Yesterday, we talked about why the belief that demand-responsive parking is always best might just be a myth. So if that’s not the answer to our parking woes, what is?Machine parking

Each of the components of a successful downtown has different parking needs. The answer, then, to an effective parking system supporting and complementing all of these components is not just demand-responsive parking, but a comprehensive, well-managed, customer-sensitive, and user-friendly approach.

Boise, Idaho, is a great example. If my memory is correct, Boise introduced a couple of hours of free parking to entice shoppers and diners. The parking system actually lost revenue but sales tax revenue exploded, more than making up for lost parking fees. Not only that, but shoppers were extending the time they spent in downtown. And as any shopping center manager will tell you, the more time I can capture a shopper, the more money that shopper will spend.

The Oakland article mentioned in yesterday’s blog post suggests that shoppers should abandon their cars and take public transit. But that is not how Americans shop. Remember, women make about 85 percent of retail purchases and most do not want to be schlepping a couple of shopping bags on a bus or subway car.

In the 1970s, Jim Rouse, the creator of festival marketplaces, brought that concept to Kevin White, then mayor of Boston. He proposed turning Quincy Markets into a festival market. The idea became a reality, and it worked, so other cities—Baltimore with Harborplace and New York with South Street Seaport—followed suit, with some degree of success. But festival markets were no magic bullet, and when they were tried in places like Flint and Toledo, they failed miserably.

I worry that demand-responsive parking is becoming the next magic bullet—an idea that works superbly in some places, modestly in others, and not at all in still others. If we really understand what shoppers, diners, downtown employees, tourists, downtown residents and other downtown visitors want and need—if we start with the user and not with the parking space—we might find far greater benefits in the long run.

Another trend in the parking industry is for parking system managers to engage in a strategic planning process. My bifurcated brain tells me that any city or district thinking about demand-responsive parking should start by listening to users, engaging them in a really effective strategic planning process, and only then deciding how best to serve and support them. Demand responsive parking is AN answer—not THE answer.