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Study shows downtown Salisbury has a perceived parking problem

SALISBURY — Downtown Salisbury does not have a parking problem, a study by VHB Engineering concluded.

The City Council on Tuesday night received the report on downtown parking from Wayne Robinson and Connor Klassen with VHB Engineering.

“You do not have a parking problem based on the numbers,” Robinson said. “The numbers don’t show a parking issue. The issue is everyone wants to park where they want to park, when they want to park there.”

It’s not a parking problem, said Councilman Brian Miller responded.

“It’s a parker problem,” he said.

VHB Engineering reported during the peak parking demand period — 9-11 a.m. — the overall utilization rate was 45%. The goal is an 85% occupancy rate.

For the study, stakeholders were interviewed, a booth was set up at the recent Cheerwine Festival and employees, customers, business owners, residents and visitors were surveyed.

The research found respondents agreed Main Street needs wider sidewalks for pedestrians; Innes Street needs traffic control and is difficult to cross; parking facilities need to be improved with aesthetics and safety; and parking signage needs to be improved with clearer restrictions.

The perceived parking problem, according to the study, is due to convenient parking locations being taken, owners and employees parking in front of stores, parking enforcement not being consistent, a lack of willingness to walk to destinations and safety considerations.

There were disagreements about the need of parking meters and paid parking, building a parking structure, and angled or parallel parking on Main Street, which includes discussions about wider sidewalks, poor visibility backing out of angled spaces and the potential for backing into angled spaces.

City Engineer Wendy Brindle said feedback at a stakeholders meeting was that many felt unsafe walking at night from some parking areas. Those locations are near the Salisbury Depot and the railroad tracks, the juror parking lot near the courthouse, the unpaved lot near the cemetery, Hogan’s Alley and the lot behind City Hall.

Robinson said changes to the city’s parking may be a hard adjustment.

“We understand that Salisbury has had free parking for 30 years,” Robinson said. “That creates a culture and a use culture for the parking spaces. … Going back to some kind of paid system, it’s a way to change behavior. It’s not meant to be a way restrict people from being able to come downtown, to create an inequity.”

Miller asked if the study took into account the land development ordinance and some limitations it brings to parking. He asked if the city should include in its ordinance a parking space requirement.

Robinson said some residences in urban districts don’t have assigned or provided parking. So, residents circle the block to find parking. Some developers want to include parking with their residences to be “more market advantageous.”

“It depends means the market will decide,” Miller said.

Developers would likely lean toward vertical parking since it is more cost-effective. Robinson said the best opportunity is to work with a developer to gain parking facilities.

In the next one to five years, the study showed the demand for parking spaces would increase by 520. Downtown would still be in a surplus, with 22 extra spaces, which does not including private spaces.

In a longer term, there would be a need of an additional 216 spaces.

Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield asked if the study addressed handicapped spaces, recalling several times she has struggled directing people where they are.

Robinson said researchers heard some questions at Cheerwine Festival about accessible spaces. He said they did not collect any data about the spaces or if they were in a location that was helpful.

Robinson said that is something the city should consider if adding parking to provide more accessible spaces.

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