Survey says … Montpelier has a parking problem

A recent survey confirms what anyone who drives to Montpelier already knows: Parking is a nightmare.

And that problem is about to get worse.

The city is planning an urban, multi-modal transit center and park on the Carr Lot along River Street that will eat up 100 spaces. Construction is set to begin in October 2014.

Hence the survey … in preparation for more blowback from state employees, legislative hangers on, business owners and residents.

John Hollar, mayor of Montpelier, says the survey reinforces “what we know.”

“People are concerned about the lack of available parking in Montpelier,” Hollar said. “There are no easy answers.”

If perception is reality, Montpelier has a serious problem. A majority of the 1,200 Survey Monkey respondents say parking is difficult to find. Sixty-five percent of consumers say the shortage of parking spaces makes it hard to shop downtown. Eighty-seven percent of renters say the availability of spaces is a determining factor in where they decide to live.

Meanwhile, 79 percent of commuters to the capital drive to work. Thousands of workers for the state travel in each day, and the total number has increased by 400 over the last year since the Agency of Natural Resources moved its operations to the National Life insurance company headquarters, which already houses the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Agency of Transportation.

The Department of Buildings and General Services issued a report in January that shows there are about 2,600 state employees in Montpelier and about 2,000 parking spaces at the Capitol Complex and National Life.

The state is short about 600 parking spaces for state employees at the two locations when the Legislature is not in session. During the peak Statehouse months, January through April, when lawmakers, lobbyists, activists and journalists arrive en masse, the total parking deficit is about 840 spaces.

Last spring, state workers, the city and the Legislature held a hearing at the Statehouse to try to come up with a solution. The most obvious — building a garage — is out of the question, according to state and city officials.

Michael Obuchowski, the commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services, told the assembled that a garage would be costly ($25,000 per parking space) and would need to be rebuilt in 15 years because of winter deterioration factors. A garage that would hold up longer, he said, would be even more expensive to build.

“The construction of a parking garage is a last choice option in my opinion,” Obuchowski told the audience that packed the House Chamber in March.

Hollar says a garage, long term, would be the best solution, but at a time when the state is building a new psychiatric hospital and state office complex, a garage in Montpelier is somewhere down near the bottom of the list.

“Garages are expensive, and parking rates don’t pay for them — they require subsidies,” Hollar said. “But the benefit to the city and the state would justify a subsidy for it.”

The only garage in town, at City Center, is no longer available for public parking. State and federal workers who occupy the upper stories of the mini mall lease all of the spaces.

For people who live in Montpelier, the biggest issue is the winter parking ban. No vehicles are allowed to stay on the streets overnight as of Nov. 15. The ban is in effect through April 1.

The Montpelier Parking Committee, which conducted the survey, is hoping to create additional emergency parking lots for residents.

Follow Anne on Twitter @GallowayVTD

Comments

  1. Dave Bellini :

    There’s really two choices:
    .
    1. Build a large parking garage like those in downtown Burlington. And they have lasted a lot longer than 15 years.
    .
    2. Talk about it, keep doing nothing, form another committee and keep doing nothing.
    .
    It’s pretty clear the state is committed to option #2.

  2. Steven Farnham :

    I doubt I have ever seen an easier problem to solve that has been approached with more obtuse behaviour. There already is a large (grossly underutilized) parking area at DET (Department of Employment and Training) on the West side of Montpelier, and another could be easily set up on the East side in the old Grossman’s parking lot. While these might not hold 840 cars, both, likely could be expanded. Provide free parking at these locations, then operate a free shuttle every five or ten minutes to truck people in and out of town. Probably cheaper than $25,000.00 per space. Make its use mandatory for city and state employees, and others who park for the entire day.

    Another solution is car and van-pooling. Some people have no choice but to arrive in Montpelier one to a car. But many who commute every day could come in groups. As an incentive, anyone who drives into town with four in a car or more than six in a van could be exempted from the above required use of the commuter lots.

    Burlington has a similar problem with a parking ban, but enforces it only if there is a storm. Lights are hung on utility poles all over the city, and if parking is banned for a particular evening, the lights are switched on.

    A parking ban only when needed – what a revolutionary idea.

    • Jonathan Weker :

      Both of the lots mentioned above (DET and Grossmans) sit right by the railroad tracks, which conveniently run right through the center of town. Those tracks seem to be rarely used. How about a little shuttle rail to bring folks in from the satellite parking lots? There’s something about transportation on rails that makes it seem much more convenient, and inviting, than waiting around for a bus or a van.

