GR parking plan: Rate increases, incentives to stop driving

Some expanded and free bus service included in downtown parking proposal

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The City of Grand Rapids Parking Commission is set to discuss a list of ideas to deal with parking in the Arena District and elsewhere downtown.

The plan uses a sort of carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot creates incentives like expanded DASH bus service hours that would allow drivers to park on the outskirts of downtown and catch a shuttle in. The longer hours would have the DASH running about every eight minutes from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week.

The stick: You’ll have to pay more to park in the city’s most popular lots and ramps and at meters — double the current rate, in some cases.

>>PDF: Proposed off-street parking rates (Courtesy City of Grand Rapids)

City officials say those rates were too low to begin with, but admit they are using the increase as a way to encourage drivers to use outlying parking lots and free up more popular spots. That includes locations near Van Andel Arena, where finding parking can be tough for visitors.

You can imagine the struggle of trying to find spots for 35 employees of your company. That’s Maggie Geglio’s job. She’s the accounts payable manager for Chervon North America, which has offices in the Arena District.

“The parking lot Area 5 is always full. Cherry Street is where we try to get people in at,” explained Geglio. “But when we can’t, there’s over by the Burger King on Pearl Street.”

The city is also working with employers on parking cash-out programs and other transportation options such as bike and car sharing, according to Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong.

“Current off-street parking facilities are upwards of 90 percent at capacity. Monthly employee, special events and residential parking demands continue to grow,” he said in a release.

Studio C movie theater
Parking lots where the proposed Studio C movie theater and apartments will be located, if approved.

The good news is that long-anticipated downtown movie theater project — a mix of cinema, housing and retail in the Arena District — will actually increase the number of parking spots. Lots 4 and 5 behind Van Andel (where the theater complex will go in) have less than 600 spots. A new parking ramp, which will be built by theater developers and handed over to the city, will have about 900 spaces.

But it won’t do away with the long-range parking concerns downtown. The city’s plan deals with shortages now and in the future. Along with additional options and rate increases, it also includes incentives aimed at convincing commuters to leave cars at home and walk, ride a bike or take the bus.

A pilot program would make Silver Line bus service running north of Wealthy Street through downtown free during the day.

The estimated $100,000 cost of the program would be covered by the city’s parking department. No tax dollars would be used. That’s where those street parking fee increases come back in. The free ride funding would come from the pot of money created by the fee you pay to park in a city lot or at a meter.

The bus service changes would go into effect on Sept. 1.

But would commuters take advantage of it?

“I think that it would be more convenient in a way for certain people. But at the same time, for those who drive, such as myself, I don’t really know how beneficial it would be,” said Eli Davis, who works near the arena.

Then there’s the obvious question: If there’s not enough parking downtown, why not just build more ramps?

“Well, that’s expensive. And again, it gets back to this issue of whether or not we’ll need them in 10 to 15 years,” said Second Ward City Commissioner Ruth Kelly, who also serves on the parking commission.

She is among the city officials who hope creating incentives to leave your car at home will work.

“I think for those who are concerned about their own personal mobility that there is a case to be made to start at least moving in that direction. It’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.

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