On Tuesday, November 21st, the Parking Review Group (a City Manager’s self-directed work team) provided City Council with a presentation regarding the current state of parking in the downtown district.
Shanna B. Saunders, Director of Planning and Development, led the presentation on behalf of the team, which consists of a mix of downtown business owners, city staff, elected and appointed officials, and chairperson Councilor Tim Fontneau.
The Parking Review Group was formed in February 2022 after a Downtown Parking Study was completed. The group was tasked with developing a draft list of action items and ‘next steps’ with projected completion dates.
As part of the parking study, an inventory of downtown parking determined that there are 2,571 total spaces with 2,261 off-street and 310 on-street. Of those, 1,708 are restricted (private) spaces. 735 spaces are public supply with 534 off-street and 201 on-street. Additionally, there are 128 unregulated (unsigned) spaces.
“It was really surprising to me to find that when we went out and walked these areas [at various times of day/night/week], there were almost always open spots — always,” said Tim Fontneau, chairperson. “When you get to South Main Street, Congress Street, and Portland Street, there are tons of open spots.”
Saunders stated that the Parking Review Group organized an online survey and poster board session to solicit public input from community members and business owners. The online survey received 590 responses and organizers say the poster board session was a success.
In the online survey, 54.17% of people said they visit downtown to eat at restaurants, 11.75% to shop retail, and 10.73% for personal services, such as hair salons, nail bars, facials, etc.
61.86% say they utilize street parking, 61.02% say they use the Union Street lot behind Revolution Taproom, and 30.68% use the North Main Street Lot across from Lilac City Grille. When asked what barriers exist to finding downtown parking, 70.17% said the availability of nearby parking spaces. To get to their destination, 60.2% said they were willing to walk up to 1 block, which Saunders considers to be approximately 400 ft.
“Right now, we have a perception of a parking issue,” said Fontneau. “We all know that in June of 2024, when the Hoffman Building is occupied, in conjunction with the Union Street parking lot closure, there’s probably going to be a bit of a parking tsunami down there.”
In June 2024, the Union Street parking lot will be closed to allow for a complete redesign, utility upgrades, and other refurbishments. The new design includes additional parking spaces, rain gardens for better drainage, landscaping, and a dumpster corral for nearby businesses to share. Construction for the project is expected to last up to 12 months, conservatively.
The Parking Review Group strongly recommends a formal Parking Committee be formed to allow for quick action before June 2024. They also recommend metering, permitting, shared parking, enforcement, and additional wayfinding signs. Additionally, they suggest encouraging alternate parking options and exploring the possibility of a parking garage. However, the group does not suggest moving forward with a parking garage at this time and recommends reassessing the option when the Union Street lot project is completed.
In total, there were 9 recommendations the group is making to City Council, all of which are explained in detail throughout the presentation.
“It’s really urgent that we put together a Parking Committee,” said Fontneau. “We need to establish permitting and kiosks at least on North Main Street and that [general] area… That way we can avoid any major parking issues in the immediate future.”
Fontneau concluded that good regulation and a proper management system are needed in congested downtown parking areas in order to encourage alternative parking options nearby.
To learn more about the future of downtown parking, stay tuned to upcoming City Council meetings. Public meetings are broadcast live on Comcast Channel 22 and Breezeline (formerly Atlantic Broadband/Metrocast Cablevision) Channel 26. Broadcasts are also available on demand, which includes index points to help viewers navigate to specific agenda items. Visit www.rochesternh.gov for more information.