Downtown parking peaks during lunch
By Angie Landsverk
A study of parking in downtown Waupaca shows the percentage of occupied parking spaces varies little from one season to the next.
It also shows there are plenty of parking spaces in the area.
“Overall, you have no seasonal variation whatsoever,” Kelly Conolly, of Schwartz Engineering, told the city’s Plan Commission last month.
Last August, the city contracted with the Chicago firm for a parking study.
It is one of several studies already completed or underway as the city prepares for the future reconstruction of Main Street.
Waupaca’s 20-block downtown area has a total of 1,300 parking spaces.
That number includes about 780 public spaces – 580 of which are on-street parking spaces and 200 of which are off-street parking spaces in municipal lots.
Schwartz Engineering conducted parking counts related to the 779 public parking spaces.
On a Saturday in August, the peak occupancy was 247 or 32 percent occupied.
The peak occupancy was 295 on an August weekday or 38 percent occupied.
On a weekday in October, the peak occupancy was 294, or again 38 percent occupied.
The final count took place on a December weekday and showed the peak occupancy was 292, or 37 percent occupied.
Parking counts took place on two days prior to Labor Day to capture the tourism season with another count in the fall to show the off-season and then the final count in December during the holiday shopping season.
She said the peak occupancy was typically during the lunch hour.
Conolly also noted the parking spaces in some downtown blocks were fully occupied during that peak time and other times of the day but said, “Interestingly, they were not blocks right on Main Street.”
Conolly said the study shows every zone in the downtown area technically has a surplus of parking.
There is no area where generally, there are no less than 50 unoccupied parking spaces within a two-block walk, she said.
On average, parking spaces are used three times per day, Conolly said.
Other key findings of the study include the underutilization of municipal lots, employees using prime spaces on Main Street and dodging police enforcement, the public seeing advantages and disadvantages of parallel or diagonal parking, sidewalks being too narrow for a desired street life and a desire to improve key pedestrian crossings and calm traffic on Main Street.
Main Street parking options, which were presented, included maintaining the existing 45-degree angled parking, changing the angle, having parallel parking and having a combination of parallel and angle parking.
Changing the angle of the parking would result in the loss of about 45 parking spaces.
There would be a loss of between 60 and 65 parking spaces if there was parallel parking and a loss of 30 to 33 parking spaces if there was a mix of angle and parallel parking on Main Street.
From a traffic engineer standpoint, parallel parking is always preferred over angle parking for safety reasons, Conolly said.
She said the numbers clearly show converting to parallel parking, as the demand for parking currently stands, would not be a detriment to the community.
Mayor Brian Smith said the question for him is the number of parking spaces the city would lose and how far people would have to walk to get to storefronts.
He likes the idea of having a mix of parallel and angle parking.
It was again noted how the city’s request for federal Surface Transportation Urban Program funds was approved to go toward the cost of the reconstruction of Main Street and how Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation has a predisposition toward parallel parking.
Municipalities may seek exceptions to that design.
Kane said that is why the city sought data about its downtown parking.
“It’s interesting to see the surplus of parking. I had a feeling the study would show that,” said John Kneer, who is a member of the Plan Commission.
The firm sought public input in a number of ways, including shopper surveys, a Downtown Business Forum and an online survey on the city’s website.
During the business forum, members of the business community participated in mapping exercises and polling.
Shopper surveys took place on one day last October, Conolly said.
The online survey resulted in 285 responses by the time of the Plan Commission meeting.
Available for several months, the survey was set up so people could not take it more than once, said Brennan Kane, the city’s development director.
Conolly said there were far more responses to Waupaca’s online survey than in communities two to four times the size of Waupaca.
More than half of all the street parking, including on Main Street and off of Main Street, is diagonal parking.
Diagnoal parking is a big topic of conversation among the public, Conolly said.
She said about 60 percent of the respondents prefer diagonal parking to other types of parking, because of the ease of pulling into such parking spots.
Community input also showed proximity to destinations and the number of street crossings appear to influence where people prefer to park more so than the type of parking space.
In addition, 74 percent of respondents are willing to walk two or more blocks from their parking space to their destination.
Conolly said that percentage was determined primarily from the online survey.
Six percent of respondents said parking is difficult downtown or deters them from going downtown.
What came up “time and time again” is the feeling traffic flow is too fast on Main Street, particularly between Badger and Fulton streets, she said.
Conolly also said the firm looked at a range of data as it studied Waupaca’s downtown parking to build demographics of the community.
“We looked at the population by age, because of comments about the need to accommodate older people,” she said.
Waupaca’s median age is 40.1, its median household income is $40,911 and its mean travel time to work is 14.7 minutes.
Schwartz Engineering also looked at crash data in the 20-block area from 2013-16 and found that 10 of the 17 reported accidents were related to people backing out of angle parking spaces.
The plan is expected to go before the Waupaca Common Council on April 19.
Kneer described the plan as thorough and informative and said the traffic and accident data are needed to make downtown safer and and more appealing.
“This is, I think, a good piece of data to help us proceed,” he said.
Kane reminded the downtown business owners in attendance to think long term, saying something “may be a retail store today but a restaurant tomorrow. We have to take into consideration the future, not today’s snapshot only.”