      • Jacob Miller :

        Great suggestion. Could be operated automatically like it is at San Francisco International Airport with a side line to park the passenger rail cars on the occasional use of the rails for freight. The overnight Winter parking ban should only apply when there is a need to remove snow. The ban primarily impacts residential tenants who’s apartment owners have not provided off street parking.

    • Justin Turcotte :

      I am looking as ways to help people of montpelier park on our streets with out interrupting DPW winter opporations. Want to work together?

  3. Alan Gregory :

    I motored over to Montpelier a couple of months ago, and had virtually no problem in finding a parking slot for my Volvo just a few blocks away from the book shop I wanted to visit. Perhaps more difficult temporary storage of cars is what people need to get them out of their cars and back on to their feet – to walk as God intended. Besides, it’s simply better to burn calories instead of the fossil fuel we call gasoline.

    • Doug Spaulding :

      What year is your Volvo? Is it a new one? What model is it? Sedan, wagon? Is it fun to drive?

      • It’s a 2004 XC70 AWD. My late wife adored the car; it was her second Volvo.

  4. Elisabeth Hebert :

    Parking outside the city and having public transport into and in the city, would that be a possibility?
    However, being handicaped and not able to easily walk around I would very much appreciate more handicaped parking spaces!

  5. Kathy Callaghan :

    The other alternative is behind the Thrush tavern where there is already a footprint and a natural indentation in the land.

    This site has been discussed for years – again, with nothing done about it.

  6. Jake marren :

    This isn’t the worst problem to have. A shortage of parking indicates that Montpelier is a place that people want or need to go to. That is a better situation than in the morbid downtowns of other places in Vermont.

    The parking agitators want a parking garage designed for the peak of the peak demand, so that every legislator, state employee, tourist, and resident can have a spot on on a snowy evening in January. This type of parking availability only exists in suburbia, where there are giant parking lots sized for holiday shopping weekends. Abundant parking is neither feasible nor desirable for a downtown. As it is, the currently “inadequate” lots on the Winooski sit empty and idle on nights and weekends. What a waste of what could be productive space, which would be better repurposed as tax paying development or green space. The new plan for the transportation center accomplishes some of these things, however modestly, and therefore should be supported in the face of criticism from the parking-uber-alles crowd. Montpelier’s waterfront is the most unsightly and neglected feature of our city – it can and should be improved.

  7. David T. Gross :

    Problem: Lack of Parking
    Answer: Public Commuter Bussing

    Problem: Traffic Congestion
    Answer: Public Commuter Bussing

    Problem: Energy Inefficiency / Climate Change
    Answer: Public Commuter Bussing

    Problem: Low Income Individuals & Automobile Expenses
    Answer: Public Commuter Bussing

    Problem: Little/No Public Commuter Bussing Along State Highway Corridors
    Answer: ???????????????????????????…….

    • Well said, David. My overriding concern is this: People, even a majority of Vermonters, have apparently forgotten how to walk for personal transportation. Neighbors of mine in Williston even forsake the chance for five minutes of foot time daily by driving their cars to the cluster of mail boxes. And, while there, they leave their engines idling.

  8. Paul Donovan :

    I’m glad to hear another parking garage is not being considered. That just brings more cars into downtown, and a demand for another garage, and another. If you build it, they will come, the saying goes. Satellite parking with shuttles is the way to go. Using the rail lines sounds like a great idea.

    • Doug Spaulding :

      Quaint but not at all feasible…well maybe in 20 years or so but by then there will be at least 2 more parking garages in Montpelier so everyone will be all set!

  9. Dave McLean :

    It seems the State at least has a strong interest in solving the problem. I wonder what the costs are in terms of lost productivity given that there are too few spaces for all employees at any time of the year, not to mention during the legislative session. Employees lose hours of work not just from not being able to find a spot, but from having to move their cars if forced to park in a metered spot, etc. This cost, among many others, should be considered everytime someone mentions the $25k per spot for a garage.

