So many of us remember when you could drive to Downtown Austin, quickly find a parking spot on the street, and leave your car there for free all day while you enjoy Downtown. Let’s first be clear: if that would still work today, we wouldn’t have changed it!
Fortunately, Austin is booming and our Downtown area is an economic core that draws more visitors than we have on-street parking spaces. The days of finding quick, free spots turned into days where you couldn’t find a spot because people working, living and visiting Downtown had filled them and would leave their cars there for extended periods of time. So, how did we get to our current paid parking system and what lies in store for the future?
First, the price for parking is so important. To summarize the godfather of parking in the United States, Donald Shoup, if the parking price is too high, then spaces will be left vacant (as you can see, we don’t have this issue in Austin!). If the price is too low, then most of the spaces will always be taken forcing drivers to cruise and circle the block hunting for parking which adds to our traffic congestion, pollutes the air, wastes fuel, and in my own words…it is frustrating! In fact, Shoup cites that in some cities 30-40% of the congestion in some downtown areas is created by people looking for parking. This is why we have paid parking in areas of Austin – it is a tool we use to help create parking availability by incentivizing turn over. By turn over, we’re talking about people using the spaces for the allotted amount of time, and then moving on so someone else can use the space.
So where should you park if you need to leave your car longer than the typical 3 or 5 hour time limit of on-street parking meters? The answer: parking garages and some surface lots. Yes, we understand that at times even Austin’s parking garages and surface lots are close to capacity, but there is still a shift happening in Austin for those who were used to parking on the street. They would rather continue circling for that on-street parking spot than use our garages. As Austin continues to grow, that choice might get more frustrating, so we encourage drivers to use our Downtown garages and surface lots- most of them are privately owned and some are owned by the City. For our City garages, we are working on adding large signs to the outside of the garage that will let you know how many spaces are available.
Now let’s dive into the evening parking conversation. We’ve heard people claim, “if there were more evening parking options, then people would not drive home impaired.” Loud and clear, we want to debunk this mindset. First, there are more than 3,000 parking spaces on the street in Downtown Austin (IH-35 to Lamar Boulevard, and Lady Bird Lake to 10th Street) where people can leave their cars parked overnight. The parking meters in Downtown Austin have yellow “Next Day” buttons that allow people to buy meter time for the next day. Not only that, but meters aren’t enforced on Sundays! So let’s get into a few hypotheticals:
You drive your car Downtown Friday night and pay for parking up until midnight. The parking meters in that area do not start Saturday until 11 a.m., so you have until 11 a.m. Saturday to come get your car. If you can’t get your car by 11, you still had the option to buy “Next Day” parking at the meter, which would get you extra time on Saturday.
You drive your car Downtown Saturday night and pay for parking up until midnight. Meters are not enforced on Sunday, so technically you have until Monday morning to come get your car.
So after all of that, what if you still park your car Downtown but aren’t able to drive it home so you get another ride home (taxi, bus, etc.) and you get a parking ticket. Well, if you bring us your receipt from your safe ride home with your parking ticket, we will waive your ticket. Learn more about this option and safe ride home information at http://www.AustinTexas.gov/GetHomeSafe"> www.AustinTexas.gov/GetHomeSafe.
This isn’t to say that parking isn’t important in the impaired driving discussions; it is to say that we are listening and constantly improving to try to help- but we need people to do their part and make smart decisions.
We understand the role parking plays in your lives, and our goal is to make parking available, and easy to find. But we have to admit, as a community, that there is a limited supply of parking. We might need to look at our own personal travel choices and choose to travel differently. How much nicer would it be to come Downtown if you didn’t spend the first 15 minutes looking for a place to put your car? We are here and we are listening. Our Get Home Safe parking options were generated in house using feedback and input we got from the community; keep the feedback coming.
We are partners in this; the way you travel impacts the overall system and the way we manage parking impacts your daily lives. We’re doing our best to help you get where you’re going, but again – with a limited supply of parking resources, we encourage you to think about how you travel. Thank you for being our partner.
Gordon Derr, P.E., Assistant Director Austin Transportation Department