Summit’s downtown economic opportunity is diminished due to the poor performance of parking policy. It’s time for City policy-makers to move toward some common sense solutions.  A “parking assessment” that recently got tabled in a common council meeting due to its fuzzy purpose is the proposed next step forward.

I’m not convinced that immediate improvement in parking policy requires more study.

First, consider that full engagement of senior level management is all that’s needed to redirect policy. Further, new policy initiatives should be grounded on the principal that parking is a service for users versus an incremental revenue source for the City. Parking doesn’t have to be a free but it needs to be a convenient high level service. 

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Second, it is a widely held thought among knowledgeable and independent land use experts that no community is better off with an excessive inventory of parking spaces. It is foolish to think you can keep adding parking inventory to outpace peak demand periods and still keep your community desirable. 

Summit’s long-running problem with parking is its inability to manage the existing parking resources for user groups as demand shifts. The past 10 or more years the City has wasted effort and scarce resources on special interest schemes to build new multi-million dollar parking structures.  All the while, Summit’s parking reputation and the businesses that rely on public parking suffer greatly.  Surprisingly, this problem exists in a community with something like 4,000 public and private parking spaces within walking distance of the center of downtown. 

Nowhere is the nexus of management miscue leading to user dissatisfaction more evident than the gated operation of the three Deforest parking lots. 

These lots are nearly 50% of the visitor/shopper parking inventory.  These 300 or so spaces combine with 2 other surface lots and about 300 nearby street meters to make the transient or high turnover zone. The selection of a gated entry and exit technology on the De Forest lots has proven to be a very poor management decision.

Instead of using the lower cost and easier to operate pay on foot kiosk system, found on Bank St and the surface level tier garage, the gate system presents an uninviting and expensive to operate technology.

Also, the gated lots offer a full day parking option for people willing to pay a premium for the convenience. The end result is you have a user unfriendly parking system and loss of transient parking inventory. Furthermore, when restriping the De Forest/Summit Ave lot, six leased spaces were marked inside the lot.

A leased space removes from public inventory a vehicle spot and if not sold by the City at the premium price of over $2,000 a year it then sits un-used.  Over the past 2 years between 4 and 6 of these leased spots sit empty all day, every day. This results in a loss of parking spots in the middle of downtown that should turn over every two hours 365 days a year. This is a costly loss of business opportunity.

So what should happen next? 

The gates on the Deforest lots need to be immediately replaced by pay on foot kiosks with a limit on parking time to not more than 2.5 hours a day. The 6 leased spaces should be returned to public inventory. Employees should encourage (on going campaign by SDI-Summit’s Downtown Management group) to park in designated employee areas.  The allocation of properly permitted employee parking spaces is a standalone topic.   Additionally, effort should be given to adopting design principles that effectively designate and guide shoppers and visitors to a unified transient zone. This design effort is way more than the current wayfinding signage.

Robert Steelman