Smarter parking policy, not more spaces, is the answer to Oberlin’s woes.
That’s the argument made Friday by Oberlin College architect Steven Varelmann, who cited a study by Walker Parking Consultants.
The firm analyzed Oberlin’s downtown parking geography, which has been the subject of disputes going back to at least the 1960s.
The study was contracted by the college as part of a bid to build a 300-seat performing arts addition to Hall Auditorium on Rt. 58. The city planning commission gave final approval Wednesday to the site plans.
Walker identified 2,523 parking spaces in the downtown zone, 53 percent of which are college-owned and operated with limited public access. Another 26 percent are privately owned, and 21 percent are public.
The conclusion, Varelmann told city officials and business owners: Parking headaches can be resolved with better management of existing spaces.
Phil Baron is director of studies for Walker Parking’s Chicago office, which has experience finding solutions for hospitals, college towns, corporate campuses, airports, and zoos. “Parking can either bring the community together or divide it,” especially where there is a town-gown mindset, he said.
Calling into Friday’s meeting, he said his firm doesn’t always recommend creating more parking spaces.
Recently, it advised the city of Madison, Wis., against building a parking structure that would have cost several million dollars. Walker Parking instead recommended more sustainable parking practices that meet the city’s changing needs.
Baron said building a $5 million to $7 million parking garage may sound attractive, but there’s actually a strong chance that few people will opt to use it.
Getting employees and students to park in lots farther from the center of town is a much better goal, he said. The city and college need to find ways to keep spaces close to businesses open to shoppers, patrons, and other visitors.
In other cities, Walker has found meters can encourage parking turnover in front of stores and restaurants; they also discourage long-term parkers from taking up prime spots.
The key ingredient in changing parking policy will be enforcement “to induce cooperation,” said Baron.
Varelmann said Oberlin has used “very passive” parking management — namely, chalking tires to see what vehicles violate the two-hour parking limit downtown.
He asked for the formation of a parking committee to study ways to change Oberlin’s parking culture. It would consist of representatives from the city, college, businesses, organizations, a resident liaison, and owners of Oberlin’s off-street parking lot. Varelmann said he hopes to have the committee assembled to meet within a month.
Oberlin city manager Rob Hillard pledged the city’s support for the committee. But he said he would question its usefulness if all groups are not represented — suggesting there may be some who don’t want to take part.
Councilwoman Linda Slocum said committee meetings should be kept public so that all viewpoints are welcomed in the talks.
Whatever changes the committee decides have merit, parking problems could dissipate in the coming 10 to 15 years, said Varelmann and Baron.
Pointing to self-driving car tests on the Ohio Turnpike and by ride-sharing service Uber, they mused that the demand for individually-owned cars could fall by 40 percent. Self-parking cars could also change the landscape.
Baron said research on millennials’ habits suggest the rising generation is far more comfortable using app-driven ride services.
‘We could just wait for the future and I think this is going to resolve itself,” Varelmann said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.