Truth behind the parking study

Kent Wooldridge is a retired ex-geek who loves Chico

In 2003, at the request of the Downtown Chico Business Association, the city commissioned a parking study by Omni-Means, an engineering firm. The study was confined to the area between First and Ninth streets and Normal and Orient streets. This area was divided into six sub-areas.

The report says that on-street occupancy never exceeds 61 percent in the study area. The off-street parking occupancy varies from 45 percent to 90 percent during peak hours, so at the very worst times 10 percent of the off-street places are open.

Omni-Means conducted a survey of downtown users, who were asked to rate the convenience of downtown parking on a scale of 1-10. About 74 percent rated the convenience between fair (5) and excellent (10). The most common rating was 7, and the next most common was 10. The report concludes that “the majority of downtown users do not perceive a parking problem.”

The DCBA also surveyed its own members, and 50 percent of those who responded said they were satisfied with parking downtown. The results are reported in the March newsletter, available through the DCBA Web site.

However, the report surprisingly finds that sub-area 1, centered around Second and Main streets, has a current shortage of 331 parking spaces, and that in 20 years it will be short 639 places. The entire study area is projected to have a shortage of 962 places in 20 years. How are these numbers determined?

The 331 figure is from an estimate based on standard formulas from the ITE Parking Generation, second edition (ITE is the Institute of Transportation Engineers). The estimates are based on surveys taken in suburban settings where there is free parking and no public transportation. Also, the report says that the theoretical estimates “assume that peak parking levels for all land uses occur at the same time of the day, when in actuality this is not the case. For this reason, the actual peak demand levels should be less, overall, than the theoretical estimates.”

It’s clear that Chico is very different from the places the estimates were based on. Chico is not a suburb, and parking is not free during peak hours. We also have walkers and bike riders.

The future projections are based on past growth in sales revenue. The assumption is that downtown sales revenue will continue to grow at the same rate as it has in the recent past, and that parking demand is proportional to sales revenue. Maybe. Or maybe shoppers are just spending more on the average. Who knows?

The full report should be available soon through the city of Chico web site. I hope many people will read it carefully.