Parking in Carrboro

After reading yet another article about the parking "problem" in downtown Carrboro/Chapel Hill, I thought it'd be worth revisiting solutions to this problem. (Or maybe non-problem, I've never had trouble parking in either town, so I don't really know what people are talking about, unless their definition of parking is parking within a  1/10th mile of the business/restaurant they wish to visit).

More specifically, it seems that all of the experiments with performance parking are working splendidly, so I wonder if Carrboro has considered applying lessons learned in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and smaller towns, locally. For example, instead of free parking, or low-cost parking, why not vary parking prices based on demand? As spaces are filled up, the price increases, and as people leave, the prices go down.  Instead of having meters that run out after 2 hours (making it difficult for people to enjoy a long meal, or a movie, or a stroll through town), why not raise or eliminate the cap, allowing to people to park, and pay for the right to do so, as long as they please? 

 Furthermore, why is building more parking lots, rather than housing that would be occupied 24/7, seen as a priority for downtown Carrboro. I suspect the downtown parking lots owned by the town are worth several millions dollars as is, and would return significantly more than that if they were converted to apartment buildings or office space. 

While the "whither parking in Carrboro" story is not unusual, it is troubling that even after a decade of transformative research on parking and urban design people are still making the assumption that parking must be free, and freely available, at all times.



I have lived here for 13 years and have never had trouble parking in either town.  While the lot around Carr Mill does fill up some times, there are several options within a couple of blocks which seem to always have available spots, even on busy weekend evenings. I often wonder when people complain about the lack of parking what their expectations are regarding how close the parking spot must be to their destination to be considered adequate. Thus I enjoyed your 1/10 of mile comment.

Great post and great comment. I think people perceive "parking problems" in downtown Carrboro and Chapel Hill not only for the reasons you both have mentioned, but also because they're used to seeing ample free parking everywhere else. I think the other problem is that free parking has been linked with access to businesses to downtown, and thus people think that if free parking goes away, so will the businesses downtown.If anyone's is interested in learning more about this subject, I would recommend The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup. It's a bit long, but totally worth the read.  

Demographers from UNC are predicting that the not-too-distant future will see the I-85 corridor from Durham to Charlotte will be one giant megalopolis. The population of Orange county is expected to grow by several thousand over the next 10 years. This growth will cause us to see additional vehicular traffic in Carrboro, along with creating a need for additional parking. And that does not even mention the potential building of Carolina North. As long as our population continues to grow, parking and roadways will grow with it.  Part of the parking issue in both CH & C stems from each business having a limited amout of parking availble on their own property. Where you once might park at Carr Mill Mall and walk across the street to Spotted Dog, doing that now can result in your car being towed. Business have had to resort to hiring security guards and putting up cameras to note when someone parks and walks away to patronize some other business. With limited, on-site parking, they cannot afford to offer parking convenience for someone else's business. I seldom have trouble parking in Carrboro, but I choose my shopping times with knowledge of when it will be busy or not, and with knowledge of all the potential parking lots available to me.  Visitors lack that knowledge and can have difficulty.The question is, how do we accomodate parking needs as we grow? 

More people means more transportation infrastructure, not neccesarily more parking. In fact, it
could really push us toward the critical mass to make transit really
rock out here and then we might even need less parking!

Carrboro is going to grow.  But this does not de facto mean that we must also expand our parking.  Want proof?  Check out the NCDOT traffic counts for 2001 and 2011 for Franklin St between Columbia St and the Carolina Coffee Shop.Daily Traffic, 2001: 17,000Daily Traffic, 2011: 14,000 But didn't UNC add several million sq feet of space during that time?   Yes.  And the town population also grew by 17.5% (Census).  But they took steps to encourage those people to take transit to UNC, and while car traffic on Franklin St fell, the fare-free transit policy unfolded and ridership took off, and traffic actually DECLINED. (hat tip to Ed Harrison who told me about this trend) The primary question to be asking is not "how can we provide more parking downtown?" It is "how can we make it easier for people to access the businesses and activities that they wish to enjoy downtown?" If you focus on the latter question, I believe that you will find more tools at your disposal to make access to downtown easier, and that in doing so, you will also make parking easier for those who wish to park downtown.We need to frame the ACCESS question broadly, and recognize that a parking-first approach to downtown access ultimately is making a strategic decision to limit how big of a local living economy we can create downtown, because we will have over-prioritized vehicle storage.  Downtown Carrboro is a great place.  But it is still growing and can be bigger and better (and easier to access!) if we think about how to make EASY for people to get there by more than one mode of travel.

