Downtown Parking Study completed

The city’s recently completed Downtown Parking Study has found that the downtown area has sufficient parking, even during peak hours, though standards for pedestrians could be improved.

“It is clear from the parking study that the city’s public parking lots are underutilized,” the report states.

Assistant Planner Matt Laird presented the information to the Cottage Grove City Council on Monday night (Jan. 10). The stated goal of the study was to answer the question: “Does the downtown area have enough parking?”

For the purposes of the study, the “downtown” parking zones included the stretches of Washington Avenue, Main Street, Whiteaker Avenue and Gibbs Avenue between Highway 99 and the Coast Fork Willamette River. From north to south, it included Fifth through Eighth streets between Gibbs and Adams avenues.

The study was conducted over three separate weeks of car counts during four points in each day: 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Measuring the amount of public parking utilized on average, the three study periods were conducted between June 25 and July 1, 2020, July 30 and Aug. 5 2020, and April 5 and April 11, 2021.

The study found that the downtown area stays under the parking standard of 80 - 85 percent occupancy, which is referred to as the “Goldilocks principle” in evaluating the balance between supply and demand of the curb. A percentage above 85 would imply a lack of parking in the area while less than 80 means parking is largely available.

Laird stated that the busiest curbs in the study area reached an occupancy rate between 60 and 70 percent on average while across the whole downtown core the average occupancy rate was 30 percent.

The study speculated that many spaces remain underutilized because there are lots located off Main Street and visitors may not be aware they have access to them. Parking lots with better wayfinding signage, better lighting and possibly cameras were recommended.

It was determined that the main driver for parking occupancy was food-related business, though the public parking lot next to City Hall maintained high occupancy due to city employees.

One possible confounding variable, however, was the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. One might reasonably predict that the rates were lower due to restrictions or customer hesitancy. Indeed, the study stated that feedback from a variety of local businesses reported in-person sales dropping anywhere between 13 and 68 percent during this time.

Still, the study found that occupancy peaked at 206 of 494 public parking spots, or 42 percent. Correcting for the highest end of a 68-percent drop in business, the number of peak occupied spots would still be 336, or less than 70 percent.

However, events at the Cottage Grove Armory were not held during the study period and its lack of dedicated parking often leads to high occupancy in the area when events are held. Laird recommended further study when events occur.

The study also reiterated a finding made by the Cottage Grove Downtown Refinement Plan which states the area lacks the necessary ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) updates to be fully compliant with federal standards. So, even with adequate parking, the area may be difficult for citizens with mobility issues to navigate.

The deteriorating conditions of some of the streets and sidewalks “likely relate directly to where people choose to park in the downtown core area and may negatively influence perceptions regarding parking and walking downtown,” the study states.

It recommended the city prioritize sidewalk and ADA improvements as future redesign processes take place.

Furthermore, the parking study emphasized a need for high-visibility crosswalks to address pedestrian safety, suggesting restriping along Main Street.

After the presentation, Councilor Mike Fleck pointed out there is also a perceptual difference that people may not notice, namely that a visitor to a major shopping outlet may park twice as far in that parking lot as they would downtown.

“And I believe that we will lose people in those businesses because of that perception,” he said.

He also recommended finding better parking options for events at the Armory.

Councilor Chalice Savage encouraged more law enforcement as she has seen many cars grossly overstay their allotted time in downtown spaces.

“I have seen cars stay down there and parked in the same spot for five days and there’s zero enforcement. This is left to business owners and tenants to call in and have them enforced, which is done and handled appropriately … but it doesn’t feel good to feel like you have to say something every single time,” she said. “If people start getting tickets, they will park there appropriately. And I think these numbers will also get better.”

She also said she hoped to see better lighting and resurfacing in the city’s lot on Gibbs Ave.

Councilor Kenneth Roberts said that, as a downtown resident, he felt people who live downtown would benefit from a program that allows parking near their homes without punishment. 

He also agreed more lighting and beautification should be introduced and reiterated the sentiment for better Armory parking options.

Striking a similar note, Councilor Greg Ervin said he would like to see the quality of downtown streets improved.

“I think we’re going to continue to grow in Cottage Grove,” he said, speaking to the need to adapt. “But I think the more important thing to consider is who we’re trying to be.”

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