About Brett Wood, CAPP, PE

Brett Wood, CAPP, PE, is a parking and transportation planner with Kimley-Horn and Associates. He serves on the IPI Advisory Council, Awards of Excellence Committee, and the Parking Matters® Committee.

On Two Wheels

Brett Wood

I just spent a month in Key West, soaking up some fun and sun. You know what I figured out on day one? Parking was a pain in the you-know-what!

On day two, I dusted off a Schwinn cruiser in the storage shed in the backyard and became a bike advocate. The whole island opened up and the world was my oyster. Parking was a breeze—no payment required and normally I could drive right up to my destination and find a bike rack waiting for my two-wheeled stallion.

Bike parking is often an overlooked component of our industry, but it’s one that’s becoming increasingly popular and important. In a recent study we completed for the City of Tempe, Ariz., bike parking was front and center. Where do you put it? Who does it serve? Who maintains it? The answer is not as cut-and-dry as putting in a bike rack and calling it a day. It is imperative that the business community and the municipality work together to implement bike parking that complements the transportation network, promotes safe riding conditions, and provides mutual benefits to parkers, cyclists, businesses, and the community as a whole. Easy right?

Well, take a look at Fort Collins, Colo. There, industry leaders partnered with local businesses to achieve a common goal of promoting bicycle ridership. New Belgium Brewery, which started as a mom-and-pop brewery and has grown to national fame, sponsors portions of the bike parking program, providing racks for on-street bike parking and partnering with the city for educational campaigns. Their Tour de Fat campaign has expanded exponentially and is now in 10 cities across the U.S., providing bike riding education and promotion. And the city does its part by properly planning for bike parking needs, taking bike counts (similar to vehicular occupancy counts) and assessing bike demands in certain locations, and communicating with business owners about providing appropriate bike parking.

These types of partnerships actively promote bike riding and its importance in the fabric of our communities (Check out the September issue of The Parking Professional to learn what Yale’s bikeshare program did for that area). Before dismissing bike parking as an unnecessary component of your system, take the time to understand your community and the positive effect it might have on the social, economic, health, and congestion components of your society.

Getting Right Already

Brett Wood

One of my passions is right-sized parking. When you find others in the industry who share your views, it’s only natural to promote them and, more importantly, the great work they are doing.

In my time working in the Pacific Northwest, I have been following the efforts of King County Metro Transit and the work of Daniel Rowe. Together, Daniel and his organization are making great strides to right-size parking in their community. By employing data-driven analysis methods and realistic planning factors, they will inevitably help the Seattle and larger King County community save countless parking spaces and enable the construction of higher-density developments that help shape a more dynamic and energetic community. The King County Right Size Parking Project is funded by the FHWA Value Pricing Pilot Program. Additional information on can be found here.

Over the past couple of years, Daniel and King County have undertaken one of the nation’s largest right-sized parking efforts to date. The intent of this movement is to help communities find the right mix of parking and development to support growth without inhibiting community development. Sounds easy enough, but when you start to look at all the factors and players, achieving right-sized parking isn’t as easy as it sounds. Through their study efforts, King County has defined new ratios for parking generation based on location, area density, transit service availability, pricing, job availability, and development type. And to top that off, their website allows you to evaluate parking demands based on all these factors.

I dare you to play with that website for five minutes and not get hooked on the premise of right-sized parking. Daniel’s team has established unique factors that define their community’s parking paradigm, including transit availability, job density, and overall residential development characteristics. With these factors, you (the parking planner in any city) can begin to plan your ideal development that requires no parking and promotes the ideal walkable lifestyle.

I may be overly excited about an effort like this, but this outside-the-box thinking is going to transform us from an auto-dependent society into one that embraces great urban design policies, sustainable transportation infrastructure, and lessened pollution. It’s time to get right!

