A Brief History of Failed City Attempts To Develop A City Parking Plan By Lew Benton

A Quick Look at Recent Parking and Parking Related Studies and RFPs

Twenty-Five Years of Parking Studies

Since 1994 there have been no less than seven (7) downtown parking “studies.” 

Some of these “studies” were ad hoc, others comprehensive. Two, with assistance from CDTC, employed consultants, others were conducted by special committees such as the 2002 “Mayor’s City Center Task Force,” the 2003 “Blue Ribbon Parking Committee” and the 2003 “Special Assessment District Parking Committee.”

Some were relatively simple and unsophisticated, others, such as the 2006 “Downtown Transportation Plan,” were complex and rooted in a planning process designed to balance downtown development patterns and their impacts on the transportation system. Some were clinical, others more value-laden.

But taken together they represent a significant contribution on how best to meet downtown parking needs, particularly in advance of the presumed added parking demand of an expanded City Center. 

And while not all came to the same findings, their conclusions and recommendations made were more congruent than not. 

Ultimately they all were rejected or simply ignored by City Councils unable to make public policy decisions or, as in the failure to pursue some of the recommendations in 2006 Downtown Transportation Plan, the advent of a new administration hostile to planning and lacking experience or interest in addressing complex issues.

That particular Plan was by the far the most sophisticated and comprehensive and was financed by the Capital District Transportation Committee, a federally funded metropolitan planning organization. It still has merit and deserves to be reviewed as part on any new initiative.

I hope that all these previous studies will at least become references as the new efforts begin.

Parking and Related RFPs

Added to these initiatives were several City Council released Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to develop existing City owned off street parking lots including the High Rock Avenue property, the Woodlawn Avenue lot and the so-called “Lillian’s” Broadway parking facility. 

In April 2007 the City solicited RFPs seeking private sector construction of at least 300 parking spaces on Woodlawn Avenue. The Woodlawn Avenue site was also, at that time, one of the two preferred sites to host the then proposed Public Safety Facility. 

In June of 2007 a response to the RFP was received. The proposal included construction of a 52,000 square foot Public Safety/Court Facility and a 500 space-parking garage which would have been transferred the City as part of a lease — buy back concept. The Council never responded.

On November 19, 2008, three proposals were received to develop a parking garage, a public safety facility and other uses including a cinema, “workforce” housing, retail and other commercial uses on the City’s High Rock Avenue property. 

These proposals also offered an opportunity to provide essential additional off street parking to support an expanded City Center (a need considered essential by the City Center Task Force.)

Some of the studies and responses to the referenced RFPs called for “paid parking” to finance additional parking structures, maintain existing parking facilities and construct a public safety facility. One response to the 2008 RFP included a one time upfront payment to the City of $4.5 million.

The then City Councils – having solicited those proposals — chose, as had been their custom, to essentially ignore them. 

Of course now a parking garage to be integrated with the City Center is under construction and the Lillian’s lot has appropriately redeveloped.

Parking Fees as an Operating Budget Revenue

While some of the referenced studies and essentially all of the responses to Council issued RFPs suggested some form of “paid” parking, none of the revenue would have been earmarked for operating expenses. Rather, parking generated revenue would go to capital projects and parking facility maintenance. 

It will be recalled that in 2009 the City budget officer included an anticipated “paid parking” revenue in the 2010 Operating Budget. That should never have been budgeted. It was a non-existent revenue source that was never endorsed by the City Council and was known to lack broad community support. 

Under the direction of the then commissioner of finance, a RFP was prepared and released in January. Less than two (2) pages of the 19 page RFP actually addressed the request’s Intent, Specifications, and Deliverables. The entire SCOPE OF WORK AND SPECIFICATIONS were presented in only one paragraph. 

The RFP failed to even incorporate by reference the parking studies that had previously been prepared or note the City’s current parking enforcement program, its costs and the revenues it generates. 

The essence of the request was this: “The City is expecting $1.3 million in 2010 paid parking revenue …” Little wonder that some potential respondents elected to ignore the RFP. The RFP was poorly constructed and lacked the specificity and references to fully acquaint potential vendors with existing dynamics. 

Of course nothing ever came from it except a built in $1.3 million revenue deficit..

But that was nearly ten years ago. The current City Council seems much more adept in defining policy and able to design, fund and install needed program and capital improvements.

Paid parking as a potential Operating Budget revenue should be rejected. If some form of paid parking is deemed to have merit, the revenue must be used — as past studies and recommendations have suggested — to install and maintain needed additional parking facilities and other essential infrastructure. 

Lew Benton
02/27/2010, 11/21/2019

2 thoughts on “A Brief History of Failed City Attempts To Develop A City Parking Plan By Lew Benton”

  1. Excellent, thoughtful and meaningful comments. Out of respect for the time and effort placed into these, I will personally ensure they are included within the project record.
    -Amy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lew Benton’s contributions to John’s blog are always revealing. He has a comprehensive grasp on City issues.

    It should be noted that in 2015, there were two evenings of presentations devoted to the latest approaches to municipal parking practices. Two different speakers provided information on ways in which other municipalities deal with vehicle parking challenges. They also reflected on their observations of parking problems in Saratoga Springs. They were both surprised to learn that our City did not charge for use of our parking garages and they explained how modern paid parking systems can be used to help achieve optimal use of existing parking resources.

    More recently, Mayor Yepsen appointed Harvey Fox to do research on solutions for our parking problem. Harvey put in a lot of time and effort on this but apparently there was not enough support on the City Council that would enable Harvey to follow through on his proposal for the establishment of a ‘parking czar’ to oversee management of a downtown parking system.

    Chris Mathiesen

    Liked by 1 person

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