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Chapel Hill, Carrboro officials respond to parking availability and occupancy

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Bowles Lot is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

In comparison to numerous other cities and towns in the state, Chapel Hill and Carrboro have ample parking relative to their population size.

Chapel Hill has 4,500 total parking spots and a population of more than 62,000, which would mean that available parking could serve around seven percent of the population at once. In Carrboro, the available parking could serve 17 percent of the population at once.

In Greensboro, only two percent of the city's population can park at one time — and in Boone, it's three percent.

These percentages reflect both public and private spaces. In downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro, 31 and 19 percent of parking spaces are public, respectively. Public parking is that owned by the municipality and not by a private entity. However, public parking does not necessarily mean it is free. 

Jeri Lynn Schulke, the executive director of Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said it is a myth that Chapel Hill has too little parking. She said parking availability may have been a problem in the past, and because of that, the idea of a parking shortage has become a part of the community's belief.

“If you’re willing to walk a block or two, you can get anywhere downtown and you can park and be there in a matter of minutes,” she said. “People walk that distance when they go to the mall.”

Jon Hartman-Brown, Carrboro’s economic development director, said some drawbacks of having more parking in downtown areas include economic and spatial costs.

In places that do not have many mixed-use complexes, like Carrboro, he said, more parking can be beneficial, especially to support businesses.

"You're going to have to have parking because people have got to be able to get to those businesses in order for them to survive," Hartman-Brown said.

A 2021 study by Walker Consultants found that, at peak occupancy, the majority of Carrboro’s parking lots were less than 50 percent full. At peak occupancy in Chapel Hill in 2018, the majority of lots were more than 50 percent full. Some lots, such as the Rosemary/Columbia lot in Chapel Hill, experience significantly higher year-round occupancy than others.

With the upcoming completion of the East Rosemary Street parking deck, the town's parking availability will increase by 200-300 spaces.

Michael Carew, Chapel Hill’s parking services manager, said that because of the amount of parking that is leased out to businesses, there is a very small net gain for the Town as parking infrastructure is developed.

“From the Town of Chapel Hill’s eyes, we don’t have a lot of parking,” he said. “Even though we’re building a parking deck, we’re losing some spaces.”

But, Carew said he does not think Chapel Hill needs more parking — as the parking demand of the Town comes in waves. He said it just needs to be consolidated into smaller areas.

“People still feel like we should just be able to pull up right in front of where I want to go and pop out and get into the store that I’m going to and come right out,” Schulke said. “And that’s just not viable, right? You’re gonna have to walk. So I believe there is enough parking.”

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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