Nobody wants to talk about parking until they specifically can’t find any, and by now you might know our thoughts on the subject. There’s too much of it in the wrong places, it shouldn’t be free, and it’s bad for cities and architecture — not to mention the planet, but we’ll stay local — when our entire built environment prioritizes the movement and storage of cars above all else. Of course we’ll always need some parking, but when managed effectively it’s possible to significantly reduce its prominence without seriously harming the mobility of drivers — and vastly improving the quality of life on the street level for people who get around in other ways.
Almost nowhere in Austin is this concept more apparent than on local streets crushed beneath the iron boot of the Residential Permit Parking Program (RPP), a city initiative to restrict street parking in front of homes in high-traffic neighborhoods to exclusively residents of that neighborhood, the actual permits purchased with an insultingly nominal annual fee that costs about the same as a single Saturday night in a downtown parking garage. It’s no exaggeration to say this privatization of taxpayer-supported public infrastructure should literally be illegal, a sentiment you’d share if you danced through all 2,200 words of our deep-dive on the subject back in 2019.
A Google Street View of a stretch of Milton Street near South Congress Avenue restricted by RPP for the sake of only three houses.
After years of this injustice, we’re excited to announce some good news — our long local nightmare of needlessly unoccupied asphalt could soon come to a merciful end in the South Congress neighborhood and retail district, thanks to a new parking and mobility study for the corridor produced in collaboration between planning consultancy Nelson\Nygaard, the City of Austin, and a laundry list of involved parties including the South Congress Merchants Association and PID, the Downtown Austin Alliance, and the Bouldin Creek and South River City neighborhood associations.
The first draft of this study is described as “a package of draft recommendations to serve as a parking roadmap for SoCo” that will “future-proof the district by linking parking supply and management solutions to ongoing mobility and development initiatives,” and it’s now available for your digestion.
You’ll find a full list of 16 recommendations for district mobility in the report, some described as higher-priority than others — but you’ll forgive us for focusing on its evaluation of the RPP, which we personally think is the single most irritating feature. The study explains that the program currently contains 13 different residential parking permit types, making existing regulations laughably difficult to obey or enforce in such a comparatively small area:
RPPs vary from block to block, creating confusion and making it hard to enforce. Blocks with RPP are especially underutilized, typically peaking at about 30-40% occupancy.
We’re glad the study has quantified what we already knew about this program — residents and neighborhoods as a whole don’t necessarily take part in the RPP to ensure parking for themselves in front of their own houses, which tend to already have driveways. The goal is rather to prevent anyone from parking in their neighborhoods — you might know the term NIMBY, but this is closer to “Not In My Front Yard,” even if “NIMFY” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Here’s how the study proposes we address this frustrating inequality, and we’d like to imagine some kind of drumroll first:
Current RPP zones should be consolidated into one zone (Zone 2), allowing 2-hour paid parking for all. Residents and their visitors, however, would be exempt.
There you have it, a proposal that very effectively balances the parking needs of residents and visitors by significantly relaxing the RPP regulations to allow paid parking for two hours anywhere in a restricted zone. Sure, we’d like to end the program altogether, but this compromise would defang its worst elements without subjecting homeowners to long-term parking in front of their houses — good heavens!
Of course, the effectiveness of this modification would require vigorous enforcement of the new regulations, to ensure that newly-available parking is actually only used for two hours or less. Amping up enforcement and increasing the cost of parking fines is a big part of the study’s proposals in general, and though we all hate getting a ticket, that’s actually a good thing on a larger scale — the study wryly notes that the area’s current system encourages drivers to park for extended periods and gamble on getting a ticket, since in many cases the cost of a violation is less than the fee charged by nearby parking garages at peak times.
Other proposals include simplifying area parking by consolidating it into three zones, each with consistent regulation across the district. Zone 1 is two-hour paid parking, Zone 2 is former RPP space now also allowing paid two-hour parking to everyone but continuing to accommodate residential permit holders without fees, and Zone 3 would contain flex zones for commercial unloading and passenger pickup and dropoff. Combined with consistent wayfinding and the installation of new signage for the streamlined system, visitors will presumably have a much easier time finding parking around South Congress when they need it.
Another major recommendation of the study is the creation of a South Congress Parking and Transportation Management District (PTMD), a city program that would return 51 percent of the district’s net parking revenue to an independent advisory committee empowered to direct future local mobility improvements. This proposal would likely sweeten the deal for area residents that might otherwise resist the relaxation of RPP restrictions. They still might, but the committee would provide at least a little more local control — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it isn’t being used to unilaterally seize public space for the comfort of homeowners.
You’ll find all this and more in the 72-page draft report, and once you’re reasonably familiar with its recommendations we’d appreciate it if you’d provide your feedback on this brief survey, which will be used to finalize the draft study’s concepts for the future of South Congress — and we’d appreciate it twice as much if you showed your support for the proposal to add equity to one of the city’s most unfair programs.
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