Joining the Smart Revolution

Brett Wood

I’ve heard a lot of questions lately about the evolution of parking. I started thinking and researching and found that, well, we have come a long way. I recently gave a presentation about this evolution from horse and buggy to car, from wind-up meter to multi-space paystation, from parking hotel (yes, that existed) to mega-sustainable, community-friendly parking garage. My conclusion was that we have transcended evolution and merged quite nicely into revolution. One of the reasons for this revolution is that our customers now have the world in their pockets.

With the rapid rise of cell phone ownership in the U.S., it’s only a matter of time before we see a massive shift in how our users interact with and pay for parking in our communities. According to research by the Pew Research Center, 88 percent of Americans own cell phones. Even more important, 46 percent of Americans own smartphones and use those devices for more than phone calls; this trend is escalating quickly, with another estimated 10 percent bump anticipated by the end of this year.

With these statistics and the continued evolution of the cell phone, is it any surprise that pay-by-cell payment options are popping up in communities everywhere? Pay-by-cell is not a new concept, but its acceptance is at an all-time high.

Consider the benefits:

  • User pays capital and maintenance costs.
  • User only pays for the time that they park.
  • User can receive notifications before they go over time.
  • Implementation is low cost (sometimes no cost) to the city.
  • Integration of smartphone applications allows for wayfinding, payment, management, enforcement, and communications, all through the user’s smartphone.

Even though that 12 percent of non-cell phone users represents approximately 30 million people, we are getting closer to a society that is plugged in and tuned in through their cell phones. The parking industry is poised and ready to capitalize on this evolution of American society. So, reach in your pocket, grab your smartphone, and join the revolution!

Parking Lessons from Football Champions

Brett Wood

I feel like you all are getting to know me a little better through this blog. This week’s tidbit is that I am a very proud alumnus of Screen Shot 2013-01-14 at 11.25.48 AMthe University of Alabama–very proud of my education and the wonderful strides the university has taken to establish itself as a premier educational institution. But–you guessed it–today I am proudest of the latest notch in the belt that is the Alabama football dynasty. They won their third national title in four years a few weeks back, and their 15th of all time. And while that last number might be debated, what’s not debatable is their place in football history.

How can we relate that success to a parking program?

Alabama football coach Nick Saban’s approach to achieving success can provide you a roadmap to improving your day-to-day operations and implementing your own successful dynasty. “The Process,” which is Saban’s approach to building a program, focuses on small details rather than the end goals, and the primary objective is for every member of the organization to improve the tasks they handle so it’s inevitable that the program is a champion. Consider some quotes about his process:

  • “Eliminate the clutter and all the things that are going on outside and focus on the things that you can control with how you go about and take care of your business.”
  • “We’re not going to talk about what we’re going to accomplish. We’re going to talk about how we’re going to do it.”
  • “Success doesn’t come from pie-in-the-sky thinking. It’s the result of consciously doing something each day that will add to your overall excellence.”
  • “You can’t get from A to Z by passing up B.”

It’s not rocket science. Saban focuses on nutrition, training, education, fundamentals, and player development as much as game planning for the next opponent. Perfection in every facet is possible because of the daily focus on details. In other words, stop worrying about the big picture success, get down in the weeds, and find a way to make your people, your program, and your community better by focusing on the little things and making more aspects of your program shine.

Judging by the Alabama and Notre Dame parking program comparison in the January issue of The Parking Professional, it appears The Process has extended itself to Alabama Parking Services as well. When The Process is rolling, no one can stop it. ROLL TIDE!

Sandy Side Effects: Where Do We Put All The Cars?

Brett Wood

First, let me express my deep sympathy for our friends and colleagues in the path of Hurricane Sandy last week. I know many were and continue to be affected, and our hearts and prayers go out to you.

I was watching continuous news coverage of the event last week, when one story in particular caught my attention. On Wednesday, the national news reported that people were beginning to make their push back into work in Manhattan and that the lack of subway services and reduced transit were causing hundreds of thousands of people to take to their personal automobiles to enter the city. The news was reporting the effects on congestion and traffic, but my first thought (as a Parking Geek) was, “Where in the world are all of those people going to park?”