    • Alan Gregory :

      The fairest, and least expensive solution is for people to leave their cars at home and carpool, ride-share, walk, bicycle, or use transit. The problem is not limited to Montpelier but city after city, especially in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. Consider, as well, the lost time devoted to sitting in traffic. I see this on Vermont 2A just down the street from my home. And my decade-plus of Air Force Reserve duty in Hampton Roads, Va., left me shaking my head repeatedly over what ills people are willing to put themselves through – all for the sake of driving their own car, SUV or truck

  10. Josh Fitzhugh :

    I was on the state Rail Council years ago. We discussed having light rail use our tracks for tourism as well as moving people short distances. Federal rules make that very difficult; it seems that if you want to use existing track you need heavy, heavy equipment. But perhaps the rules have changed, or we could get one of those in/famous exceptions.

  11. Stan Hopson :

    How about we have those new Amazon drones drop us off and pick us up when visiting the Capitol area or we can just walk to State street as suggested above.

  12. Eric Taylor :

    Alan Gregory – “I motored over to Montpelier a couple of months ago, and had virtually no problem in finding a parking slot..” I think this is true, and if most people answer honestly, they’d say that they rarely have trouble finding a spot on State/Main/Elm or adjoining lots that are pretty convenient to where they wanted to go. We actually have capacity!

    However, that’s the situation for metered/turnover spots.. it’s not the same for day long parking. Clearly some issues there. But a garage should be the last consideration. It certainly is not a ‘no-brainer.’

    Most interesting result on this survey..?? 60% answered that walking from library to city hall was acceptable distance, which means 40% answered it was too far!! We are lazy! A garage is an awfully expensive fix to a perception problem.

    • I would vote to expand the existing parking lot behind the Dept. Of Labor to the full extent possible then I would look for a site in the area of the jct. of routes 302 & 2 to purchase and construct another 2-300 spaces or more. then I would develop a bus system . This would be less expensive than any parking garage or using some sort of passenger rail system. A plan could be developed to pay state and city employes to use these parking lots as a incentive for them to use the shuttle parking lots to free up parking spaces in Montpelier. Just a thought!

      • Doug Spaulding :

        Why pay them to use it? Just mandate it’s use and that is it. If your local bus system is anything like the one in Saint Johnsbury where all 15 – 20 of their transit buses run all over the place, including to the office buildings in Montpelier, and usually with very few passengers ever aboard then you are already good to go. Never seen a bigger waste of taxpayers money than that RCT system. I think all the buses they buy now have the windows tinted on them so that people can not see just how empty they are as they all run their routes all day long, over and over and over.

        • Alan Gregory :

          I see the same thing on Vermont 2A, Williston and Essex Junction, every day: Empty transit buses and few, if any, people waiting at a designated bus stop waiting to board one. But simply making things easier for cars, i.e., parking garages, will do nothing to get people back on their feet and burning calories, not gasoline.

  13. Mike Rainville :

    Didn’t the state just spend $1 million on the upgrades to the Richmond park and ride to add 40 spaces? Evidently, no qualms about spending $25,000 per spot there.

    Montpelier is a special problem. As part of access to our government, people arrive from all over the state for daytime meetings. State employees used to tee-hee at us when we arrived and grumbled about trying to park. Now they are grumbling every day. Not so funny now.

    Build a garage over the hole next to the Pavilion Office building and get it done with.

    • Alan Gregory :

      Study after study has proven this: Building more road surface (as in widening) and adding parking slots (as in subsidized motoring) doesn’t do much other than increase air and water pollution. At this rate, the only green space in Montpelier (or any other urban sprawl) will be the landscaping next to the entrance and exit ramps. Sad

  14. Steve Sease :

    Parking garages are huge white elephants, expensive to build, expensive to maintain, usually unpleasant to look at, and, as others have noted, a crutch for our car culture. It would be preferable to find ways to reduce cars in the city, not give them comfy subsidized nests that preclude other, more desirable, uses.

    I subscribe to the idea that Montpelier doesn’t have a parking problem – it has a walking problem. Its easy to find a place to park and shop if you are willing to hoof it a bit. And, you might even drop in on some other store on impulse. Cool!
    Walking to a store in Montpelier is a lot more fun than playing dodge em with cars in some soulless sidewalk-less big box asphalt desert.

    We do need to find a solution for people who need all day parking, and I think Zamp and others have the right idea. Go to satellite parking with reliable public transit, and modestly incentivize it. Work on bike and pedestrian corridors into and through the city. And analyze existing lots, like the parking lot behind city hall, for better design, better circulation, and more capacity.

    Done right, we can make Montpelier more livable, more fun to shop and work in, and reduce our carbon footprint.