If traffic declines, what impact does that have on economic development? This could be like the butterfly wings in chaos theory--in fact, I think some business owners in downtown Chapel Hill think this is definitely the case. If you discourage people driving downtown, then businesses suffer because they people who would patronize their businesses go elsewhere.Making it technically easy for people to get downtown is definitely part of a solution, but the other part has to be behavioral and that involves a lot more than just adding transit and expecting that if you build it, everyone will use it.

Erwin Road in Durham, between 751 and Trent Drive, has shown a steady amount of traffic over the last 10-15 years. During that same time, there has been tremendous development along Erwin Road, including not only the expansion of Duke's facilities but the construction of several multi-story multi-use buildings along the north side, where once there were empty fields, gas stations, or single-story single-use buildings. Increaed economic activity and development does not necessarily require increased auto traffic, particularly where there are other alternatives.You make a good point about needing to encourage behavioral change. Changing prices is an excellent way to encourage behavioral change. Threfore, increasing the cost of driving by incresaing parking pricing and lowering the cost of travel via other modes (either financially or through measures such as increased safety) such as bus or bicycle are important ways to influence the travel choices that individuals make.

If traffic declines, what impact does that have on economic development?

You can have a decline in car traffic without a decline in people on the street if they arrive by other means. I'm on Franklin St and Main St several times each week, sometimes with and without my car- but never without my wallet.Arlington, VA's Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor has seen traffic stagnate or decline for 15+ years, while adding the office space equivalent of about 5 Southpoint Malls: Of course, during that time they also built their piece of the Washington Metro and upzoned around the station so that the businesses there thrive from a large base of local residents.  And 11% of their land area provides 50% of their tax base.  

I took a closer look at the same maps, and here are the counts for Main St near Lloyd St in Carrboro in 2001 and 2011:Main @ Railroad Tracks, 2001: 22,000 cars Main @ Lloyd, 2011: 17,000 cars So key Carrboro road segments saw traffic declines at the same time.  This is not surprising given that during the same time, commuting by transit also greatly increased in Carrboro. The bottom line is that increasing population and demand for downtown goods and services does NOT automatically mean an increase in traffic and parking demand in Carrboro.

This article in the DTH proves there's no hope for Carrboro business owners. People refuse to walk five blocks to visit a business? They're afraid of walking in the dark to park at the new garage?That said, there could be improvements in the sidewalks in Carrboro. It seems like it'd be a good project for a business improvement district, or maybe something that could come out of negotiations with a developer.I also wonder if Carrboro advertises its new deck enough (they seem to be working on the signage, but right now it's hard to know who the deck is for). I'd like to see a parking voucher system where anyone who spends more than $10 can get three hours of free parking in the garage.  I suspect all the business owners in Carrboro would support such a system, particularly if its pitched as a one-year trial.  

That article could have used some fact-checking. For one thing, the parking deck is not five blocks from the shops on the 100 block of E Main Street, and there are multiple public parking lots even closer. See for GIS parking fun.In any case, one problem with the parking deck is that its main entrance is still not open. People who want to use it must find their way through the 300 East Main development instead of just entering via Main and Boyd Streets. Unanticipated engineering difficulties apparently are to blame.

How much does it cost to park there?


is that per hour?

Have I missed a sign that says "free parking"?

