Savannah’s parking system is about to get all kinds of improvements—from credit card-friendly meters to the removal of time limits for on-street parking spaces, as well as a new smartphone app for parking and possibly buffer lanes for bicyclists and a reordering the parking inside of garages. It’s a project two years coming—an effort to reduce frustration and improve parking in the Historic District of Savannah.
Removing Time Limits & Creating Price Zones
“The current system of price and time-limit combinations is highly complex and not intuitive to users,” the study by Atlanta-based consultants Nelson/Nygaard states. “Parking Matters recommends replacing this system with a more streamlined system of zones corresponding to a different price level.”
Instead of having 30-minute, two-hour and five-hour time zones, the City of Savannah is looking into increasing the prices of highly sought after on-street parking spaces—such as those around Johnson Square and Ellis Square—from $1 per hour to $2 per hour.
“When you have a lot of people trying to get to a few number of spaces at one time, you need to create some level of turnover in your most sought after spaces. If I’m not going to do that anymore based on time—because I want this to be a good customer service experience—then I have to do it on price,” said Sean Brandon, the director of Mobility & Parking Services at the City of Savannah.
Based on their study of the 12,626 on-street parking spaces, Atlanta-based consultants Nelson/Nygaard created a parking plan for the City of Savannah that recommends creating two primary zones with priced on-street parking, with a third zone that is free but has time limits set to generate appropriate turnover. This study clarifies that the “fees charged for parking are not simply to raise revenue, they are a tool to distribute and balance parking demand.”
Because demand is so high on Saturdays, they are also looking into extending paid parking from the current Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the study’s recommendation of Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Upgrading Parking Meters
But before this happens, the city is hoping to remove all 2,000 single head, coin-only meters and upgrade them to multi-space digital meters that will also accept mobile payment—a $2 million project. In the Historic District, the City of Savannah still uses a variety of old equipment made by companies that have discontinued production and support of these systems. The new meters will not only provide convenience to users, but additional data needed to continually improving the parking in Savannah.
“We will get much better tracking of the system with those meters in terms of what our occupancy rates are—and a lot of what we do in the future is going to be driven by data,” Brandon said. “So if we get to a block and we implement change and that block is only 30 percent filled regularly, that probably means we’re charging too much and we need to consider dropping the rates.”
Along with these new meters comes a new Passport parking app for smartphones and tablets that will allow individuals to pay for and monitor meter time from their phone.
“The goal, overall, to reduce those frustrations and thereby also reduce the number of tickets that we’re writing. I know that seems counter-intuitive in terms of revenue generation, but that’s not really why we’re in the business doing what we’re doing,” Brandon explains. “Ultimately, we want to write less tickets. Having a system where we’re not nit-picking on time and it’s extremely easy to pay should lead us to a system where we’re issuing less citations.”
This was another point of frustration for those unfamiliar with the parking in downtown Savannah—getting a ticket when someone didn’t even realize they were in the wrong. To help solve this, the study recommends establishing a warning policy for first-time citations. The hope is that this would reduce the approximately 150,000 annual parking tickets (133,000 in 2014 and 174,000 in 2012), of which only 65 percent are paid for.
Other frustrations they want to ease include that of full parking garages, which could be remedied by sectioning off levels for long-term parking and daily visitors, as well as investing in real-time information displays at the entrance of the garages. The study also encourages revising street sweeping schedule in accordance to vacancy and getting residential permits for those living downtown to exempt them from time limits and such.
Improving the Shuttle System
The bigger goal is not just to ease parking, but promote alternative transportation options and improve those so they are the most attractive ones.
“The third thing that people will probably see the latter part of this year is hopefully a more efficient and faster shuttle system,” Brandon said. “We also hope, in the next few months, to present initial designs for bike facilities leading into and in downtown. That’s something that we’ve committed to do. There are particular customers that live within two miles of downtown who, if they had good solid routes into downtown, they would actually consider getting on a bike before getting in a car and we want to encourage that.”
As of the spring of 2017, there is a parking commuter shuttle that runs six hours a day and a tourist shuttle that runs every 20 minutes. The study proposes a simplified shuttle system that merges the two lines to increase efficiency, so both groups only have a 10 to 12-minute wait time.
Implementing Bicycle Buffer Lanes
Also in the works are plans to improve biking in Savannah. The study suggests installing high-quality bicycle facilities, parking and storage, and enhancing the current bicycle lanes with buffer protection, specifically on Price and Lincoln streets, but also looking into a lane on Montgomery Street, south of Gaston Street, for a protected two-way cycle track.
None of these things are going to be implemented overnight, Brandon said. There will be a step-by-step implementation of these things over many months. What’s likely to happen, he said, is that, first, the old meters will be replaced and the Passport app will make its debut (possibly this summer). Then the hope is that the shuttle system will be improved and biking enhancements will be proposed. It won’t be until 2018 that any new pricing would go into effect.
“Ultimately, having a parking problem is one of the better problems you can have. The opposite of this would be a downtown that was devoid of people wanting to go to it,” Brandon explained. “A parking problem isn’t the worst problem to have, but it is a frustration we have to manage.”
To find more details of this downtown Savannah parking plan by Atlanta-based consultants Nelson/Nygaard, go to savannahga.gov and click on the Recommendations link at the bottom of the page. This plan is currently (as of May 2017) in the process of approval.