COLUMBIA - How far is too far to walk from a parking space? A Target 8 investigation shows a more recent parking study conducted for the city of Columbia that supports the building of another parking garage uses different methods to measure the necessity of that garage when compared to previous parking studies.
Transystems Corporation stated in a parking study done for the city of Columbia in 2001 that "retail and restaurant customers generally desire to park within 300 feet of their destination." That is about the distance of 1-2 blocks downtown. However a study done in december 2010 by Walker Parking Consultants said people would walk much further, from 400 to 1,600 feet. From the location of the proposed Short Street garage that would take you as far as Sixth and Broadway - less than a block from the new garage by the post office.
"I would probably drive around the block again before I would park a mile away, you know," said Charles Nemmers, an engineer and professor of transportation infrastructure at the University of Missouri. Nemmers has worked in transportation for 45 years. While he likes parking close to his destination he sees nothing wrong with the conflicting methodology of the different studies.
"We are trying to provide capacity for the city as it grows. On one hand you say, 'well, six blocks is too far to walk,' and on the other hand you want to say, 'well, it is only six blocks away.' Well, you can't have it both ways," said Nemmers.
John Glascock, the director of Public Works for the city of Columbia says a walking distance of 5-6 blocks is reasonable. "People are more about walking and you see it downtown a lot. So I would think yes, that is reasonable."
The studies do differ.
The one that suggests shorter walks stems from research on Columbia specifically, while the one that suggests people will walk farther uses general standards not specific to Columbia. Another major difference between the two studies is the number of empty spaces considered a desirable rate that the city should maintain.
The study for the Walnut garage recommended "an occupancy of 75 percent in the central business district would be a desirable rate to maintain." However, the study for the Short Street garage disagrees. It calls 75 percent not enough. Additionally, the study states that "while the overall demand does not in itself indicate a parking shortage... several blocks experience a level of demand that indicates a parking shortage during peak periods."
"We don't know what the developments are going to be five years out," said Nemmers. "We couldn't even forecast the economic downturns that we had. There are a lot of things that we have no control over. We just want to make some prudent decisions that's moving us in a way that makes sense. And I think what the city is saying is that for us to develop the downtown we have to have more parking available for people to use downtown."
The mayor agrees.
"I think it helps the university in recruiting students. I think it helps the university when they are recruiting staff, researchers, professors too," said Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid. "It adds to the whole ambiance of the city. I think it can really add to that symbiotic relationship between the university and the city of Columbia."
The Walker study findings conclude, "if the city requires future developments... to meet the appropriate zoning requirements for parking, the projected future parking deficit could effectively be reduced." Meaning the need for a parking garage could be smaller or none.
"If you are going to build it today you don't want to go back tomorrow and build another one," said Nemmers. But in a way that is what is happening. The 5th and Walnut garage officially opened March first this year. Now the city is proposing building the Short Street garage six blocks up on the same street.
In a Columbia Missourian article dated April 20, 2009, Barbara Hoppe, a member of the city council, described the 5th and Walnut garage saying, "I would hope this should address our parking needs forever."
Whether the current garage is that forever solution or whether a Short Street garage should join the mix is now up to the city council to decide. If built, the Short Street garage will cost about $12 million dollars - not including interest.