  15. Dave Bellini :

    I like Zampieri’s idea too. I still think a parking garage for a chunk of state workers on State Street would be a good idea also. Look at all the money wasted on Vermont Health Disconnect. A parking garage is something tangible and people will actually use it. My point is: there is nothing being done. There’s no action; there’s no plan.

    • Alan Gregory :

      The “solution” lies not in building more (growth for the sake of growth), but in encouraging people to leave their car at home and become part and parcel of a walkable town, where quality of life is not car-dependent.

  16. Jon Budreski :

    ….”And that problem is about to get worse.
    The city is planning an urban, multi-modal transit center and park on the Carr Lot along River Street that will eat up 100 spaces. Construction is set to begin in October 2014.”

    In the long run the transit center will help to alleviate traffic problems and be a cornerstone of Montpelier. More and better public (and private) transportation options will be encouraged into and out of the hub reducing the need for more autos.

    Sounds like a great opportunity to try a few different approaches from encouraging carpooling even more, encouraging public transportation, and for sure the satellite parking “beta tests” would be excellent. As the transit center grows and direct service to NY and BOS happen, folks going out of town for a week will need parking and reliable/clean/heated transportation to satellite spots will be just as fast as walking to a garage (for those folks that do not want to walk 300ft anyway…)

  17. Rob Bast :

    For those interested in this topic, a highly readable and well informed little book is worthwhile: “Walkable City” by Jeff Speck (2012). Though much of the book examines experience in larger cities, the concepts and applications are clearly transferable to the small city such as Montpelier.

    Regarding the use of the rail line, there must be a way to coordinate a light rail passenger service on the line from the junction towards Barre, with due deference to the freight needs. It could be a minivan with train wheels under,like the inspection trucks one sees, nothing fancy, just something as a proof of concept. It would make some satellite parking locations viable and provide rapid access to downtown. The route is highly visible and would be part of its own awareness campaign. It seems like a great opportunity.

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      Rob, maybe you should personally sponsor the study with you vast resources.

  18. Paul Lorenzini :

    Turn the statehouse lawn into a parking lot. Problem solved.

  19. Dan Carver :

    The state owns property in Waterbury and other near-by towns. Why not move some of the state offices, and the related employees, out of Montpelier versus trying to figure out expensive (financially and/or environmentally) ways to cram more folks in?
    This is the digital/information age. Do people have to be located in Montpelier to work?
    Good thing there isn’t a McDonald’s in town, that would really tie up traffic!

    • Alan Gregory :

      There has been much talk across the nation this decade of a new stay-at-home workforce; one that does its work by computer/digitally. Doing so in a meaningful large scale means less air pollution, no more time-clock mentality, and much less reliance on the private automobile/highway culture.

  20. Peter Liston :

    Here is THE answer:

    Eliminate the reserved parking spaces for legislators. Make them fight for parking like all of the other working shlubs in Montpelier. They’ll have a solution to the problem by the end of January.

    • Alan Gregory :

      I say again: Parking is only an alleged “nightmare” if one chooses to limit his transportation options to one: The private automobile. Arguably, the private, family car and the infrastructure needed to keep motor vehicle fleets on the move are among the biggest reasons out there for the ongoing decimation of our country’s natural heritage.
      And another word about parking garages: Nothing is more ugly than a giant piece of asphalt/concrete/steel and oil spills that mark each parking slot therein.

      • Paul Lorenzini :

        Yup, the government should confiscate all vehicles immediately, yours first. But of course you lead by example and don’t own one correct? Ongoing decimation? How about we stop decimating taxpayers in order to promote expensive, freedom decimating policies?

        • Alan Gregory :

          I did not say anything in my earlier posting of “confiscation.” What I do believe in is this: Stop trying to build ourselves out of congestion and other traffic “problems.” Study after study have found, for example, that within a week of being widened to relieve congestion, the new “improved” highway is just as congested as the old. Downtowns – like Montpelier’s and many others – are walkable, lively and socially interesting parts of cities that choose not to allow “sprawl” and the road-building crowd from having its way.

  21. Paul Carnahan :

    Reporters keep repeating the statistic that Montpelier is short 600 parking spaces and 840 parking spaces when the legislature is in session. Who came up with that number?! If you had even 200 people looking for parking spaces in Montpelier each day you would have total gridlock. 600 people looking for parking spaces? No way.

    • The information comes from a BGS study cited in the story.

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