The city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is taking a look at how it can improve parking downtown.
The city is undertaking what it is calling a “sustainable parking management study” to make parking an asset, not a barrier, for the downtown. The city’s Community Development Coordinator Doug Clark says the study will look at the parking supply and demand as well as how the city manages its parking.
“The other thing that drove the immediate need for the study is we just got done spending a lot of money in rehabilitation of our McKay Street garage,” Clark said. “Some of that money was grant money through MassWorks and the funding agency wanted to make sure we had a sustainable parking management strategy to make sure that we had the revenues to keep our parking structures in good repair so we wouldn’t have to undergo as an expense a rehabilitation as the one we just went.”
The city currently has two municipal parking structures, one on McKay Street and one Columbus Avenue, along with open surface lots. Both structures are set back from North and South Streets, the heart of the downtown area. A majority of the parking spots along North Street are only restricted by an hourly limit posted on signs, not metered. Clark says on-street metered parking will be looked at.
“Improve the efficiency of the spaces that we have,” Clark explained. “For instance, if the available spaces right in front of the stores get filled up by employees or people that are just parking there all day and there’s no turnover, then those spaces are not available for customers. So having a pay system generates turnover in those spaces.”
The $75,000 study is being conducted by Nelson Nygaard Consulting Associates, which has done work in cities across the country, including Northampton. Clark says the study will also take a look at the simple things, like making sure people are aware of available parking.
“For people that aren’t as familiar with the city that are coming into town, we want to make sure we have good signage that gets them to the parking garages and available surface lots,” he said. “It’s that kind of way-finding and there’s phone and web apps that some municipalities have to assist with that.”
The city has put together an 18-member parking committee in an effort to get input from downtown business owners. Downtown Pittsfield, Inc. represents downtown businesses, organizations and residents and is on the committee. Executive Director Pam Tobin says a recent increase in people living in the downtown area also plays a role in the area’s parking outlook.
“We’re not having any problems leasing up units for people that want to live in downtown,” Tobin said. “As soon as new units come on line they’re being filled almost instantly. At the same time you need to be able to provide ample parking for people.”
Clark says everything on the table is being looked at as the study is in its data collection phase.
“A lot of studies that have been done, and that’s not to say that’s where we’re going to end up, but a lot of studies in municipalities have found out that while there’s a perceived a lack of supply it goes back to the utilization,” said Clark.
The city has made available a parking survey, where residents can share their experiences of parking downtown and provide suggestions for improvements. An open house providing information and seeking further public input is scheduled for Dec. 5th from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Colonial Theater. Another public meeting will be held in early 2014 to present initial plans resulting from the study and the public response. The city hopes to have a final report available in the spring.