Many of us have found ourselves at the end of an extensive parking study process. There were meetings upon meetings. Parking inventories were completed, and several options sifted through. At the end of the parking study you have a nice, new, shiny document with great recommendations and multiple options. Then the dread sets in – realizing this is where the hard work of implementation begins. You ask yourself, “Where do I start? What do I do next? How do we decide? How do I let the parking customer know about these changes?”
Once a parking study is complete, the task of sifting through the recommendations can be daunting. In my previous role as a parking manager, I found some great steps to help with both structuring the decision-making process and knowing what to do next.
The first step is to define the overall goals for the changes to the parking system. Perhaps it’s revisiting the reason that sparked the need to do the parking study in the first place or looking at the city’s long-term goals for a sustainable system. These goals can include increase turnover on the street, increase revenue for the parking system, improve payment technology and options, or right-price the parking to encourage use of long-term parking in lots or garages instead of on the street.
Once the goals for the changes are defined, it is important to follow some steps to prepare for the upcoming changes. First, it’s best to brainstorm what groups will be impacted by the changes. Next, you must determine which groups need to be informed of the changes. These could include city council or upper management, business owners, downtown chamber, and different parking patrons using the system such as visitors, students, and employees.
Different outreach messages will need to be crafted for each group, as they likely have varying concerns or needs when it comes to the proposed changes. Meet with representatives from these groups to discuss which changes will be prioritized for implementation. It’s important to have a “carrot and stick” approach when rolling out parking changes; making sure that for every presumed negative impact to come from the parking modifications there is a positive change that accompanies it.
For example, in addition to raising prices, offer the customer a new way to pay by implementing new technology such as smart meters or pay-by-cell. Also, consider implementing pricing zones so lower priced options are available for those who may be willing to walk a bit farther to their destination, or develop a free or low-cost parking area in certain lots for employees.
Once representatives from the different stakeholder groups have been coordinated with and the priorities for implementation are set, it’s time to determine how to best convey messages about the changes and develop a communication strategy plan. It’s important to brand the changes by developing a consistent color palette, logo, and tagline like “Parking Made Easier”. Using a branded communication plan for your parking system and a variety of tools on and off the street will help create awareness of the changes.
A variety of digital and non-digital tools can be used to display information in a quick and easy-to-understand manner. Sandwich boards and signage can be used on the street, flyers and posters can be posted in local businesses, and table toppers can be placed at local restaurants.
Online resources can be used through developing a website and social media posts. Video messages can also be a powerful addition. A human being in a video provides more relatability and is an important component to a communication strategy. It is important to never forget the value of the old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground approach to telling people about the upcoming changes.
Don’t be afraid to visit area businesses to discuss upcoming changes in their area. Attend local events such as art festivals, marathons, or farmer’s markets – have fun with it, and pass out good promotional items. If you are limited with your own staff to implement a strong communication plan, you may consider hiring a consultant or marketing firm to assist with communication and outreach.
Once the parking study is complete, it can be easy to focus on implementing the recommendations of the study and forget about the impact the changes will have on the end user. Parking changes can be a heated topic in many communities. If an incomplete or inconsistent message comes out, people end up filling in the holes with their own message. If no message gets out, people will make it up their own.
Taking the time up front to communicate changes to stakeholders and the end-user will have a high return on investment. Effort put into communication at the beginning of the process promotes understanding and support for the project, increasing the likelihood that implementing the new parking changes will go much more smoothly.
Jennifer McCoy P.E., Senior Traffic Engineer at Bolton & Menk.
As published in Parking Today