Downtown Parking Study set to begin

Downtown Fort Dodge was built during a time where parking was not provided on private property. In the core downtown nearly all of the historically significant buildings were built to each property line, maximizing building square footage. Parking was on the street. Many other downtowns developed similarly. Fast forward several decades, to a time where parking has now become essential for businesses, so much so that it is provided by private property owners. Owners plan for this and zoning requires some as well. However in the downtown, like many other communities Fort Dodge does not require downtown properties to have private parking. That is why there is a municipal parking system. It is comprised of eight public parking lots, throughout the downtown. Meters and time limits are set on the street to encourage movement of vehicles, keeping parking close to businesses available for customers. This approach shifts the cost for parking directly to its users, which is not the case in other areas of town where parking is “free” (albeit the cost of products likely covers the expense).

Our downtown parking system exists to support downtown property and business owners and especially the customers that use it. A parking study kicks off this week. It will evaluate several aspects of the current parking system and identify needs and opportunities to improve it. This work will be completed by Rich & Associates Inc., a firm well versed in evaluating downtown parking needs and having completed studies in Des Moines, Dubuque, Grand Forks, N.D. and Traverse City, Mich., to name a few.

Why does the downtown need a parking study? To ensure the system supports the downtown as well as to consider changes that will improve it today and for the future. A vibrant downtown is a goal of the 2008 Downtown Plan. Parking is one of many components that can help make that happen. Changes have already been made including meters in one area of downtown, increasing fines, and improving an existing lot. Balancing a downtown parking system is challenging. Engaging the community and right parking experts (Rich & Associates) will put the city on the right path to address the downtown’s current and future needs.

In order to get the greatest return from the study we want and need the input and support of customers, business and property owners and employees. A portion of the study is data collection, but another part of it is getting feedback from downtown business and property owners, as well as customers. We are looking to find out how people park downtown, what might be confusing, aspects that seem to work well and more.

Stephanie Houk Sheetz is a senior city planner with the city of Fort Dodge.