by Elizabeth Dilts
A new study released by the citizens group Bloomington Transportation Options for People (BTOP) shows that the city’s three downtown parking garages are vastly underused.
According to the study, when the parking garages were at their peak fullness, there were still 591 empty spaces.
“It shows that the parking garages are not well utilized,” said BTOP Director Laurence Brown.
The study finds fault with the city’s parking policies at a time when the Kruzan administration is proposing new regulations for downtown businesses and considering a new $4.7 million, taxpayer-subsidized parking garage for Finelight Communications and Strategic Marketing.
“We do not need another parking garage,” said Brown. “And we don’t need parking requirements downtown, either.”
Taxpayers lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on these facilities, he said.
“The city is subsidizing those parking garages to the tune of probably over half a million dollars a year,” he said, “and they’re half empty.”
City officials, to whom BTOP provided its data, would not comment on the study.
Assistant Director for Economic Development Danise Alano said she had only seen portions of it. Public Works Director Susie Johnson said she had not yet seen it. Deputy Mayor James McNamara could not be reached.
The study was conducted from Tuesday, Sept. 26 through Monday, Oct. 2. Four recorders walked through each garage and marked the spaces filled in leased parking spaces, permitted parking spaces and metered spaces at 5 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.
The Fourth and Walnut garage was the only one that ever approached three-quarters full – 71.6 percent at 10 a.m. on Friday morning.
The city leases parking spaces for either 24 hours per day, seven days per week for $675 for a year, or for 12 hours per day, five days per week for $550 a year.
“If you talk to the city, they would say all of these spaces are leased,” said Brown. “What is true is that the way the city is managing the parking garages needs to be re-evaluated.”
The study says, on average, the 24/7 and 12/5 leased parking spaces in the Seventh and Morton garage were, at their peak, less than two-thirds and half full respectively.
Neither the 24/7 nor the 12/5 leased spaces in the Walnut Street garage were utilized more than half the time.
“A reserved space is just unnecessary,” said Brown. “Virtually what you get as a result of reserving space is about half of the spaces are empty.”
The garage with the highest usage for leased, permitted and metered spaces was the Fourth and Walnut Garage.
Leased spaces there were over half full every weekday. The permitted spaces were near three-quarters full two days out of the week, and the metered spaces were over half full most of the time.
“In the Fourth Street parking garage, there are areas where the city does things right,” according to Brown. “That means they sell a permit, and they let you park in any number of permitted spots, and that’s an efficient way to do it because they sell more permits than they have spaces, kind of like IU does.”
There are 173 permitted spaces in the Fourth Street garage and 207 permits were sold by the city.
“Even that section only gets up to 75 percent full, and there are still almost 50 empty spaces even at the peak hour,” said Brown.
BTOP’s Eve Corrigan cites studies by UCLA professor Donald Shoup recommending market-based street parking rates. This idea brings metered parking into the 21st century with meters that allow unlimited parking for a fee that can be pre-paid or charged to a credit card.
Corrigan also disagrees with more property developed into parking.
“There are a lot of things we can do to make things better,” she said. “We’ve got more than enough, and we just need to manage not only the way our parking garages are set up but also our street parking.”
Brown hopes to see change.
“As a result of having empty spaces, you have to build more spaces,” Brown said. “They don’t realize that they’re hurting themselves.”
Elizabeth Dilts can be reached at .