Locals say it’s too hard to park in downtown SLO. Here’s what the city is doing about it

Parking in downtown San Luis Obispo — or lack thereof — has been a hot topic recently.

The parking crunch came up often during the recent election season as the downtown area transforms and new projects, including the incoming Hotel San Luis Obispo (slated to open in early 2019) under development a block from the mission, come online.

The city also recently asked the public to weigh in on the issue in an online survey, which drew more than 100 responses.

“Parking is too scarce and expensive downtown,” one person wrote in the survey. “Parking lots keep getting replaced with hotels, and the price of parking keeps going up. Neighborhoods near downtown have become incredibly crowded from downtown employees who park and leave their cars there for the entire day.”

In response, the city’s transportation staff laid out some potential solutions at Tuesday’s City Council meeting — among them finishing the final planning steps for the new parking garage at Palm and Nipomo streets and planning two new city zones where residential parking permits could be required.

New structure

The envisioned five-story Palm-Nipomo structure of more than 400 spaces is meant to help to meet business and visitor demand around the Creamery and Higuera Street area on the west end of downtown.

The project will be reviewed for final construction design before the end of the year, and it is on track to be completed by 2023, according to city officials.

“Our recent studies have shown that the Palm-Nipomo structure would be 80 to 90 percent full during peak parking times, and that’s a significant increase from our studies in past years,” said Tim Bochum, the city’s deputy director of transportation. “You don’t want to get higher than 80 to 90 percent because you don’t want people driving in when it’s entirely full.”

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Neighborhood permits

Bochum said the city will be researching potential residential parking districts around Dana Street near (Mission Prep High School and Nipomo Street), as well as Murray Avenue and Serrano Drive near Sierra Vista Regional Center.

Parking districts could also address Cal Poly students storing vehicles on city streets, a city report stated, as freshmen aren’t allowed to have cars on campus, as of 2017.

Residents of neighborhoods can request to establish parking districts if they feel they’re needed, and go through a city process for approval.

The city may consider lifting restrictions for non-residents, such as allowing up to two hours of non-permitted parking.

Ten city parking districts exist, including a recently added zone in the Anholm neighborhood between Foothill Boulevard and downtown, and the Ferrini Road area north of Foothill.

The city also laid out other parking management plans under consideration, including:

Examining how best to manage curbside space for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

The City Council has already faced complaints that Uber and Lyft drop-offs have created increased traffic congestion, including double parking, particularly in late night barhopping hours. The council has approved the use of commercial spaces by Uber and Lyft drivers during the day.

Considering diagonal parking on some downtown streets to add room for more cars, an idea put forth in the city’s Downtown Concept Plan.

SLO is adding new automated payment machines at its downtown parking garages. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Encouraging another survey that would assess whether employees of downtown businesses and organizations are aware they can ride the bus for free, and to find out more about their parking habits and potential ways to entice them not to store their cars downtown during working hours.

Advocating for a more pedestrian and bike-friendly downtown. Reconfiguring some curbside spaces to add bike paths and parking, parklets and more public gathering options.

SLO is adding new automated payment machines at its parking garages. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

“We could eventually get to a place where people feel they don’t need a car, or they have a one car household,” said Council member Andy Pease.

Council members also unanimously discouraged building an adaptable parking garage at Nipomo and Palm that could be converted in future decades to office, commercial space or housing if autonomous vehicles and ride-hailing become the norm.

Bochum said the city’s older parking structures would be more viable options for future reuse, rather than building an adaptable structure that would require taller ceilings and potentially eliminate some parking or require a taller, more visually intrusive building.

In coming months, the city will continue to roll out specific plans and policies on parking issues.

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