More than development. Norwalk redevelopment.

The Urban Corridor Parking Plan

[Parking Plan Advisory Committee]

Background and Issues Summary

Parking may very well be the most fraught of all factors in building a successful downtown, having the most potential to harm or improve conditions based on whether you get it right, or mess it up.  Norwalk is undertaking a comprehensive downtown parking plan to try to get it right, and insofar as the location, design, and management of parking strongly influence the community’s ability to connect to their destinations, the parking plan is being conducted under the auspices of the Connectivity Plan, using the same consultant, under contract for this scope of services.

A major impetus for this plan — as well as the larger Connectivity plan which envelops it — was the “big picture” that began to emerge around the planned new parking associated with downtown development plans, circa 2007.  At that time, between the Wall Street projects, West Avenue, Reed Putnam, the Webster Block,  and other assorted initiatives, some 8-9,000 parking spaces were being planned, individually, for a corridor the length of a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge, at a cost well in excess of $200 million.  While no one doubted that the parking ratios for individual projects had been determined with all due diligence and consideration (indeed, in one case, developer and City both tried to reduce the parking, only to be over-ruled by the underwriters, a similar scenario with a happier outcome about which is described here), there has been general consensus that, given the size of the corridor, the proximity of the developments one to another, and the broad mix of uses planned, a less ad-hoc, more coordinated approach to downtown parking needed to be considered.

In addition to the issue of managing major parking expansions and their associated investments, potential impacts of development on (among other things) existing parking in downtown neighborhoods has been a concern for many.  The communities adjacent to the West Avenue development and near the South Norwalk Rail Station, have each expressed interest in residential permit parking zones on the streets of their neighborhoods (see p.39 of the plan linked here).

Questions and concerns also abound about the parking system we already have in the downtown, in terms of rate structure, supply, enforcement & ticketing.  (Closely related are the questions about the production of new spaces mandated in the land use permitting process.)  At their root liesa fundamental question about who should bear the cost of parking — businesses, their patrons (the end user), the taxpayers, or some combination.  In the constant battle of markets and economic development, comparisons are drawn to surrounding communities, and speculations made about the effect of local parking policy on attracting — or repelling — business.  These questions will also be investigated so as to determine what adjustments might be made to adopt best practices that are fair and effective.  The Norwalk Parking Authority offers a lot of information on these issues at its website: www.norwalkpark.org, and a look at the parking requirements in the zoning code are available from the planning department’s website, at norwalkct.org/index.aspx?NID=203.  (See especially Article 120.)

Finally, a major problem in the current parking system — and one to avoid in the development of future parking — is one of connecting available supply to current demand.  Many Norwalkers and visitors are surprised to learn about the availability of large quantities of relatively cheap parking; others know about it, but express a reluctance to avail themselves of it for various reasons, many having to do with the walk to and from the resource.  How to better utilize existing available supply will be another area of investigation in the plan.

Participate

It could be we’re overlooking an issue or two (or three).  So we’re still in data collection mode and would like to hear from you if you’ve recently parked in Norwalk’s downtown.  Please take the survey.   We also have a discussion board on parking here.  Also, inasmuch as any parking facility will only get used to the extent people are pleased to walk between it and their destination, we have uploaded video of the walking experience in and around Norwalk’s major parking facilities that you can watch and comment upon online.  Please do so.  Finally, we’re planning a parking symposium to examine the economics of parking with the benefit of some national-level figures and perspectives.  Learn more about the symposium and weigh-in on what you’d like to get out of it, here.

Existing Conditions

An inventory of parking facilities owned by the Norwalk Parking authority, and the number of spaces in each, is here.  The number of metered (and formerly-metered) on-street parking spaces and their locations, is hereThe rate structure that applies to the above inventory of municipal spaces is here.  Just as important to getting a full-picture of how parking works in downtown is understanding where — and how much — private parking there is, however, no one tracks this.  An informal inventory of that is offered here.

Users of the NPA’s parking facilities are classified as either transient parkers, or permit-holders.  There are 2,616 total permit holders in the system at the writing of this post.  A breakdown by facility is provided here.  A measurement of how busy Norwalk’s parking facilities are is provided here, from which it is possible to make some deductions about supply and demand.  Since the NPA primarily measures utilization by transactions and not occupancy, we are developing a separate system-wide occupancy report which will shortly be posted: here.  This will give us a better sense of how full the lots are getting, and what the long-term implications are for supply.

Locations of the parking — public, commercial, and private — and their reach to surrounding destinations within a 5-minute walk are shown on this map.  Most of the parking within the area comprising Norwalk’s urban corridor is private or unregulated, for now.  The Parking Authority’s resources are concentrated in the uptown and downtown zones, and maps showing those areas are provided here, for Wall Street, and here, for SoNo.

Every driver is eventually a pedestrian, and this inescapable fact seems to be one of the key issues Norwalk will have to come to terms with if it is to achieve a successful parking system.  Put simply, if the walk to, from, or within a parking facility is unpleasant, dangerous, or even just a little scary, people won’t use it.  A fuller discussion of this issue is here, along with an online tool for the public to evaluate the pedestrian environments along the paths connecting parking resources and nearby destinations.

Strategies and Recommendations

More parking will need to be built.  How much, when, and where will be the subjects of this plan as it gets underway.

One thing that we know, however, is that in the last 10 years, the design of parking facilities has improved dramatically.  New Norwalk parking facilities should be sited with the districts they will serve in mind, be connected with wayfinding signage, sight lines, and other  wayfinding techniques, and be aesthetically pleasing.