The City Council is voicing unanimous support for pursuing a park-and-ride system to shuffle residents downtown, in order to help alleviate downtown parking congestion.
“I would really like to encourage doing a pilot on that to see how it works,” Councilor Julian Taliaferro said. “I think there’s a full consensus that it’s a good idea.”
But there were abundant questions about how to solve the “two-hour shuffle” problem that plagues many of downtown’s on-street spaces. Down-town Charlottesville has just fewer than 6,000 parking spaces — about 5,000 spaces off street and 1,000 on street.
A downtown parking study completed last year found that 88 percent to 90 percent of timed parking — on-street spaces that are designated for 15-minute parking up to two hours — is taken for much of the day. In particular, the two-hour spaces exceeded the desired maximum occupancy of 85 percent for almost the entire day, at one point reaching as high as 97 percent.
The study noted that the average length of stay in two-hour spaces was slightly more than 1.5 hours, but the figure hides the fact that many parkers exceed the allotted time. About 20 percent of cars parked in two-hour spaces, the study estimated, overstay the limits, some staying four hours or longer.
To allay that problem, and to avoid confusion, the study and city staff recommended establishing a more uniform parking system downtown. The suggested changes included designating a core zone for streets surrounding the Downtown Mall, which would have more loading zones and one-hour parking; an inner zone with more two-hour parking for downtown customers; and an outer zone with more unrestricted parking.
But Mayor Dave Norris said he was not sure that cutting the number of two-hour spaces in the core zone — directly surrounding Market and Water streets — and converting them to one-hour would solve anything. Councilors ultimately decided to keep the same number of 15-minute, 30-minute and two-hour spaces in that area.
“My concern is that we’ve taken a step to deal with the two-hour shuffle,” Norris said, “and yet we’ve done nothing to address in a proactive way of where these people are going to park.”
Councilor Satyendra Huja agreed.
“I just wonder whether one hour is sufficient time,” he said.
Assistant City Traffic Engineer Donovan Branche said the changes to one-hour spaces in the core area “encourages more efficient uses around the Downtown Mall.”
Overall, the survey said, enough parking exists downtown — only 63 percent of downtown’s spaces were occupied at 2 p.m., the survey’s busiest time. Many of the 5,000 existing off-street spaces remain empty during business hours, though the garages can fill on weekends and during special events.
City resident Colette Hall said she is less concerned about the downtown shuffle than about downtown traffic overflowing into North Downtown, where downtown patrons consistently take up the neighborhood’s permit and non-permit parking spaces.
“We laugh about the two-hour shuffle,” said Hall, who is president of the North Downtown Residents Association. Hall added that she supported the idea of a park-and-ride system — perhaps, she said, establishing it at a place like Darden Towe Park, which sits just outside city limits — to transport downtown employees to their places of work.
“This appears more economical than building a new garage,” she said.
The city has suggested that plans for a new downtown garage have been put on the backburner. But others say now is the time to pursue a new facility.
“Parking garages take a long time to design, build, plan, figure out the financing,” said Bob Stroh, the president of the Charlottesville Parking Center Inc., which owns several properties downtown, including the garages on Market and Water streets.
Stroh added that the city has been inching to the point when the next big project, whatever it may be, may lock up downtown parking.
“I’d hate to see that happen,” he said.
Huja agreed, saying that while the city should pursue park-and-ride options, “at the same time I still think you need a parking garage downtown, sometime in the future.”