In many communities across the country, there are concerns about parking in the city’s core, usually with as many opinions as there are people! The Heart of Biddeford wishes to add to the community conversation about downtown parking and parking meters, drawing upon the results of the City of Biddeford’s 2012 Parking Study as well as our own 2015 parking survey.
The City’s 2012 Parking Study included an inventory of existing downtown parking, a projection of future parking needs and an economic analysis. The study had several conclusions that we wish to highlight:
- Future parking needs of the downtown, inclusive of the Mill District, cannot be met with existing surface parking lots, and more parking spaces will be required in order to fully realize the growth potential for the Mill District.
- Managing municipal parking in small towns is successful when the municipality controls at least 50 percent of the parking supply. In 2011, the City of Biddeford only controlled 45 percent of its parking supply.
- Valuable two-hour parking spaces are not turning over on Main Street, because, in many cases, employees and business owners are staying four to 10 hours in these spaces.
- The Mill District has a projected 2,000-space deficit, for the five-year projection made in 2011.
- Parking management solutions should be sought (and many are, in fact, underway), including signs and wayfinding, enforcement, marketing parking availability, and joint public/private ventures in parking lots.
- Modern parking meters (like those used in Portsmouth and Portland) are amenities to increase parking ease, including pay-by-phone or credit card options, and programmable meters to provide variable times (e.g., depending on day of the week or time of day).
We support implementing the study’s parking solutions for downtown for the following reasons:
- To avoid raising taxes, we need to increase the tax base. Downtown and mill property values rise when new businesses and jobs are added. The tax bill for North Dam Mill has increased from less than $10,000 to more than $100,000 in the past 10 years.
- Development downtown has lower infrastructure costs to the city than development elsewhere.
- Development downtown benefits the rest of the city economically and gives us a thriving city center.
- Investment in our downtown is important to Maine’s economy. Maine is the oldest state in the country, in terms of average age of citizens, which means we do not have the young workers needed for the new economy.
- “Generation Y” (18 to 35-year-olds) seek walkable, livable, urban lifestyles. They want to frequent unique entertainment, shopping, restaurants and residences. Biddeford has all of these.
- The development opportunities are coming, but we are not prepared. The 144,000 square feet of space in the new Pepperell Mill Campus (Building 13) was projected by the developer to take two years to develop. In just nine months, the entire space was leased to Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Impact Fitness, Angelrox, Handsfree Vehicle Technologies, The Yard, Maine Pie Company, Banded Horn Brewery, Equilibrium, Joe McKenney Photography, and Portland Pie. These businesses have created 75 jobs, and bring thousands of people to the city. Since the parking study was done, more than 500 people either live or work within the Pepperell Mill Campus.
- The city believes the parking spaces are now at maximum occupancy in the mills. In coming years, business opportunities will need to be turned down due to lack of parking.
- In 2011, when the research for the parking study was conducted, there were 22 vacant storefronts in the downtown district (this includes the streets that connect to Main Street). Since 2011, most of those empty storefronts have been filled as 19 new businesses have opened in the downtown district. That’s not counting the more than 80 businesses that have opened in the mills during this same time period.
- If parking meters are installed downtown, they would only happen as part of a parking management program. It would make no sense at this point to discourage people from parking on Main Street (by charging them) if there were not a convenient, less expensive option to direct them to (such as parking lots/structures).
- Any parking meter project should have the endorsement of downtown business and property owners. An overall parking management program would exist to help them, not hurt them.
- UCLA Professor of Urban Planning Donald Shoup wrote a book called “The High Cost of Free Parking,” in which he scientifically showed that parking meters, when combined with a parking management program, encourage more turnover on Main Street. And, even with meters, the city can create free parking, disabled parking, short-term parking, employee parking, resident parking or other options to fit the needs of the community. This study also concluded that local businesses would not be negatively affected by a metering program, provided it was within a parking management program. Shoup also demonstrated that parking structures are better for the environment than street parking because it discourages people from “cruising” for parking spots, which wastes gas. For that reason, the public and the employees in the downtown should be encouraged to park in a structure.
The Heart of Biddeford bases our comments on the results of the City’s 2012 study. The Heart of Biddeford Board of Directors believe that due to the factors described above, parking meters and a parking structure may very well have a place in a parking management plan in the very near future. As growth has occurred more quickly than expected in the downtown, we hesitate to eliminate any option that could help the revitalization. In short, if we limit the options, we limit the possibilities.
Given the amazing growth in the past two years – especially during tough economic times – we are surprised that we still hear people say that Biddeford isn’t making a comeback. For any who have witnessed the increase in foot traffic during lunch time, seen the increasing diversity of age and lifestyle of downtown patrons, enjoyed the popularity of great new businesses, or been part of the hundreds of people out on Main Street before a City Theater show or during ArtWalk, we know a change has come.
This is the time to plan for the development opportunities that are coming our way, and that planning should include full and swift consideration of parking structure(s), parking meters, and the rest of the parking management strategies.