Featured photo: (stock photo)

UPDATED (1/29): This piece was updated to include additional information about potential changes.

Thirty-six percent — 153 acres — of the land in downtown Greensboro is used for some form of paid parking. That’s more than much larger US cities with a population of 1 million or more, which have an average of 22 percent of land in the city’s center that is used for parking. To compare, Greensboro has a population of about 300,000 per the 2022 Census.

During the 2023 fiscal year, the city of Greensboro issued 12,527 parking citations. It collected nearly $3.5 million in parking fund revenues while its expenses totaled nearly $6.1 million, which includes the debt service on their Eugene Street and February One parking decks. This means that the city is subsidizing the program by around $3 million every year. Still, public parking decks are currently underutilized.

The city wants to change that. For residents, that means paying more for parking. Although there is an abundance of parking downtown, it is “not equitably distributed,” a press release from the city states.

During a work session on Thursday, the city’s Transportation Director Hanna Cockburn told Mayor Nancy Vaughan and city councilmembers that the city has 957 on-street parking spaces and 4,878 off-street spaces.

Councilmember Zack Matheny and Transportation Director Hanna Cockburn discuss parking in downtown Greensboro on Jan. 25.

In 2022, the city conducted a study and hired consultant Kimley-Horn to develop a Downtown Parking Plan. This study took a look at parking practices in cities such as Greenville, SC, Raleigh, NC and Savannah, GA, finding that most of them charge higher hourly rates for on-street parking and continue to charge later into the evening and on weekends.

About five percent of downtown Greensboro is publicly owned parking, while the rest of the parking facilities are privately operated. “To meet their parking demand and minimize construction costs, developers in downtown Greensboro have primarily constructed surface parking lots,” the findings state.

Typical construction costs associated with surface parking range from $3,500 to $7,000 per space and $25,000 to $35,000 per space in above-ground structured parking decks.

Following the city’s survey of 968 people, 52 percent of people admitted that they linger in on-street spaces for longer than the two-hour limit. Cockburn said that this shows that their parking enforcement efforts — made up of five enforcement officers responsible for the whole city — are “not meeting the needs of creating more turnover.” This results in fewer available parking spaces during high demand times of day.

Thirty-six percent of the land in downtown Greensboro is used for parking. (screenshot)

The city also found that the hours between 5-8 p.m. hold the highest demand for parking. They plan to change operation timeframes for on-street parking to 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Current enforcement stops around 5 p.m. and runs Monday through Friday.

They could also increase the hourly rate to $1.50; for 2-hour spaces it’s currently $1 an hour. Low-demand parking areas on the fringes of downtown would become free. Meanwhile, high-demand areas such as Elm Street, which is currently free, would become paid.

As for off-street parking such as lots and decks, the rate could jump to $2 an hour and operate 24 hours a day. It’s currently $1 per hour. Approximately 351 parking spaces are used in the city’s Greene Street parking deck on a typical weekday.

The consultants also pointed to a lack of investment in the parking system and safety concerns. Some potential solutions include increasing the brightness of parking decks, installing security doors at decks and improving signage that directs drivers to city-owned decks.

Other recommendations from the consultants include:

  • Modernizing and simplifying policies and procedures
  • Generating more turnover by charging for parking in high-demand areas and enforcing time limits
  • Expanding parking enforcement hours to include Saturdays and evenings until 8 p.m.
  • Transitioning to pay stations instead of parking meters
  • Addressing the maintenance backlog in parking decks

The draft plan will be available for review until March 15; take the survey here. Comments and revisions to the plan will then be brought before the city council for adoption. The plan would be implemented over the course of five years.

Free parking is a pretty big draw to downtown. Last year there were 8.3 million visits downtown, according to Councilmember Zack Matheny, who is also the president of Downtown Greensboro, Inc.

“We finally have people coming downtown,” Matheny said.

“Our businesses, in particular, are small. They are ‘Mom and Pop’s,’ they are the epitome of small businesses,” 

Matheny warned that they needed to “be careful” not to “punish” people who come downtown to support small businesses.

Matheny suggested that they could consider selling the flat-surface parking lot across from the Green Bean coffee shop.

Overall, “there’s some land that needs to be sold, and some development that needs to happen,” Matheny said.

Greensboro’s new parking plan comes on the heels of neighboring Winston-Salem’s plan to secure a new downtown parking vendor in order to charge higher rates and extend enforcement times.

Submit comments about the parking plan via the city’s survey here by March 15.

The next city council meeting and public comment period takes place on Feb. 6. Learn more on how to give feedback here.

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