TPP-2012-12-Shining BeaconBy Kurt Matthews

Parking and traffic demand management (TDM): are they friend, foe, or partners? In Boulder, Colo., we look at these two concepts as elements of a larger notion that we call access management. Properly managed parking supports TDM by helping control and, at the same time, ensure access to our downtown. Through the formation of partnerships between parking staff, business leaders, and TDM staff, Boulder’s downtown is thriving and growing; revenues are reinvested back into TDM programs and contribute to reaching our goal of successful access management.

Boulder is a city of 100,000 located about 30 miles northwest of Denver. The city is home to the University of Colorado and 30,000 students as well as numerous government agencies. Our downtown is highlighted by the four-block Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall. We have a very active downtown business association that has a keen interest in parking and access to downtown.

In the 1970s, the need for increased management of parking became clear, and a central area general improvement district (CAGID) was formed to meet this need. CAGID provides public parking in the commercial district downtown. This district parking concept allows developers greater flexibility by not placing parking maximums or minimums on commercial development. Taxes are paid to the district and in return, parking is provided and revenues are returned to the area.

Managing Parking
Parking is managed through a variety of tools and methods. We have pay-and-display kiosks throughout the downtown to manage on-street parking. We also use single-head meters in areas that have a specific demand. For example, those meters limit parking to 30 minutes outside the post office. CAGID operates five garages that allow permit parking as well as short-term daily use.

We respect the neighborhood concept in the residential area that surrounds our downtown through various parking programs. These include a neighborhood parking permit (NPP) program that allows residents to purchase permits to park in neighborhoods where parking is limited to a three-hour timeframe; user costs are limited to our actual administrative costs. We also sell commuter and business permits. Commuter permits are issued to specific blocks and are sold only if studies indicate that additional parking is available. Business permits recognize the mixed-use nature of some neighborhoods. All of our permits only allow the opportunity to park; they do not guarantee available spaces. Garage permits are set at $275 per quarter, which is priced at slightly less than private rates. In addition to garage and on-street parking, we operate several surface lots that are permit-only during certain hours of the day.

Reinvestment in the Community
We look at parking and TDM as an integrated philosophy where parking revenues are invested in TDM, which creates greater access, which generates parking revenue. Figure 1 demonstrates our philosophy:

The revenues support a multi-pronged approach to parking and TDM. CAGID staff is responsible for approximately 4,000 public parking spaces, more than 1,300 bicycle parking spaces, managing paid and shared parking, and an Eco-Pass program; all of these, when combined, produce an enhanced community transit network.

Perhaps our greatest reinvestment comes in the form of our managed Eco-Pass Program. An Eco-Pass is a transit pass to the regional bus and rail system (RTD). The Eco-Pass allows the presenter to ride anywhere in the system at no charge. The City of Boulder has a master contract with RTD, and one staff member oversees this program. The program costs approximately $750,000 per year, which is paid for out of parking revenues; this breaks down to around $125 per downtown employee. That may seem like a large sum of money, but compared with the cost of building an additional garage ($28,000 or more per space), it is really a bargain. We find that many employees take extensive advantage of the program, which results in a diminished demand for parking. We also achieve availability ratios for short-term parkers visiting our downtown and investing in the local economy thanks to it.

Getting Downtown
Commuter patterns are surveyed and documented on a regular basis. We look at single-occupancy vehicles, mass transit, bicycle, and foot. Figure 2 demonstrates our findings.

As you can see, we have achieved approximately 65 percent alternative mode usage to the downtown area, which has significantly reduced our need to provide parking. Our research has also shown that employees with Eco-Passes are more likely to use transit than those without passes. This greatly reduces single-occupancy vehicle trips, reducing pollution and providing space.

Biking to work has also become very popular. To meet this parking demand, the City of Boulder’s Parking Services provides more than 1,300 bike racks throughout the downtown area. Racks are found in garages and on public right-of-ways. Additionally, we recently launched a pilot to look at the concept of a parking corral: one on-street parking space is turned into a bike corral that allows for the parking of eight to 10 bicycles. Again, this is all paid for through the reinvestment of parking dollars.

We have two bike corrals in place now and they are always full. As additional requests for bike parking come in, we are working with transportation staff to write policy on how to determine where they get placed. At the same time, parking dollars are invested in a locally-run bike rental enterprise; B-Cycle has several stations throughout the city where a person can rent a bicycle, ride to their destination, and leave the bike in a different docking station. The program is experiencing success and new stations are being installed throughout the city.

The Future
What does the future hold for parking in the City of Boulder? Zoning laws were recently amended to allow for greater density in the downtown zone, to spur commercial development. Developers do not need to plan for parking—that responsibility belongs to CAGID. With this challenge and responsibility, the first question we needed to answer was exactly how many parking spaces there are downtown. The only way to do that was count. We commissioned a consultant to document parking and provide us projections.

The consultant found that there are approximately 7,000 public and private parking spaces in the downtown area, and these spaces are approximately 68 percent occupied on a typical weekday daytime period. So we have some room for growth, but how much?

Development projections are difficult to assess with all the variables involved. To meet these challenges, we made several assumptions and produced five different scenarios. Our best-case scenario would show us a deficit of only 25 spaces per build out while our worse-case shows a deficit of 1,400 spaces. TDM and alternative mode usage is one of the primary assumptions. Our goal is to reach 70 percent or greater alternative mode usage. Reinvesting parking dollars in alternative modes and continued support of the Eco-Pass will go a long way towards meeting the demands for parking.

Alternative modes are not the sole solution, however. We have begun to recognize the potential of partnering with private facilities to provide public parking. Sharing and unbundling parking in a win-win matter can reap significant benefits for public and private organizations. CAGID can provide parking, and the private owner can generate revenue from what had been an unused asset. Even raising the use of private parking a few percentage points has a significant effect on the demand for short-term public parking.

Through the reinvestment of parking dollars, we can offer transit passes to our employees, reducing the demand for long-term parking and increasing availability for short-term parking, subsequently increasing revenue through parking and sales tax. Creating a district to manage parking and return the revenues may seem like additional government bureaucracy, but proper management provides a positive return on investment.

No one can know what the future holds, but with proper planning, we can be ready. We have begun the process to mold and shape parking as we move forward toward the future. Public/private partnerships to share and unbundle parking is one approach we have taken to provide adequate parking in our downtown area. We are currently in the process of putting our learning to task as we develop a public/private transit-oriented district (TOD). Agreements are being put in place for the management of a shared facility that will be home to residential housing, a hotel, a restaurant, and a RTD bus facility, all served by one garage that would need to be significantly larger if parking management strategies did not mesh with traffic demand strategies and private commercial need.

Kurt Matthews is manager of parking services for the City of Boulder, Colo. He can be reached at or 303.413.7320.

TPP-2012-12-Shining Beacon