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Willmar, Minn., receives downtown parking survey

Vehicles are parked Monday in the lot near Bethel Lutheran Church in downtown Willmar. A consulting firm has inventoried existing on-street and off-street parking spaces and conducted a use survey of downtown Willmar. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — A downtown parking survey presented Monday to the Willmar City Council discovered potential areas of concern that will need to be explored in greater detail.

An area of concern is when parking reaches a utilization rate of more than 85 percent. When this occurs, parking becomes a challenge within that area.

For instance, drivers will find themselves waiting longer periods of time for an available space and circulation within the parking area becomes a problem.

SRF Consulting Group of Minneapolis was selected last fall to take a careful look at the state of downtown parking and will make recommendations on how to address any concerns or issues identified through the process.

The firm inventoried downtown on-street and off-street parking spaces and found 2,166 off-street spaces and 522 on-street spaces for a total of 2,688 parking spaces.

The firm looked at peak parking conditions in a 26-block area located between First Street and Seventh Street Southwest and from Pacific Avenue to Minnesota Avenue.

SRF associate Lance Bernard said high use rates were observed near Rice Memorial Hospital during morning and afternoon survey times for both on-street and off-street supply.

In particular, he said three areas — the main lot in block 19 (Rice Hospital main lot), the west lot in block 24 (Rice west lot), and the central lot in block 25 (Rice Hospital) — had high use rates.

However, in the evening the rate decreased sharply. This can be attributed to the fact that most hospital employees work approximately 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Furthermore, on-street use in the urban core had high demand throughout the day, but dropped significantly after 5 p.m.

Observations discovered there are no areas of concern after the 5 p.m. hour throughout the entire study area.

Findings from this assessment will help inform later phases of the project, said Bernard. More importantly, the results will provide a new baseline on parking needs as the downtown area redevelops and intensifies over the next 20 years.

SRF used a geographic information system to inventory each block. Collecting data in this format will give the city the ability to easily maintain an inventory in the future.

The digital inventory defined parking spaces by public or private regulations, what time restrictions if any were imposed on the parking spots, and if the spots were angled, 90 degrees or parallel. The firm identified spaces covered in snow, trash receptacles or other objects.

Private spots included leased spots, contract lots, lots specified for a company use, and reserved spots. Public spots included public parking lots and on-street parking.

The firm surveyed parking lot usage Jan. 30 at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. These hours represent the morning peak period, the afternoon peak period and the period after most employees have returned home.

The survey was completed for all on-street areas within the study area and the majority of off-street parking lots (lots used for storage and alleys were excluded).

Throughout the survey, special attention was given to blocks containing land uses that may generate heavy parking. These blocks included parking spaces near Rice Memorial Hospital and the medical facilities, the Kandiyohi County Recorder and Heritage Bank. Special attention was also given to on-street parking in the downtown core.

Bernard said the assessment is in the early stages of data collection.

“We’re really trying to just understand what exists today and trying to verify some of that data and work with the advisory committee on those data. Generally what we’re seeing right now as a whole collectively within downtown that parking is being met,’’ Bernard said.

“But there’s still some of those areas that we think there are some concerns based on the utilization surveys that we need to spend some more specific time on looking at whether or not we need to look at some strategies whether it’s way-finding or figuring out why some of those lots are being utilized more than others and how come some are not being utilized as greatly as we think they should,’’ he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150