After years of endless studies, complaining, calls for one or more public structured garages and predatory towing practices, it turns out that actual parking shortages in the downtown (Broad at Washington intersection) of Falls Church are not so severe, according to a welcome new study by Walker Consultants and presented at Tuesday’s meeting of the F.C. Economic Development Authority (EDA).
Bernard Lee of the Bethesda-based Walker team presented the results of the downtown parking study covering 23 largely commercial blocks it was commissioned to undertake following an EDA initiative that began last September.
The summary result was that aside from periodic “hot spots,” there is not really a pressing parking problem in that area, and there are available low cost solutions for the troubled areas that could alleviate the parking issues there.
Ed Saltzberg of the EDA, who led the effort to set the study in motion last year, said there are certainly more workable solutions than the construction of a parking garage downtown somewhere which would come at the cost of $10,000 to $20,000 per parking space.
Options laid out by the Walker team include better use of existing spaces through signage and making them more visible to the public and the addition of some new on-street parking.
For example, Lee said, there could be eight on-street parking spaces added on Little Falls Street in front of City Hall.
He also proposed the prospect of 15 diagonal parking spaces in the 100 block of West Broad that would close one of the westbound lanes on weekends in the evenings.
There is also an existing City surface parking lot with 13 spaces on Maple Avenue that is hidden, due to excess foliage, from the public and that could be enhanced, including by evening lighting for visibility and safety purposes.
He said there could be passenger loading zones for Uber and Lyft users that would decrease the demand for parking, and increased efforts like what the City has negotiated with Kaiser Permanente and its structured garage in the 100 block of Park Avenue.
“You need only marginal increases in parking in that area,” he said. “There is not a huge problem, so you shouldn’t need to spend a lot of money on it.” He said that the area’s existing parking is “very infrequently at 100 percent.”
In the future, he added, there will be “less not more of a parking problem,” as the age of the single family car is rapidly passing.
They also proposed the use of inexpensive stationary cameras in selected lots that could identify open parking and relay the information on a regular basis to a parking or wayfinding app on a smartphone. He suggested the City parking spaces behind Mr. Brown’s Park in the 100 block of W. Broad be used as an experiment for the program, which is far less expensive, he said, than one might think.
The technology will also allow better, directed parking enforcement, alerting the police to cars that are overstaying the allotted times and saving the City money by reducing dependence on parking enforcement manpower.
Council member Letty Hardi said she preferred the use of magnetometers for use efforts as they are less likely to infringe on public rights to privacy.
Hardi was one of seven who were selected and interviewed by the Walker group in preparing the study. Others included Joel Dinkins, a downtown property manager, EDA chair Bob Young, also a property owner and developer, Joe Wetzel, a real estate developer, Sally Cole, executive director of the F.C. Chamber of Commerce, Treena Rinaldi, real estate agent, and Jeff Jeffrey, a downtown property owner. The team also met with Sonja Richardson of the police department, and held a roundtable including members of the police department and the offices of the Commissioner of the Revenue and Treasurer.
The public parking spaces inventory studied included the spaces always available to the public in three lots — the 60 spaces in the lot behind Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, 13 spaces in the lot adjacent to N. Maple Ave., and 48 spaces in the lot near Mr. Brown’s Park. It was noted that the 60 spaces behind Clare and Don’s may be incorporated in the Insight development project garage.
It was also noted that there are 160 spaces in the City Hall Lot and 145 in the lower level of the George Mason Square garage that become available to the public on weeknights and weekends. The Kaiser Permanente garage is only available on Friday nights and weekends.
But a big key addressing the ongoing problem can involve better work at shared parking arrangements, including the use of incentives to work together.
On the issue of parking meters and fines, the EDA’s Mike Novotny proposed “monetizing public street parking,” but Saltzberg stressed that parking policies going forward should not be seen as an “economic generator.”
“Our goal is that we want to encourage people to park here,” he said.
The EDA’s Brian Williams stressed the need to provide for bicycles and electric scooters that relieve the need for vehicle parking spaces and congestion on the roads.
Council member Phil Duncan noted that while the downtown area may be manageable, the situation around the intersection of West and W. Broad where the Founder’s Row project is now going may be less so. At least citizens in that area are perceiving that to be the case now, he said.
EDA chair Young said that moves should be made to go for the “low hanging fruit” available to alleviate parking issues now, such as the eight spaces on Little Falls in front of City Hall.