Mayor Bloomberg did the right thing requiring everyone to carpool into the city. The requirement that all cars have at least three people to enter the city via the four East River bridges will effectively reduce congestion by more than half the potential capacity. The problem still remained that the number of people driving into New York was still likely larger than on a normal operating day.

As I grew more interested, I found the following research from local Transportation Planner Michael Frumin, from 2009. During primary morning peak hours, the New York Subway system carries nearly 400,000 people into the City. At the same time, the average vehicle occupancy entering the City was 1.2 people per vehicle, meaning that if the subway capacity was converted to vehicles, an additional 324,000 vehicles (and parking spaces) would be needed to handle the added capacity. Then, with an average of 325 square feet per parking space, the additional vehicular capacity would require almost four square miles of parking–that’s three times larger than Central Park.

While there are likely many more important lessons we will learn from Hurricane Sandy, it would be prudent for our transportation and parking planners to understand what happens when we take our country’s largest transit infrastructure offline. If that’s not a case for a renewed emphasis on improved TDM and transit infrastructure, I don’t know what is.

 

Goldilocks and the Three Parking Approaches

Brett Wood

I am sure you have all heard the cautionary tale of Goldilocks, about a young girl who entered the house of a family of bears and tried their food, chairs, and beds. In the story, Goldilocks is not a fan of the food, chairs, and beds of the larger bears, but the baby bear’s items are just right!

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Has Brett lost his mind? He’s blogging about a children’s story.”

Let me get to the point. We’re going to examine differing parking planning philosophies like Goldilocks would.

The traditional method for defining parking needs included looking in a manual or a dusty old city code ordinance and doing a simple series of calculations that defined parking needs based on a building’s total square footage. Let’s call this the “Too Big” approach. Typically, codes are based on sampling of suburban sites, which begs the question, “Why are we applying suburban parking practices in our downtown?”

Newer methodologies include “shared parking,” which has drastically changed the way we plan for parking. Under this philosophy, the planner would look for compatible land uses that might be able to share a common pool of parking spaces. The analysis would use typical time of day patterns to predict peak and hourly parking conditions. The problem with this approach? We are still using generic parking generation rates that come from a small sample of sites, which can still result in a misrepresentation of parking. Let’s call this the “Slightly Too Big” approach.

The newest form of planning takes the form of “Right Sized Parking,” and is a concept that aims to localize parking decisions by factoring in unique conditions such as transit, user characteristics, and actual demand attributes. The intent of this approach is to better define parking demand, reduce (or sometimes enlarge) parking needs based on actual community characteristics, and provide more developable space. It is based on local data, either collected continuously or modeled in parking planning applications.

Given the state of urban planning, smart growth, and increased efficiency through sustainability measures and infrastructure reduction, isn’t it time parking got it just right? The next time you sit down to think about how you manage your community’s supply and demand, think about Goldilocks and just the right size.

 

What’s in a Parking Brand?

Brett Wood

Can you name many parking programs off the top of your head? Maybe the one you work for?

If you pay close attention to the industry, you know SFpark. They have been at the forefront of the parking technology revolution for a few years now. But it’s more than their robust approach to parking management that makes them famous; it’s their brand and the way they present themselves to both the San Francisco community and the parking industry. They developed an iconography and brand that announces to the parker that it’s safe and easy to park when you see the SFpark logo. And even beyond that, they expanded their brand into a marketing and education campaign that compliments the programs mission and goals. See the print version here, and the video they developed here.

I recently helped lead a branding exercise with the City of Seattle Department of Transportation, along with one of the industry’s premier branding experts, Todd Pierce of Pictoform. The exercise was eye-opening and engaging, and the result was a brand and communication strategy that supported the new program, promoted new policies, spun a positive image of the parking agency, and had a little fun with a local flair.

