Parking in Downtown Omaha: Looking at All Options

Omaha’s downtown parking system is poised to undergo some significant changes, as reported today by the Omaha World Herald. In short, the City’s parking consultant, Walker Parking Consultants, found the following:

  • that city-owned garages aren’t used enough, are too expensive, and are losing money
  • drivers circle endlessly after 5pm and on the weekends to search for free on-street parking
  • city management of downtown parking is fragmented (Public Works manages the curbside meters while the golf division of the Parks and Recreation Department manages the garages. Yes, you read that right, the golf division.)

Naturally, Walker’s recommendations respond to their findings. Their primary recommendations:

  • lower rates at city-owned garages
  • eliminate time limits on how long cars can be parked at meters
  • decrease hourly meter rates in low-demand areas and increase rates in high-demand locations
  • expand meter enforcement hours
  • attach credit card devices to parking meters
  • consider a “graduated system” of parking ticket fines

While I’m totally in favor of decreasing the amount of time that people dawdle around in their car looking for a spot (full disclosure: I do it too), I’m hopeful that these soon-to-come and much needed changes to the system are but one piece in a much more complicated puzzle. I haven’t seen the study, but my assumption is that it assumes the number of cars that head downtown on your average Friday night will likely stay the same or increase in the years to come. That’s probably true, unfortunately, but planners need to be thinking about different ways of getting Omahans to their downtown destination. The good news: they are.

The City is about to wrap up its Transportation Master Plan, which, among many other things, considers transportation demand management strategies that get people out of their cars and onto bikes, busses and their feet. This idea that Omahans are addicted to their cars and unwilling to use public transportation or some other mode of transport is hogwash, and given the anticipated climb in gas prices this summer (five bucks per gallon, anyone?), we should expect people to be searching for alternatives to driving alone in their good ol’ reliable Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

Finally, I want to be clear about one thing: there is NOT a lack of parking downtown. The study found that only 54 percent of available parking in the Old Market is used on a busy evening. For those of you complaining about parking downtown, try finding an affordable and available spot in Chicago, Boston, or any other major metropolitan city. We all collectively need to change our expectations a bit. It’s not reasonable to expect to arrive at your destination five minutes before the curtain goes up and expect a free spot right in front of the door.


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