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The State of Downtown Atlanta Parking and What to Do About It

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"Downtown Atlanta doesn't have a parking problem... it has a perception problem," at least according to a newly completed parking assessment from Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID). The comprehensive study assessed the current state of parking in the downtown area and made several recommendations for improvements. None of the recommendations involve reducing the 93,000+ spaces downtown, despite wide-spread public venom aimed at sprawl-y surface lots. According to the AJC's Sunday business section, the lots discourage some retailers from moving downtown by creating gaps that make storefront shopping difficult. Data show that occupancy of lots near Centennial Park fell by an average of 4 percent between 2007 and 2013; lots near GSU by 14 percent; lots near Underground by 19 percent. It's not clear whether the reduction is from increased telecommuting, use of public transit or other factors. What is clear is that the number of people downtown is increasing as parking lot occupancy decreases.

The four square mile area studied has 23,000 residents, 62,000 students, 118,000 daytime office workers, 13,000 hotel rooms, 1.7 million square feet of retail and 16.2 million square feet of office space (with 4.4 million more planned by 2030).

CAPand ADID's recommendations included creating a strong, consistent brand for all parking within the city — both publicly and privately owned — then using those consistent visuals on wayfaring signs and public parking signage across the city.

Other possibilities include allocating on-street spots for car-share programs, allowing drivers to pay for parking via a smartphone app, capping booting/towing fees at $50 and creating a website that helps motorists easily find nearby parking. Oh, and ditching ParkAtlanta and the associated "negative publicity" in two years in favor of a "less punitive" system that promotes education and modern parking options such as smart meters and pay-by-phone systems.

Also on the table but not highly recommended are in-pavement or pole-mounted vehicle sensors that would allow the city to display real-time availability for on-street parking and to collect useful data on parking trends. Sounds helpful, but the sticking point is that each censor costs $200 to $300 to install with monthly costs of about $25. Given downtown's 2,000 street parking spaces, the censors could cost $600,000 initially plus another $600,000 in ongoing costs.

Will any of this help if, according to a poll conducted during the study, 63 percent of people who go downtown do so by driving alone? And more importantly, should we be focused on improving the drive for those individuals or on encouraging public transit, improving pedestrian access and replacing concrete surface lots with dense development?

· Downtown Atlanta Parking Assessment [Full Report]