The first component of the exercise was creating a brand for the on-street system. The sign design we came up with expresses the brand, communicates policy, and informs the parker of specific programs (in this case, “Value Block,” which might have lower rates or longer time limits to promote parking in less-used fringe areas).

The second component was to develop an educational video that explained the new policies. Working with local media specialists Team Soapbox, we decided a more local approach worked better than the animated SFpark approach. From our perspective, it seemed fun to see how the Seafair Pirates (a Seattle icon) handled the new program. The result was a humorous set of videos that Seattle residents can easily connect with.

The parking industry is evolving at a rapid pace, and the way we present ourselves is becoming more important than ever. It’s time to put your best foot forward and show your customers you mean business!

The Importance of a Good Industry Education

Brett Wood

Just last year, I started working to earn my Certified Administrator of Public Parking (CAPP) designation through IPI. I have two degrees in civil engineering and professional engineering registrations in a couple of states, but throughout years of arduous years of study and training, the closest my classmates and I came to learning about parking was some coursework on the design of a surface parking facility. Very few universities or programs teach parking as a discipline.

Next time you get in a room of parking professionals, ask, “How did you get into parking?” I bet their various backgrounds range from business to transportation, design to policy, and everything in between. A lot of our industry leaders are self-made and self-taught. Many of them began as cashiers or operations staff and worked their way into parking management, and this background provides them with a strong knowledge of the industry. Thankfully, IPI recognizes this and uses their expertise to drive the CAPP program. These innovators are the same people who are leading the training in the classroom.

More importantly, the next round of parking innovators is sitting in the audience. While I have found great value in the materials presented in the CAPP class, my greatest takeaway has been the network of people I have met there and the knowledge I extract from them. These folks include a wide spectrum of public operators, private operators, municipal managers, airport parking managers, university parking and transportation directors, equipment manufacturers, and consultants. This broad cross-section provides a much more well-rounded experience for me and all CAPP candidates.

If you are considering the program, ask a CAPP candidate or graduate about the importance of a good education. You’ll invest both time and money in CAPP for sure, but my recommendation is to jump in feet first. The knowledge and network you develop may very well send you to the head of the class in your program and our industry.

Technology: On-Street Star Wars

Brett Wood

Over the past 10 or so years, the parking industry has seen a revolution in technology, especially in the way we operate and manage the curb spaces in our communities. On-street meters have evolved from the mechanical devices implemented in Oklahoma City in 1935 to digital models with greater flexibility in enforcement and maintenance, through a quantum leap to today’s credit card-accepting, ATM-like machines with interfaces that allow us to pay for parking, get directions, and potentially make a cup of coffee.

Parking meters are probably the most visible of our technological advances, but there are many complimentary uses that help us manage on-street parking:

  • Handheld enforcement devices for our enforcement staff make it easier to find, enforce, and document parking violations.
  • In-space or pole mounted sensors provide us the data we need to drive our programs and know who’s parking where, when, and for how long. This data can be used to better enforce parking, set dynamic rates, and provide real-time availability to users.
  • Smartphone applications are providing the where and what to our customers in a better way, helping drivers make informed decisions about where to park before they reach their destinations and circle for blocks.
  • These same applications are finding their way to in-car navigation, helping drivers with turn-by-turn directions to available parking.

We are truly in the midst of a technological boom in the parking industry. The only question is, is this the beginning or the end? I guess we will have to wait until the IPI Conference & Expo in Phoenix, June 10-14, to find out what exciting new features and applications are in store for the parking industry.

Until then, let the force (of better on-street parking) be with you.

The Conundrum of Paid Parking

Brett Wood

We are often asked about the implementation of paid parking within a community. Citizens, business owners, property owners, employees, and employers all want to know three things:

  • How will this affect business?
  • Who is going to be accountable for the system?
  • How do you measure success?

