Michael Connor

Michael Connor of Kimley Horn discusses the downtown portion of the draft Lancaster parking study prepared by his firm at a meeting at City Hall on Monday, March 25, 2019. 

On a typical weekday, a little under two-thirds of Lancaster's downtown off-street parking is occupied, according to Michael Connor of consulting firm Kimley-Horn.

That, he said, is the "baseline condition" his team found when it counted cars in October as part of its parking study.

But add in the demand from development projects that are coming online and from big events at the Lancaster County Convention Center, and the city's inventory of parking begins to look much tighter.

Connor is conducting meetings this week to present draft results of the study. Monday's meeting, the first, covered the central business district.

Kimley-Horn combined its vehicle counts with a detailed map of city land uses to create a block-by-block model of "parking stress."

The model can be adjusted to simulate various scenarios, such as a new office or apartment building coming in, Connor said.

How about new transportation technologies such as self-driving cars? Conjectures about their effects can be modeled as well, though no one knows with confidence how they'll play out in reality, he said. 

Pleasantly surprised

The study shows that the Lancaster Parking Authority's garages can comfortably handle demand on a typical weekday — a finding corroborated by the results from Kimley-Horn's downtown user survey.

About 63 percent of the survey's roughly 300 respondents said they could find parking within 5 minutes, and nearly 80 percent said they were able to find spaces within 2 blocks of their destination.

Those are quite good results compared with other communities Kimley-Horn has surveyed, Connor said, noting his team was "pleasantly surprised" by the level of positive assessment.

But the developments coming online downtown in the near future are projected to increase demand by about a third. The authority is planning to build a 300-space garage at Lancaster Square, and though the Central Garage on Vine Street remains open to the public, it's no longer authority-managed.

Factor in those changes, and demand begins to bump up against the authority's supply limits, the study indicates.

Former authority board chairman Mark Vergenes noted that supply is also constrained by the need to keep leased spaces open and available for their leaseholders. Connor conceded that's a complication his team didn't take into account — their task was solely to look at "observed utilization."

Looking ahead

The parking study is the city's first since the early 2000s. Parking authority executive director Larry Cohen said it's vital to keep an eye on future demand, so capacity can be expanded before a crisis is reached.

Conversely, the authority has no interest in taking on debt to build inventory that isn't needed, he said.

Kimley-Horn is planning to revise the study to account for some additional planned development and to model the effect of convention center events. Feedback from this week's meetings will be taken into account as well. 

The finalized version should be ready in three to four weeks, Connor said.

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