Parking & Transportation

It’s time to stop idling, and solve Portsmouth’s parking problems!

Few topics have been discussed and studied more in Portsmouth in the past 20 years than parking – and few have more impact for many of visitors, residents, businesses, and employees. However, there are real solutions available that are beneficial to residents, taxpayers, visitors, businesses, and employees. Strong leadership is the key – and this and future councils will consider these three points:

1. First, we need councilors that acknowledge that Portsmouth has an inadequate supply of publicly-available parking, particularly downtown, and that it is a problem.

The issue has been studied extensively, and the data are clear. Studies and surveys from the early 1970s to today have consistently shown that demand for downtown parking has grown faster than the supply to meet that demand, and the gap is getting larger over time.

The negative ramifications on this parking shortage — which includes a dramatic increase in both the frequency of days where the city’s one public garage reaches capacity, and the length of such closures — are significant: Between one-third and one-half of all traffic driving through downtown in peak periods are simply looking for a space, causing traffic, environmental, aesthetic and safety concerns. The negative economic impact for businesses, particularly those relying on local customers seeking quick “drop in” or appointment-based services, is significant.

It is critically important that our elected leaders, based on quantitative and qualitative data, understand that there is a structural shortage of downtown parking, and that it is a problem requiring multiple thoughtful, but urgent, solutions.

2. Part of the long-term solution to our parking needs must include an additional parking garage.

Multiple studies about the best locations for a parking structure in or near downtown Portsmouth have been done, and two potential locations dwarf all others as optimal sites: the Worth Lot location (also known as “The Whale Wall Lot” on Maplewood Street), and the Gary’s Beverage location (on Deer Street). As you may know, the bond required to move forward with the Deer Street location passed earlier in 2015, but there are steps that remain before this greatly-needed community asset is realized.  There is no doubt that other strategies must also be employed to provide long-term solutions to Portsmouth’s parking and transportation needs (see point #3, below), but no combination of tactics can fully address the issue unless significant additional parking is supplied in the form of a structure. It is critical that Portsmouth elect candidates who will see the Deer Street garage location to completion.

3. We can alleviate some of our parking challenges through innovative pricing solutions on the demand side of the problem. 

Virtually everybody who has studied the issue, including the “Godfather of Parking,” UCLA professor Donald Schoop, has concluded that we can make much better use of the parking we have through smarter pricing. What is the right price for a public parking spot? Whatever the cheapest amount is that will keep a spot or two available on each block at any given time. The problem is not the people using our parking — they are acting rationally. The problem is that we are not pricing most of our downtown parking to reflect the demand that exists. This is called dynamic pricing, and if we fully embrace it, we will find that our taxpayers will benefit tremendously — and that our traffic and parking problems will be lessened.

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This is a critical time for Portsmouth’s future. Those that get involved determine our future. Will you be a part of building a stronger Portsmouth?

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