Does your city need more parking, or just better maps?

Provo, Utah, had a parking problem — or so drivers in the downtown area thought.

3rd August 2020 · 5 min reading

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As the city recently wrote on its Facebook page, “a 2015 study of parking in Provo found that nearly 40% of respondents had a difficult time finding spaces or knowing where to park downtown.

Despite the public perception, city officials studied their own infrastructure and found there was no shortage of available parking. The city’s post continued: “However, Downtown Provo has well over 3,000 parking spaces available to the public!”

It seems drivers in downtown Provo lacked information, not parking. There were no maps — either on the street or published digitally — to guide drivers to public parking spots or facilities, leaving drivers on their own to search blindly.

Seeking to solve the problem, the mayor at the time created a Parking and Sustainability Coordinator position and commissioned a study by outside consultants. Based on their findings, officials published a simple online map showing where parking spaces are available and how close they are to downtown shops and venues.

While Provo’s new mayor recently terminated the parking czar position, the city’s investment in learning how traffic and parking worked in its downtown area will be repaid if drivers and residents end up happier, shop more and spend more time downtown.

Of course, Provo is far from the only municipality facing parking challenges. Businesses, bars, and restaurants depend on customers having easy access to their establishments. And because cities want to encourage people to visit their commercial districts, they prioritize easy and affordable parking in those areas. For visitors and businesses, a lack of parking — real or perceived — is a serious problem.

As city officials know, both groups will let you know about parking problems. One reaction would be to invest millions in new parking garages or redesigning downtown streets to create more on-street parking spaces. But every parking space, whether on the street or off, takes up resources that could go to other, more productive uses. What the city of Provo realized is that first, they needed to make sure people were using all their existing resources to the fullest.

Provo’s map is a very helpful tool for residents and visitors. But there’s a lot of parking that cities don’t have maps for. In fact, most cities in the United States don’t have a complete map of their on-street parking regulations. Improving utilization of on-street parking can be a great tool for cities to improve the lives of their residents, but until you know where the spots are, this goal will remain out of reach. And even once a city understands its parking regulations, finding out how parking space is used can be costly and time-consuming.

Why don’t cities understand their on-street parking better? In most cases, parking rules build up over time in response to the needs of businesses and residents. Time-limited parking, permit parking, loading zones, no-stopping zones, and more get added to streets bit by bit, each solving a specific problem but together contributing to an extremely complex streetscape that must be understood in foot-by-foot detail. Not only that, different curb assets, like parking signs, curb cuts, and fire hydrants, are often controlled by different city agencies.

Compass IOT is an analytics-focused startup that aggregates transport data to help infrastructure planning teams form more informed decisions. Our software takes complex data operations and puts it in an easy-to-understand visual platform so that teams can better interpret the analytics and form actionable plans.