Does Indy have a parking crunch?

Lots of people do lots of complaining about parking Downtown.

New condos, apartments and restaurants are depleting parking spaces, they say. It’s too much of a hassle to drive Downtown anymore, they grumble. Even the occasional reference to Chicago-style congestion can be heard.

A new study suggests they should get over it.

Commissioned by Downtown Indy, the survey by Walker Parking Consultants concluded that plenty of spaces exist in three of the city’s busiest neighborhoods.

In fact, the study found that there was more available parking at night than during the day on Massachusetts Avenue, Fountain Square and in the Market East District.

In the Mass Ave. area, researchers found that during a typical weekday 49 percent of about 8,500 spaces available are taken.  On Saturday night, 37 percent of the spaces are filled, meaning there are more than 5,000 empty spots.

In Market East, the area around Washington and Alabama streets, 60 percent of the nearly 9,500 available spaces are taken during weekdays, and 11 percent are occupied during the night.

And in Fountain Square, occupancy was 31 percent weekdays, 38 percent weekend nights.

The findings were a bit surprising to Downtown Indy officials because gripes about parking have been so prevalent, said Erika Hinshaw, the organization’s planning and data manager.

“That’s why the study was done,” she said. “We were getting so many complaints from the neighborhoods that we felt we should do one and find out.”

Hinshaw said what people perceive as a parking shortage could really be parking spot displacement; if drivers have to park farther from their destination than they used to, they could think it’s because the spaces are running out.

“People tend to like to park close to where they are going,” Hinshaw said.

The researchers said what they considered available parking would require a short “but acceptable walking distance in some cases.”

Despite the findings, Sally Spier, president of the Chatham Arch Neighborhood Association, said she thinks there is a shortage in the Mass Ave. area.

“I guess it depends on what you think a problem is,” Spier said. “For people who live herem it is coming home and not being able to park near your house. I can also tell you stories of people who came to visit the area and left after a half-hour of driving around without finding a spot.”

Sharon Rickson, 32, said she used to work and live near Mass Ave. but still visits old friends there frequently.

“There is not a lot of parking on the weekend,” said Rickson, who parked at a meter near Starbucks on Tuesday afternoon. “On Friday and Saturday nights, it’s like Disney World here.”

Rickson said she is willing to park up to a mile away from her destination but seldom needs to park that far.

Parking meter revenues falling far short of expectations

Spier said she suspects that the boundaries the consultant measured were so vast that what was classified as available might not necessarily be practical.

Walker Consulting defined the boundaries for the Mass Ave. area as 10th Street to the north, Davidson Street to the east, Ohio Street to the south, and Delaware Street to the west. For Market East, the boundaries were Vermont Street to the north, Park Avenue to the east, the CSX Railroad tracks to the south and Delaware Street to the west. Fountain Square was bordered by English Avenue to the north, South State Street to the east, East Pleasant Run Parkway North Drive to the south, and I-65/70 to the west.

The glut of parking won’t last long, however, the researchers said. The squeeze will begin in about three years, when many of the current building projects are completed. And there are a lot — 66 projects worth $2.5 billion invested all across Downtown, the bulk of them in the Mass Ave. and Market East areas. In all, 4,135 residential units and 682 hotel rooms are under construction, according to Downtown Indy.

The study projects that in three to five years the number of open spaces in the Mass Ave. area will shrink to about 600 on a Saturday night. For Market East it will drop from 8,386 to 3,429.

To alleviate the coming crunch, the study recommends that the city require new development to include parking garages, that the city work out deals with private parking lot owners to open their space up to the public, and that the city consider buying land and running its own municipal lots.

Hinshaw said Downtown Indy already is exploring another recommendation: developing technology that lets drivers find parking spots through a smart phone app.

Kelley Adams, 22, said when she visits Mass Ave. she uses an app that lets her feed the meter from her phone so she doesn’t have to run back to the parking spot. She said she would welcome an app that helps find the space to begin with.

She also works on Mass Ave. at the Small Mall, where her employer rents four spaces for employees.

“We don’t have to deal with the parking much,” she said. “But the customers do, and a lot of them find the meters confusing.”

City-County Council member Zach Adamson said that negotiating with private lot owners is a good idea in the short term to ease parking shortages and that “we as a city have to do a better job of letting people know where those spots are.”

In the long term, he said, city-owned lots are a  possibility, but the city needs to “look at what direction we need to go as far as transportation as a whole.”

“We should be thinking about getting people out of cars with mass transit and by making the city more walkable,” he said. “Maybe a Downtown circulator (shuttle bus) is a possibility.”

The study also found that parking was adequate during events at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the Old National Center. The study did not examine parking during larger events like the Fourth of July fireworks, the Circle of Lights celebration at Monument Circle and the Indianapolis 500 but remarked that drivers are more willing to park farther away for such events.

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