These are difficult questions to answer, but we find ourselves trying to answer them more and more. Every community reacts differently, and the success or failure of a parking system depends on everyone involved. Your community should consider these thoughts:

The community has to support implementation. You don’t have to believe in it, but if you want your business to succeed in the new environment, it’s imperative that you educate yourself, your employees, and your customers about the benefits and use of the system.

Forget about revenue. Paid parking shouldn’t be a cash grab for the general fund. For successful implementation, everyone has to understand that paid parking is about management, providing incentives to park away from premium spots, and encouraging prime spots to turn over.

Give something back. Provide some tangible benefit to the area through benefit districts that pay for transportation and community enhancements, and tell people you are doing it. Put a sticker on every meter that tells your customers where the money goes.

Ease up on the tickets. If you implement paid parking, focus on compliance. Ease up on citations. By educating your customers about how and where to park, violations should go down and revenue should be unchanged.

Market, market, market. Before you implement paid parking, start educating your customers about it. Pilot studies are a great way to test new technology before you buy. Don’t be afraid to try three or four vendors and equipment types. Test them all at one time. Ask people what they think.

Be flexible. Provide payment options. Don’t be afraid to raise or lower rates if you don’t find the balance you like. Go into the implementation with the mindset that year one is a trial, and include your stakeholders. Because they are using the system, and they are educating your customers.

Three Ways to Change the Game

Brett Wood

The other day, we talked about the changing perception of parking. As a follow-up, here are a few real-world examples of customer service approaches that have helped change the perception of parking:

  • Ticket forgiveness. Rick Onstott, parking director at EasyPark in Anchorage, Alaska, allowed first time offenders to take a parking quiz that negated the offender’s ticket. During the three-month period he ran the offer, nearly 4,000 people took the survey (and all passed!). While there may not be a direct correlation to reduced citations, the perception of the parking program has reversed course and his group has built a lot of positive momentum.
  • Leveraging technology. Adam Jones, vice president of parking and operations for Downtown Tempe Community, Inc., in Tempe, Ariz., installed new on-street meter technology along the community’s major retail and activity corridor. Credit card usage debuted at 25 percent of all transactions and violations have seen a slight decline, while overall revenues have stayed consistent for the program. This validated Jones’ approach to compliance through education rather than strong-armed enforcement, encouraging patrons to properly pay for transactions rather than penalizing them with parking citations.
  • Better information. San Francisco is at the forefront of the parking technology revolution with their SFpark program. The program uses new payment technology, sensors, and smartphone applications to make the parking experience seamless. Initial reviews are encouraging and the associated press and industry buzz has created a very positive perception of the program.

These are just a few examples of areas where parking perceptions have been boosted by proactive programs. Have you tried something similar? Let us know in the comments!

The Changing Perception of Parking

Brett Wood

I have a secret obsession: I like to find online articles about parking management decisions in various communities and read the comments that the local folks add at the end. Sometimes I don’t even read the articles. I shoot straight to the bottom and read the comments. Most times, those comments read like this:

“I can’t believe they are going to charge for parking…nobody is ever going to come downtown again!”

“Why does the city constantly try to hurt business? More parking management means less customers.”

You almost never read:

“Why, what a wonderful idea! Now I will be able to find a convenient parking space.”

For so long, our industry has been plagued by perception: there is not enough parking, parking costs too much, suburbs with free parking are better than downtowns with paid parking, parking enforcement is only out to get people’s money.

It’s up to parking professionals to change those perceptions, and it’s amazing what little decisions can do to help change a customer’s mind about parking. A focus on improving customer service goes a long way in changing the perception of parking, both inside and outside of our industry. The ultimate goal of parking managers today should be maximizing customer experiences rather than focusing on maximizing revenue. Because, just like they told Kevin Costner’s character in “Field of Dreams,” “If you make the parking experience better, they will come.”

We don’t have to go that far to improve the perception of parking. We just need to start thinking about how our customers will use and appreciate our parking decisions.