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VOL. 131 | NO. 199 | Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Infrastructure, Attitude Shifts Could Decrease Medical District Parking Needs

By Madeline Faber

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The Memphis Medical District has 16,000 employees, 8,000 students – and 250 acres of surface parking lots. National experts say the district’s parking footprint could hinder further growth.

Abby Miller, left, with the Memphis Medical District Collaborative and Suzanne Carlson with Innovate Memphis want to reduce the need for personal vehicles in the medical district by improving pedestrian infrastructure and promoting alternative transportation.  

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Backed by the newly formed Memphis Medical District Collaborative, the district is being combed to become an area that is both an economic driver and a livable, walkable neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, national experts spoke in Memphis as part of the “How to Leave Your Car at Home” summit to discuss how innovations in transportation and parking can benefit the Memphis Medical District.

Doug McGowen, chief operating officer for the city of Memphis, said findings from the parking summit will help inform the city’s first comprehensive plan since 1981. Backed by the city’s Office of Comprehensive Planning, the plan will guide Memphis’ growth and investment over the next 25 years. The first public input meetings for the plan will take place in November.

McGowen is considering how the efforts of the MMDC could drastically change the makeup of the Medical District in the future.

“If we have a high percentage of people who are parking who are employees, and if in the next 10 years we can change that dynamic where most of the people are living in the city, that would change that need for parking,” he said.

He’s also weighing how innovations to parking could evolve over time, such as cars that can park automatically and can therefore be arrayed more compactly. The district also needs to reimagine how parking relates to new construction, such as eliminating front-door parking or parking space minimums for new buildings, he said.

MMDC is considering creating an incentive program for people who want to move their business or residence to the district. Gabe Klein, a consultant on smart city growth with CityFi, said Memphis’ focus on densifying and diversifying urban areas is in step with national trends.

As cities look to attract new businesses and the youngest generation, they need to remain competitive and on the cutting edge of land use.

“An effective land-use policy means that you move people as little as possible unless they want to,” Klein said. “That means building places where people can live, work and play all in one neighborhood, and building linkages between those neighborhoods.”

Allison Simmons, principal of transportation consulting firm Ease Consult, said the Memphis Medical District would be well-suited to foster a transportation management association (TMA), or group of private organizations that support public transportation and sustainable transportation alternatives.

Similar organizations already exist locally, like the Downtown Memphis Commission’s parking authority and the Blue Line shuttle that runs at the University of Memphis.

Having the support of a TMA would mean that the eight institutions of the medical district could let go of their individual parking lots and rethink how shared parking could support the common goal of increasing employees and residents in the district.

Other strategies include rethinking free parking as an expectation, said Suzanne Carlson with Innovate Memphis. Under Innovate Memphis’ Commute Options initiative, Carlson is looking at ways that employers can make public transit as attractive and seamless as driving a personal car to work. Part of that strategy is a universal transit pass. Recently launched at City Hall, city of Memphis employees can now use their ID badges as passes to use the Memphis Area Transit System, she said.

“After all that, we’ll be able to reduce the demand for parking so we can put more retail and more residences and other types of things in the medical district,” Carlson said.

PROPERTY SALES 39 202 12,960
MORTGAGES 25 110 8,113
BUILDING PERMITS 114 645 30,579
BANKRUPTCIES 37 122 6,186