I have a soft spot for angled parking. Maybe it’s the way more spaces are “found” in downtowns, or that parallel parking seems overly-complicated compared to the simple nature of yanking a shifter into “R” once, and only once. For that reason, I supported the downtown merchants’ opposition to replacing angled parking with parallel spaces - that is until about 9 am last Thursday.
That’s when I attended a presentation by SRQ Media Group on its recent Downtown Consumer Study (the must-read powerpoint is here). The survey was conducted before the latest parking brouhahas erupted – metered parking, adorning a garage with (gasp) murals, and now a proposal to replace angled parking with parallel parking to increase sidewalk widths.
As the February 9th breakfast presentation unfolded, Ms. Angled Parking’s “Aha” moment came from this observation: Downtown has a very low attraction rate exclusively for shopping: 8.5%. Before we can fully appreciate this statistic, let’s consider a couple of points about parking and downtowns:
- The sidewalk widening would be of most benefit to restaurants in the form of more outdoor dining.
- From the presentation, 91 % of people come mostly for dining. The Farmers Market is also a big draw.
- While parking and garages are often viewed as downtown vibrancy killerers, for Sarasota it is essential. Approximately 80% of Sarasota respondents came from outside downtown. Add in tourists, and downtown Sarasota’s market is anything but local.
- Our new, year-old parking garage added 743 vehicle parking spaces, 20 motorcycle spaces and 80 bicycle spaces in the same block where owners are most upset.
- Finally - the restaurants will have to rely on more than sidewalk width to achieve a fully functioning downtown. A recent study found "a more critical factor (than street geometry) is the concentration of business activity in a compact commercial center."
Instead of focusing so much energy on one block of Main Street, we should instead figure out how to move from a downtown where survey respondents come “for dining” to one where locals, visitors and workers are downtown equally for working, dining and shopping.
It seems like a there couple of key points. First, we need to, at least in the short term, pay more attention to matching diners and Farmers Market patrons to the ability run other errands downtown. We have a hardware store, banks, health food stores, opticians, services and a new Staples opening soon. What does a marketing campaign to get all your trips taken care of downtown look like? We need to convince Joe from Palmer Ranch that he can get that hammer while his wife gets the veggies. Second, it's worth noting that Miami Beach has gained a lot of attention by celebrating, not whining about, its garages. Our own garage was recently included in an articleon the trend of parking garage architecture as sculpture. Finally, the SRQ survey breaks down how people get information on downtown. Instead of letting the medium drive the message, there seems to be really good information to help targeting or shape further studies needed.
Sarasota is holding a Parking Forum on February 23 from 5:30 pm to 7 at Selby Library where meters, pricing, and other topics are sure to come up. For more information about the forum, please contact the Parking Services Management Department: 941-954-7057.