If you go to Southpoint Mall on a busy day and park on the far end of the parking lot, it can easily be the equivalent of five blocks or MUCH more to your favorite store in the Mall.  Yet shorter distances in a real (as opposed to faux) urban environment generate protests.  How about a DTH story on how far you have to walk at Southpoint?

That's true, and much of the walk from a distant parking spot in Southpoint is through a lot that has no pedestrian facilities whatsoever, unlike downtown Carrboro.The distinction, I think, is ease of discoverability of parking. If you go to Southpoint, you may indeed have to park a long distance from your destination and you may need to drive around a bit. However, you're in a parking envirionment controlled entirely by Southpoint with a large number of contiguous parking spaces. Unless it's December 22 you can rest assured that you will finally find a spot somewhere and that you'll be able to find you way to your desired shop without too much difficulty.However, if you're driving to downtown Carrboro or downtown Chapel Hill, it's not always easy fo find parking even if there are spaces. Go to the Rosemary/Columbia lot — huh, sign says it's full. Well, you're going to the Chapel Hill Comics so how about the 415 West Franklin lot? Drive around, oh, that's full. So where do I go? Maybe the Basnight/Franklin lot, if you even know that it exists (I didn't for a long time), but maybe you think the lighting isn't great around there, so you don't wnat to park there. And so on.These problems are even more pronounced if you only occasionally come to downtown Chapel Hill. A regular visitor knows the locations of 4 or 5 lots, at least. A newcomer will just drive around, befuddled by the disparate lots with disparate rules (free after 6pm? free after 8pm? How much per hour? private lot? Why are they towing me).It's not the cost of parking downtown or the availability that's the problem — it's the discoverability. There needs to be a better system for visitors to determine where to park, based on the real-time availability of spaces. What we have now leads to complaints far out of proportion to the actual balance of parking supply and demand in downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro. 

but that won't solve all the problems, whether real or perceived.  I've driven (and parked) in Munich and London and all of the accompanying suburbs.  I'm not going to say I didn't get a little frazzled at times trying to figure out where to go but I always ended up in a parking space and I never got towed.  We should make it as easy as possible for people to find a parking space but in the end we still need to assume that people will use their brains to figure it out.

Great description of the difference, Geoff.  I'll only add that all that driving around takes unpredictable amount of time.  I went to see Frozen with my daughter on Saturday at the Varsity and it is kind of important to get there on time (it sold out) and I can't spend 15 minutes finding a parking space unless I've planned for it (and I couldn't use my normal spot at church b/c she's still on crutches -- btw, we've never found a handicap space open on Franklin in the past month we've been looking).  Also, the FULL sign on Lot #2 was on, but there were at least 6 spaces open in there (including fortunately one right behind the Varsity, making an easy crutches walk) and only 2 cars in line to leave - something's not adding up correctly there.

There is always more that we could do to make sure folks know about parking in Chapel Hill, but I do want to give a shoutout for Park on the Hill, a great resource created by the town, Visitor's Bureau, and Downtown Partnership. I share with all my friends who've told me they couldn't find parking in downtown.

From the Town of Chapel Hill:New Parking LotsPosted Date: 1/24/2014The Town of Chapel Hill has added two new parking lots. The Jones Park lot, located behind Merritt's Store on Holland Drive at 300 Purefoy Road, offers 21 spaces. The Courtyard Parking Lot at 115 S Roberson St., which is scheduled to open on Monday, Feb. 3, offers 53 parking spaces. The fee for parking at both lots is $1.50 per hour with a four-hour time limit. Pay at the meter or use the Parkmobile system to pay for parking with your cell phone. Visit o download the mobile app. If you're troubled about parking in downtown Chapel Hill, you're just not looking! Downtown Chapel Hill has about 200 metered on-street parking spaces, directional signage and pay stations that accept credit cards in addition to change. Wow, plenty of parking - a total of nearly 1200 spaces. And it's inexpensive! Meters cost $1.50 per hour, and attended lots charge $1.50 to $2.25 per hour. On-street metered parking is free after 6 p.m. daily and all day Sunday. Looking for parking? Please see


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