Soon, drivers will have to kiss the days of free parking in downtown Bend goodbye. The city is growing and pressure on its downtown infrastructure means the City will be implementing changes in the next few years — including paid parking. Out goes free two-hour parking in the Mirror Pond parking basins and in comes hourly fees, a new Parking Demand Manager, updates to long-term employee permits, off-road parking lots and increases in bicycle parking.
On June 7, the City Council voted unanimously to accept the recommended strategies from the Downtown Strategic Parking Management Plan, a program put together by the City of Bend and Rick Williams Consulting, who since 2015 have analyzed parking trends within the downtown core.
Parking Study Results
Driving into the core of Bend often involves making loops around downtown searching for a coveted parking space. As tourists flock to the area in the summer months, the strain to find parking means that on average, 85 percent of on-street parking stalls are occupied — with the Mirror Pond parking lots experiencing consistently higher rates. In comparison, off-street lots experience less demand, at an average rate of 55 percent occupancy. Peak times for downtown spots vary, but are most congested between 1:30 and 3 pm and again between 6:30 and 7:30 pm.
"Not surprising," says Shawn Nelson, who works downtown and sees the daily grind. "I'll see the same Subaru cruising around looking for a spot, when they could go into the parking garage just down the street. I think it's just plain laziness, or maybe the newbies don't know they're there. I don't know."
Consistent signage for parking lots is an issue, so the City will also aim to rename parking lots and make signage more clear. "Let's just hope the signage doesn't become crazy complicated like it is in Corvallis," says Nelson, "I mean, it's so tiring to figure out that it's enough not to want to go into the city."
Eliminating free parking will begin in Mirror Pond within the next 24 months with city officials hoping that enforcing stricter time limits will promote higher turnover for tourists and discourage residents and downtown employees from taking crucial spots. With free parking still the norm, as many as 210 cars are reportedly moved every few hours "to evade" the system each day in the downtown core. The study says infractions for surpassing two-hour time limits are high for Bend's size at nearly 10 percent.
"Working closely with the City and the parking consulting team, we are encouraged about improvements planned for our downtown parking program," said Rod Porsche,executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association. "Getting the right cars in the right stalls is important. Also important is raising awareness of where the best places are for employees to park as they are critical to the success of Downtown Bend."
By the Numbers
There are 5,803 total parking stalls in the study area of downtown Bend, of which 1,805 are on-street and 3,998 off-street. The number of stalls allowing all-day stays represents a large portion of the supply, at more than half — 56 percent — while two-hour time-limited stalls in the core represent just 39 percent of the total supply. The study team says the current format favors long-term parking, which is unusual for a downtown with such a high level of retail activity that relies so heavily on tourism.
Cassidy Meyers, who works in downtown retail, says, "I see it all the time, customers come in here, realize they're over their time limit and then bolt out the door before we can make a sale. It can be super frustrating to everyone involved, not just us, but the tourists who we rely on, who don't end up spending their cash."
In the study, Rick Williams Consulting drew parking parallels to other areas, noting that most if not all cities charge for parking in their downtown areas. In their report, they noted that other areas adjust parking rates either annually or incrementally, with San Francisco adjusting rates every six weeks or so. As a rate comparison, the report used parking rates in south San Francisco, which currently range from $0.50 to $1 per hour. The national average is higher, at $1.67, while downtown San Francisco can see rates as high as $3.50. It remains to be seen which rate format the city adopts, as that part is still up for review.
Promoting Cycling as an Integral Strategy
Parking management isn't limited to cars, either. The study points to other Oregon cities such as Ashland and Portland that support bicycling as a key transportation strategy. The study noted that downtown lacks "sufficient 'trip-end' spaces for bicycling and that by providing adequate bicycle parking it will expand the capacity of the overall parking supply downtown."
Racks, corrals and even funding for interior racks for downtown employees are all on the docket. Emphasis will be on making them clearly visible, ample and easy to access. Later stages may even see the introduction of off-site parking shuttles or neighborhood greenways if parking remains congested.
With Bend poised to grow up to 40 percent in the next decade, the city is making plans to accommodate the pressure — while making some pennies — to ease the current downtown parking woes. And if you think Galveston Avenue. or the Old Mill won't be affected, then you're mistaken; those are next on the list of parking issues to tackle.
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