Many localities with bustling downtowns, whether big or small, struggle with parking demand and supply.. Williamsburg is no different. Hosting both W&M and Colonial Williamsburg in the downtown core places unique needs on parking. Because of these needs, parking has long been a topic of review with City Council and staff.
A consultant-driven parking needs study was conducted in 1995 with another review by city staff in 2002. The city engaged Walker Parking Consultants in 2016 to complete a thorough review of parking in the downtown area. The Walker Study was submitted to the City Council for consideration in 2016.
The study concluded that Williamsburg’s downtown does not have a documentable parking shortage. It did, however, recognize that Williamsburg has limited parking available in several high-demand blocks, which creates the perception of a parking problem. It is important to acknowledge that the perception of a parking shortage is, in fact, a parking problem that limits business development and prosperity in the downtown area.
The study provided nine major recommendations for addressing the issue of low parking availability. They are:
- Shared Parking Agreements with Private Lots
- Consolidate Operations and Management of the Parking System
- Implement Paid Parking
- Increase Parking Fines
- Add Parking Enforcement Staff as “Ambassadors”
- Use Electronic Citations and Enforcement
- Provide a Payment Application for Patrons
- Utilize a Parking Facility Maintenance Fund
- Create a Safety Escort Program
Following the study's submission to the City Council, a city staff team began reviewing the recommendations against the local knowledge and a more intimate understanding of community expectations. The team comprised of:
- Assistant City Manager
- Director of Information Technology
- Director of Planning and Codes Compliance
- Director of Public Works
- Police Chief and Police Department parking officials
This effort resulted in an implementation plan to the City Council on October 9, 2017. The team initiated this effort by considering the goal of making changes. The importance of tourism and the desire to maintain a high level of satisfaction with residents led to a goal statement of “provide a positive experience." This goal guided the development of new parking strategies using the study's recommendations to form an implementation plan.
The implementation plan pursues eight of the nine recommendations from the study. The team set aside the recommendation to secure private parking agreements for public use with specific owners in and around downtown. Staff felt that these lots would not provide the desired impact n the availability of spaces in the high-demand blocks and that conflicts between user needs would be unavoidable. The team suggested that if the other actions planned during implementation were insufficient to adequately address the lack of available parking, it could be revisited to make the plan more effective.
Phases of Actions
The recommended implementation plan is designed on phases of action. It is intended to be modular, meaning the city can stop and not pursue the other planned improvements at each interval.
The first year would see the greatest level of change, and it will be limited to the addition of new technology and functionality to the existing parking system. No changes will be made to the cost of parking.
The most significant improvement will be installing small sensors in each public parking space in the study area. These sensors will form the backbone of planned improvements. They will track the use of spaces to determine, through data, the source of availability issues. Additionally, they will make enforcement of timed parking restrictions much more efficient, reducing the need for roaming patrols and allowing for targeted enforcement.
Lastly, they will open up functionality for the user. Residents will be able to check parking availability and know where spaces are available before leaving home. Guests will have access to data on where to park, right down to what spaces are open, before arriving in Williamsburg. These sensors, and new software and hardware will provide the ability for much greater convenience to the user and better knowledge for the City to manage the parking system.
If parking issues are still evident, City Council can proceed to Year 2 strategies.
These efforts would include “flipping” the rate strategy currently in use. The study found that the City was enabling the availability issue by charging less for the on-street spaces than the off-street spaces. This means charging for the less convenient spaces than the convenient spaces. Said another way, charging less for the spaces in high demand and more the spaces in less demand.
“Flipping” this strategy would create a charge of $1 per hour on-street and no fee for parking off-street.
If parking issues are still evident, City Council may choose to proceed with dynamic pricing. The desire to provide a positive experience dominates the discussion of instituting paid parking, even in a small area of downtown. With that in mind, the team set out to define a positive experience through development of a paid parking philosophy. That philosophy is to provide one open space on every block most of the time.
This is a lofty goal but is achievable and has been successful in other large metro environments. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency uses SFpark as a method to create one open space on every block. Increasing rates in high demand periods and spaces while decreasing rates in low demand spaces allows patrons who want to pay for the convenience of door front parking to find a spot, and allow long-term parkers, or those looking for a bargain, to find that spot as well.
Rates are adjusted using a schedule that is set monthly based on the demand data provided by the parking sensors. Using this method, San Francisco has been successful at creating availability and increased satisfaction.
This phase would enable the same dynamic pricing model to be used in the off-street spaces and be an opportunity to review staffing levels.
Again, the implementation plan is not an “all or nothing” proposition but rather a series of steps that can be sequential until the problem is addressed. Staff is optimistic that Year 1 satisfies immediate concerns and that future actions will be separated by years of growth and development requiring further improvements.
Public Awareness & Input
Staff will utilize this website as the primary place for the public to access current information about project status and upcoming steps. We will also post videos explaining how the equipment will work, the technology behind the system, and how to use the new features to the best result.
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Please email them to the City.
Study Area Map
To see the area of study, view the Downtown Parking Study Area Map (PDF).
2016 to 2017 Timeline
- January 2016: Downtown Parking Study begins
- February 4 and 5: Stakeholder meetings
- March: Conduct online survey for downtown parking and weekday/weekend parking occupancy survey
- May: City staff and consultants meet to discuss study progress
- May / June: Collect and analyze data, review and evaluate parking management practices and systems
- Late June: City staff and consultants meet to discuss progress
- July: Conduct second weekday and weekend parking occupancy survey
- July / August: Develop options for increasing parking supply, prepare an implementation plan
- August: Discuss report findings and recommendations with City staff
- September: Present Draft Downtown Parking Master Plan and Recommendations to City Council at the September 6 City Council Work Session
- September 2016 to August 2017: Develop a final report for Downtown Parking Study
- October 2017: Staff presentation of Parking Plan and Implementation to City Council
- October 2017: Implementation