses, especially restaurants and shops need more support from the town leadership, not a program that will dissuade customers from visiting our great city.

A better alternative is to have a public/private initiative to allow local businesses to give vouchers to their customers for the new parking structure while retaining free parking in the remainder of the town. This option could keep enforcement costs to a minimum while providing a service to town business customers. A full transition to paid parking will have enforcement costs for the employees, upkeep for the system that will eke away at any attempt to make the system turn a profit. There are positive and negative repercussions of each path that Carrboro can take. The town owned real estate could be generating revenues for the town if the paid parking plan is frugal and self-funding. Spending more money chasing revenues while driving customers into other more convenient options outside of Carrboro is unacceptable.

Ideally, Carrboro would construct a parking structure at the 203 Project and allow fully ‘free’ parking to go along with our ‘free’ bus system. People love to talk about ‘free’ government programs when the truth is that these programs are primarily funded by property owners removing the transaction costs from the users. Town government should ensure that we get the best return on our investment, in this case chasing increased business revenues by supporting our businesses in eliminating an obstacle for their customers.

Steve Friedman:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this topic. This is my take…

Our town has hired consultants to advise on the paid parking issue so I would not want to comment until their findings are in and we can make decisions based on the data. There are valid arguments to be made on both sides of the issue in terms of revenue generation, assigning a value to the real estate needed for parking, impact on business and enforcement of the ordinance. These will all need to be weighed once the report is complete.

One idea that has been discussed which I think bears further investigation is flexible or dynamic pricing that uses a load model to provide free parking in times of low utilization and paid parking when there is greater demand. We could also allow two hours of free parking to ensure that those Carrboro residents who need or choose to drive to their downtown are not unfairly burdened. Carrboro citizens who do not live downtown should not have to pay to shop ,dine and play downtown.

Susan Romaine:
I am in favor of paid parking downtown. Here’s why:

Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to talk with dozens of small business owners in Carrboro. While I had assumed that merchants would be almost universally in favor of free parking in municipal lots, to encourage more patrons to drive downtown, many were not. Merchants are frustrated by folks who drive their cars to the lots, park for free all day, and then walk or ride their bicycles to other nearby locations. Meanwhile, patrons are left circling the block to find an available parking space.

In addition, paid parking makes sense as a part of our climate action plan. That is, disincentivizing driving by imposing a small penalty on cars contributing to greenhouse emissions. Revenues can be earmarked to other forms of transportation, such as weekend and evening transit service, and bicycle/pedestrian projects.

As a way of rolling out paid parking, I suggest a dynamically priced system in which cost varies based on location and time of day. For example, parking at Cat’s Cradle at 7:00 am on Saturday would be in low demand, and thus free; downtown parking at 7:00 pm on Saturday would be in peak demand, with a comparable price. A dynamically priced parking system has these advantages:

It’s a gentle transition away from free parking to paid parking. You can still find parking for free if you go at the right time, or if you’re willing to park and walk a few blocks to downtown. Otherwise, you’ll pay, say $1.50/hour.

For the right price, you can always find a parking space downtown, regardless of when you go. You just need to be willing to pay for it.

It requires electronic meters, which can serve as a “parking study” by keeping statistics on use and price. These statistics make it easier for town staff to forecast changes in demand. For example, a new library will be constructed on the municipal parking lot next to Open Eye Café. Not only will the town lose the current spaces in the municipal lot, there will be increased demand for parking from library patrons and staff. What’s more, the Town’s lease for its East Main parking deck expires in 2021; and the municipal lot across from Armadillo Grill may be put to more lucrative use one day. The statistics gathered through electronic meters can help the Town better anticipate major changes ahead in parking demand, and plan for future growth.

Phone apps (such as Chapel Hill’s Parkmobile) can be connected to the electronic meters to make it simpler for drivers to find open spaces. This reduces congestion and emissions downtown while nudging drivers out of their cars to start spending money. It also saves motorists the hassle of returning to their car, since they can extend their time in a parking space with a single text message.

It can be easily coupled with stricter enforcement of time limits on downtown parking. Stricter enforcement would in turn lead to higher turnover in parking lots, opening up more opportunities for customers to patronize downtown businesses.

