The Challenge: Change the Parking Program — in a Year
When Kenzie Coulson was hired to manage Parking and Fleet for Park City, UT, 14 months ago, she was given a deadline for solving its parking problem — the new program had to be up and running by Dec. 15. 2017.
Her comment, a year later: “It’s not a good idea to do a major tech launch during holidays. Staff and vendors are distracted. They are expecting days off, looking forward to Christmas, and not focused on the problems bringing a new system online presents.”
The deadline was necessary. It had to do with when permits expired and being prepared before the area’s peak winter season. But it was difficult.
“This program was a major change for the city,” Coulson told Parking Today. “We were tasked with reducing congestion in the downtown area and providing more parking for visitors and customers. A study had shown that 1,000 of the 1,600 available spaces near the central core were taken by employees. There was only one possible solution – institute pay parking throughout the area.
“The city wanted to build more parking, but the real estate just didn’t exist,” Coulson said. “The problem was that the business owners didn’t want to punish the employees, and the area was too expensive for shop workers to live nearby. There was no question we needed a more robust program than just pay parking.
“I was hired in December, and with the help of Julie Dixon’s consulting firm [Dixon Resources Unlimited], by March, we had an RFP in place for a complete parking management solution that would overhaul the entire parking department. It included a PARC system for the garage, new meters for on-street and the surface lots, space counting, LPR, wayfinding, branding, a citation and collections management system, a new permit program, mobile app with payment options and real-time space counts, and a complete facelift for the garage, including painting, concrete repair and revised flow. We also created a suite of solutions for the employees.
“We were able to get the entire program under one prime contract, and I was able to go to the City Council once for the entire project. This was a big help, as once it was approved, I didn’t have to keep going back for approvals of each part of the program. That saved a tremendous amount of time.”
Kenzie created an employee park-and-ride option with shuttles that ran on a 10-minute schedule from noon to 4 a.m. The late night was important because many employees worked in restaurants and clubs in the downtown area. The city also bought six electric buses (with onboard WiFi) to create an efficient express route. “Ridership is through the roof,” she said. “The 10-minute schedule made the difference.”
“Frankly, I didn’t know if we would succeed, as there was so much fear. I could hear it when I talked to the merchants, the residents and the employees,” Kenzie said. “Each thought it was the most important cog in the parking wheel, and each had valid concerns.
“The merchants wanted parking for their customers, but also wanted their employees happy. The employees were concerned about shuttle rides, paying for parking, and had real fear about walking long distances late at night. The residents simply wanted enough parking but wanted it to be free.
“I began a major outreach program and spent time daily meeting with merchants, merchant groups, employees, residents. Our team went to each of the 250 businesses and had one-on-one conversations. This part of the program is the reason we are successful, but it’s not sustainable.
“Everyone wanted to talk to me, personally. They have my cell number and call to provide input and offer suggestions. That’s great, but I simply can’t keep up the pace. Something has to give.
“I went in as a human being,” Kenzie said. “I talked about the fears they had. I told them I was afraid, too.
“Parking discussions can be so negative. People say something nice, and then they say something not so nice. They would criticize the program, and me personally, in public. But behind closed doors, they whispered to me that they hoped it worked. Wow!
“I thought I was creating ambassadors,” Kenzie said. “I thought they would understand what we were doing and then tell their friends and colleagues. It didn’t work out that way. I just need three or four copies of me. That’s difficult to do in a relatively small town.”
The program was launched under a comprehensive Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program. The idea was to get people to ride the shuttle, bike and walk. She said they got pushback when they added “parking” to the mix.
“‘You can’t talk about parking and TDM at the same time,’ I was told. ‘Wrong,’ I told them. We have to give people choices. Sometimes they must drive, to drop kids off or go to the doctor. We have to give them the ability to do that. And we did. That’s what finally sold the program. Yes, you could park in the shuttle lot, but if you needed your car in town, there was a place for you, too.
“Reality of changing behavior – total TDM isn’t the answer – we don’t want people feeling punished because they have to drive, pick up kids, etc. We want to reward those people, too.
“The car pool permit program has been very successful. If people carpool, they can park free near their work. We’ve also used parking validations as an incentive tool.”
Park City has about 15,000 residents, but that number can triple at times. There are 45,000 visitors during the Sundance Film Festival. Plus, visitors flood the city in the winter to ski and in the summer to escape the heat in Salt Lake City and from even as far away as Wyoming and Montana.
Congestion is a major concern. Kenzie sees her program as helping in that area, as many cars are parking outside the downtown area and using the shuttles. Many are finding parking more quickly because the structure is not filling to capacity.
“What would I do different?”
• First, not try to jam so many changes into such a short time. Extend the time line. There will be problems; build in time to fix them.
• Hire a project manager to run all the different parts, so I could spend more time on outreach and working with the community.
• Ensure that the prime contractor has a person on-site during the entire project. We need someone here who can react quickly to problems. Having someone half a continent away doesn’t help when major issues happen.
• Spend more time planning before implementation.
It’s difficult to make course corrections when concrete is drying.
“I understand that these things cost money,” Kenzie said, “but having a smoother start-up and ongoing program makes it worth it.”
First, not try to jam so many changes into such a short time. Extend the time line. There will be problems; build in time to fix them.
She noted that after the start-up, they lost one gate arm per day due to vandalism. She anticipates that will taper off after the launch period.
She also noted that they were beginning a program of enforcement and citation management. They are going after scofflaws.
“Lack of consistency in enforcement really doesn’t work. It doesn’t put people at ease. They see people cheating and getting away with it.”
Kenzie came to Park City in 2003, and for many years she ran the parking and transportation department for the Sundance Film Festival.
“Sundance was a great way to enter into the parking business. This experience at Park City has been challenging but satisfying.” Kenzie will be detailing her experience at PIE 2018 in March.
(T2 Systems was prime contractor on the project. Subcontractors included Passport, Pictoform (Todd Pierce), Genetec/PCS Mobile, RedStorm, VMS, Tagmaster, Five Star Painting, and Commercial Restoration Services.)
John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at email@example.com.