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VOL. 131 | NO. 192 | Monday, September 26, 2016

National Experts to Explore Parking, Transit Solutions for City’s Core

BY K. DENISE JENNINGS, Special to The Daily News

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Billions of public and private dollars being invested in the urban core of Memphis have civic leaders thinking about long-term transportation and parking solutions that will best serve the area as it evolves.

A daily ritual across the medical district involves workers finding parking spots and walking across busy roadways to their workplaces. A summit on parking and transit options for the district will be held Oct. 3-4 to search for more sustainable long-term solutions.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Memphis Medical District Collaborative (MMDC) and Innovate Memphis are hosting a summit Oct. 3 and 4 to focus on the issues of parking, walkability and transit in the medical district and beyond.

National experts Paulo Nunes-Ueno, former director of transportation mobility for the city of Seattle and Seattle Children’s Hospital; Gabe Klein, former commissioner of the Chicago and Washington, D.C. departments of transportation; and Allison Simmons, owner of Ease Consult and a Transportation Management Association (TPA) expert in Boston, which houses some of the country’s most prestigious medical and academic centers, will all be on hand to meet with local stakeholders about the challenges Memphis is facing and how they’ve dealt with the same issues in other cities.

Memphis has some of the most abundant and cheap parking of any big city in the U.S., according to Colliers International. This ultimately contributes to the drive-alone commuter problems that cause traffic congestion and parking issues around densely populated work centers like the medical district and Downtown. And with much more planned development in the pipeline, city leaders want to start thinking about sustainable options for the future.

“One of the things we’re seeing is that people are really looking for options on how they get around,” said Tommy Pacello, president of the MMDC.

Millennials are multimodal and choose the best transportation mode (driving, transit, bike or walk) based on the trip they are planning to take, according to a study by the National Public Transportation Association (NPTA). They also choose communities to live in that have a lot of well-integrated transportation choices.

“(MMDC) wants to get everyone together to think about what to do from a collective approach,” Pacello said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to start to conversation and get experts who have dealt with those issues in other cities.”

He said there are 2,200 students and residents (of the 24,000 total students and employees) in the medical district who are “transit trained, but people do whatever’s easiest, and driving alone here is easiest.”

Currently the urban core has 270 acres of surface parking lots, Pacello said.

“Parking is a necessary land use, but it doesn’t offer a high return on investment,” he said. “We want to start thinking about how we can reposition parking and how we think about the systems like ride share, bike share, car share and transit and how to network them together.”

Nunes-Ueno said the challenge here in Memphis is really with growth.

“But managing growth oftentimes comes down to managing transportation,” Nunes-Ueno said. “The goal is to be able to speak about parking, walking and transit as part of one system that works together. Otherwise, you miss the connections and you’re not really serving the users that well.”

In addition to gathering city leaders and big employers, the summit will include a town hall event.

“We want to cast a wide invitation to everyone,” Nunes-Ueno said. “We’re trying to speak to people rather than just users of a particular transportation mode. We all have interests beyond what our primary mode of transportation might be. Discussions of barriers is important. What isn’t working and what would make alternatives more attractive?”

Organizers want to engage stakeholders in the district and the public in talking about what they’d like to see the medical district look like in the future as well as better ways to access it.

Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager at Innovate Memphis, one of the leading civic organizations thinking about the future of transit in Memphis, does not own a car. She bikes and takes public transportation to her office Downtown from her Midtown home in Cooper-Young, so she is uniquely qualified to start the conversation about improving the transportation network in the core of the city.

One of the biggest barriers to having people use alternative transit is land use, Carlson said. Everything is spread out. There are lots of parking lots, and it’s difficult for transit users to access where they need to go.

“It’s easier now for drivers and parkers,” Carlson said.

While parking is currently plentiful and cheap or free, planned development is going to tighten supply at a time when city leaders are hoping to attract more people to the center city, so leaders are looking for ways to incentivize the use of alternative transportation. There are some pilot employers in Memphis addressing this, starting with City Hall, which recently gave employees the benefit of having their city IDs double as a free transit pass, Carlson said.

With shifts in the transit behaviors of millennials and burgeoning development of driverless cars, Uber and transportation sharing, it’s worth considering that parking could be at its peak, Nunes-Ueno said.

“Fast-forward into the future. Will we need to store a bunch of cars on-site?” he said. “People have all kinds of different timelines for when they think driverless cars will be an impact on transit. But there will, at some point, be the last guy who builds a 2,500 stall parking garage for $86 million at $45,000 a stall.”

Simmons, whose expertise is in transportation management, says driving behavior change is a big part of what she does.

“Changing the attitudes of people driving alone and building infrastructure to support their choice takes money, planning and long-term vision on the city and state level,” she said. “Having the hospitals and the university on board with the concept is the biggest hurdle to overcome, so it’s a great step in the right direction.”

Carlson agrees.

“There is energy and commitment in the medical district to address this,” she said. “We want to provide more options to people and give them incentives for using other options besides driving and parking. We’re hoping it can be a demonstration for the rest of the city.”

The public town hall event, “How to Leave Your Car at Home,” featuring Simmons and Nunes-Ueno will be held Oct. 4 at 6:30 pm. at High Cotton Brewing Co. at 598 Monroe Ave. Attendance is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. RSVP at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/how-to-leave-your-car-at-home-tickets-27555219403 to attend.

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