Finally, dynamic pricing is an important first step in creating a simple system allowing businesses to make available to the public a portion of their unused parking spaces, which would then be compensated with parking revenue. Before we jump into a parking deck, I support a very simple pilot project to see just how many merchants would be willing to release unused private spaces into our public pool. The private spaces put into public play would have visible signage, and time limits would be strictly enforced. A phone app would help motorists easily identify available spaces around town. The ultimate question is: would the additional spaces put into play from private lots meet enough of our overall parking need to avert a parking deck, costing as much as $24,000/space?

For all of these advantages to dynamic pricing, there are significant concerns, too. With a built-in expectation of free parking in Carrboro, there would certainly be a public backlash to the additional cost and added inconvenience of a paid system. I also worry that paid parking may discourage some motorists from frequenting downtown, hurting our downtown business community. From an ethical point of view, there are many folks commuting to Carrboro, without access to transit, who simply can’t afford paid parking downtown. For health reasons, they may not be able to walk or bicycle either. All of these factors must be fully considered before implementing paid parking in downtown.

At the end of the day, though, I believe a dynamic priced system is in the best interests of Carrboro, and represents an important step in developing a comprehensive parking plan for downtown.

Sammy Slade:
Thank you for the opportunity to answer this question, here is my answer:

Car dependency is unsustainable. Not counting roads, 37% of land in downtown Carrboro is car infrastructure. This infrastructure is impervious and as such is a major contributor to stormwater runoff. Cars take up a lot of space that displaces human scale use of our downtown. They also use too
much energy and are major contributors to climate change.

At my request we commissioned a downtown parking study that found the town to have surplus parking for the foreseeable future. ‘Surplus parking’ means surplus parking infrastructure, that does not necessarily mean that this infrastructure is accessible. The study accurately found that people’s perception is that parking is hard to find in Carrboro. The town’s parking problem is first and foremost and access problem. To address access to the downtown by car the recommendations in the study include finding ways for private lot owners to share the parking they own (84% of downtown parking.)

Before our summer break I was successful in getting the BOA to formally direct staff to develop a parking enforcement and payment program for town lots and for offering to private lot owners. The program is to be designed so that it can also be made available to private lot owners, facilitated for them and promoted to them so that they will open up the sharing of their space with the public.

Town planning staff is small and stretched thin, they were given an option of doing the work themselves or choosing a consultant. I believe that their decision to choose a consultant was wise.

If this program works, as it does in many other towns, the BOA hopefully will mellow on current efforts to build a very expensive parking deck that will suck resources away from emergency climate action and will contravene strategies towards maximizing car independence and making our
downtown accessible through other means (i.e. TDM Program, Bike and walking infrastructure, dedicated bus lanes, land use strategies, etc.)

Parking is always ‘paid’ let’s look at who pays to further answer how it should get paid. Currently, for privately owned parking in the downtown, it is downtown commercial space owners who pay for their
‘free’ lots.  This cost can get passed on to business tenants and thereafter to customers. For public lots the money comes from the town’s general fund and thus tax payers. Using our bus system as an
analogy, buses in town were once pay as you ride, fortunately some time ago it was recognized that to encourage more riding, and not have to build more parking on campus, we could instead pay for busing from our general fund (and student fees). We used how the system gets paid as leverage to encourage a better habit. With parking we can apply the same concept. Here though we are trying to discourage a habit, or at least not promote it so that we can further encourage bus usage and
other modes for accessing the downtown. In the process we may also accomplish affordable commercial space (and more affordable shopping) in the downtown because parking costs will get transferred to car users directly and not to customers-at-large independent of what mode they
chose for accessing the downtown.

Hopefully the program designers will bring to us options to choose from including demand-based parking meter rate setting.   ‘Free’ parking will likely still always be available, in the worst case scenario though, you may have to hop on our ‘free’ bus system for the last mile … not the worst thing in the world if you are anything like my three year old daughter who finds it to be a treat!  There will surely be many considerations to account for before implementing a full parking program, if we can overcome the biggest barriers though, it will be worth it.


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