Convincing suburban drivers that downtown parking is available

The Chicago suburbs of Wheaton and Glen Ellyn are looking for ways to convince residents that there are plenty of parking spots in their downtowns:

For years, officials in Glen Ellyn have been hearing from residents about a lack of parking in the downtown, despite studies showing plenty of spaces available for customers…

“It dawned upon us that it isn’t a lack of parking, but addressing the perception of the lack of parking,” Glen Ellyn Police Chief Phil Norton said at a recent village meeting. “We’re going to shift our focus and start working on addressing the perception. You can go anywhere and be within a block or a block and a half of convenient parking.”…

The changes include creating 12 “Customer Only” parking spots where parking meters were removed in the Main Street and Pennsylvania lot. It also includes making the Union Pacific lot at Crescent and Main customer parking only, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and making Schock Square customer parking only, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays…

In Wheaton, parking was one of the issues addressed in the final draft of a downtown strategic plan and streetscape plan recently released by the city’s consultants. A parking analysis shows there is enough parking in the city’s downtown, despite a perceived parking issue reported by residents who participated in the survey, officials said.

In the plan, consultants recommended the city consider adding differentiated time limits on certain spaces such as 15 minutes, 1 hour and two hours. That will encourage employees to park in other areas and free up spaces for customers, consultants said.

It would helpful to know why exactly residents think there isn’t much parking. Is it because the parking isn’t right in front of the store? Is it because the parking is more difficult to get into, say angled or parallel parking, than a large parking lot? Is it because the streets or narrower or they can’t perceive they can walk to multiple stores? Some of these issues might seem plausible yet people are willing to endure walks in large, crowded parking lots for big box stores or malls.

The interesting thing to me is that this is a decades-long problem for these downtowns. It dates back at least to the 1950s when downtowns had to start competing with new strip malls and shopping malls which offered multiple stores as well as free parking (as opposed to having parking meters). Even though downtowns might offer plenty of stores within a short distance, I suspect suburbanites perceive that it is more congested and more difficult to get to, even before they know whether parking is available.

Another creative solution: apps or websites that display available parking spaces downtown which gives people real-time information as well as combats percetions that parking isn’t available.

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