“There is No Parking” Myth

Issues and remedies for downtown parking

The most frequently cited complaints about downtowns are parking related: there isn’t any it’s not close enough, it costs too much, or it’s dangerous. In many cases, these perceptions stem from an experience that does not reflect the reality. To get to the bottom of this, we interviewed experienced parking consultant, Chuck Ignatz of GRAELIC, LLC to reveal the most common challenges and misconceptions regarding parking, and talked about how to improve visitor experience.

Q. In our experience, parking is one of the biggest complaints about downtowns. What are the most frequent and specific issues about parking that you hear?

A. Accessibility and perception of distance. People in this country generally want to park directly in front of the door to their destination when visiting an urban downtown. However, they are comfortable walking a much farther distance from their spot to the door at a suburban mall. This has a lot to do with the visual environment and the ability for someone to see a connection between their car and their destination.

Q. How far is a person usually willing to walk?

A. It depends on the perception of their surroundings, but 1500 feet is usually the maximum comfortable distance. It has a lot to do with the pedestrian experience in the corridors. If a place is dark, between buildings, there is an uneven surface, or cars are right up against the walking path, the acceptable distance will be much shorter.

Q. How often do you find that there really is a parking shortage in an area?

A. In most instances, the problem is really that drivers can’t find parking due to poor signage and a lack of knowledge of the area. Occasionally there is a true shortage, but that is not usually the case.

Q. What are THE MOST COMMON recommendations to resolve real or percieved parking issues?

A. Signage and graphics are usually needed to better identify parking areas and parking instructions, including prices and restrictions. Lighting is key; people want to park in places where they feel their person and their car are safe. This includes adequate lighting on the path to their destination. I frequently recommend lot improvements, like paving a gravel lot or maintaining a garage, to be more appealing.

Q. What are some tactics to discourage employees from parking in prime visitor spots?

A. The best deterrent is active enforcement of meters. This includes monitoring the length of time a car is in a spot to ensure someone isn’t feeding the meter all day. Higher meter rates in prime spots along with low-cost or free parking at a farther distance can help as well.

Q. What can signage do to allieviate parking issues?

A. Signage that effectively directs people to parking removes the “search-and-find” issue, gets cars off the street faster, and calms the district. Also, by correcting parking situations, retail tenants can gain more business because there is better turn-over of the metered visitor parking spots, where long-term parkers are parked appropriately.

Good signage provides a better overall experience for the visitor. Parking is the first and last experience a person has with a place. They may be dining at a fine restaurant, but if they have issues finding parking, or come back and can’t find their car, or have a ticket, it ruins the experience and deters them from returning.

Q. In what ways does signage create problems?

A. There is often too much. We look down a street and see many of those green and white messages that are confusing. Sometimes the signage even has conflicting parking restrictions, like “No Parking,” parking between certain hours, valet or bus zones, etc. People don’t know which instructions to follow and may just avoid parking there all together.

Sometimes people create signs that prioritize being clever or being practical. The capital “P” is universal; creative symbols can confuse the message, particularly in an area where there is parking stress. Visibility is sometimes an issue if there are obstructions like trees that prevent you from seeing the sign until you are on top of it.

Q. What are some new technologies in parking that you have seen?

A. Single space sensors that monitor open spaces in a parking facility; being able to pay with your cell phone so that there is no longer a need for a cash transaction; debit and credit card technologies; Automatic Vehicle Identification (or AVI) where you have a tag in your vehicle similar to what you see for turnpike/toll roads. We are seeing more green technolgy in garages, like power stations and small car parking provisions (better spots), and newer light technologies including LED and incandescent lights that are more efficient. Also, solar array panels on garages to help supplement the power needs for the elevators and lights.


Americans love their cars. We hear this a lot and, while in many ways it is true, we also have functional needs for our vehicles, like hauling kids and groceries or business travel. Plus, a lack of public transportation options in some areas makes it difficult to move through your day without a car. Whatever it is, when we consider wayfinding programs, it is important to recognize that, no matter the end destination, parking is the destination drivers need to find first.

Parking has long been a hot-button issue in communities and now, with a myriad of forums from which to choose, people share their grievances on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like. While some issues are real and others perceived, many can be solved with simple communication tactics – fewer signs, clear instructions, diligent ticketing, etc.

As wayfinding consultants, we often arrive at the scene after our clients have completed a parking study or master plan. When we consider wayfinding systems for communities, the key to parking success is two-fold — developing a focused system to direct drivers to parking areas on the wayfinding signs, and clear and consistent parking lot/garage identification signs. Even if the lots are managed under separate owners or entities, a common sign element benefits everyone by benefiting the end user.

Parking is key to the success of your downtown. The good news is that there are a lot of simple methods that be implementing easily for a dramatic improvement – trim trees, remove conflicting messages, fix that burned-out lightbulb. But if you need a depper look at your parking pitfalls or wayfinding woes, ask us about the Wayfinding Analysis: an affordable first step toward resolving wayfinding challenges, in which we work with you to assess the situation, identify the real wayfinding needs, develop a roadmap and phased approach to help you plan, garner support, budget and secure funding for your project.

Ask about Wayfinding Analysis

About the Interviewee

Charles Ignatz, Principal, GRAELIC, LLC

Charles (Chuck) Ignatz is a Principal partner of GRAELIC, LLC headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his engineering degree from Cleveland State University and has since accumulated over 20 years of experience consulting in his profession. Chuck is a member of the National Parking Association’s Parking Consultants Council and the International Parking Institute. GRAELIC is an inter-national consulting firm specializing in parking design and consulting services to a wide array of clients and organizations. In its long history, GRAELIC has provided parking consulting and related services to over 3,000 parking projects worldwide, and prides itself on its reputation for providing value added services to its clients.

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