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Downtown Pensacola Parking Survey Shows Mixed Bag

Downtown Improvement Board

Do you have issues when it comes to parking in downtown Pensacola? You’re not alone, according to a new study from the University of West Florida’s Haas Business Center. 

Researchers gathered the data between May 18-June 8. The margin of error is four percentage points and  the survey was a “multi-modal” survey – that is, using a number of methods -- with some help from the Downtown Improvement Board.

“The first way was the random-digit dialing telephone survey,” said Newburn. “We also allowed the DIB to share the survey online and was shared on social media as well,” said Amy Newburn, who oversaw the project adds she was surprised by the breakdown of responses.

“A lot of the satisfaction questions, what you see is almost equal amounts of people who were satisfied or dissatisfied with convenience, the cost of parking, or the ability of free parking,” said Newburn. “You very rarely see that extreme ‘dumbbell’ effect where they’re equally concentrated.”

The study, says Newburn, unveiled what she says is a “really interesting” pattern. Respondents say on one hand, they like being able to find a parking space ten minutes or less from when they began looking, and that they’re only a couple of blocks from their destination.

“On the other hand, they don’t think there’s sufficient amount of free parking,” Newburn said. “They’re dissatisfied with the convenience of parking and with the cost of parking. So it’s really a two-pronged approach that the DIB has to consider.”

When you lump together many of the questions, those not satisfied with parking downtown outnumber those approving of it by a roughly 2-1 margin. Newburn says access is the predominant issue among older respondents.

“Not just the amount of time or the distance away they have to park, but also was there enough  handicapped spaces downtown; were there enough benches in case they have to walk a long distance?” says Newburn. “You see the kind of problems with different groups.”

“It’s great information; we wanted to get a benchmark for where we were, [and] what we know,” said John Peacock, Chairman of the Downtown Improvement Board. “Nationwide, there’s a negative connotation associated with parking anywhere you go; it’s pretty consistent if you read all the studies.”

While the study contained no real surprises, Peacock said it does provide an opportunity to see what areas need improvement, such as better communication.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Amy Newburn, UWF Haas Business Center.

“Certain things where funds are going,” said Peacock. “I don’t think you’re ever going to get rid of the negative connotation of parking. One of the experts nationwide said parking has a way of turning the staunchest, conservative Republican into a total socialist. Because somehow they think parking should be free.”

A new high-tech parking system was installed in March by New Orleans-based firm Premium Parking. Its digital management platform covers on-street, public lots and parking garages throughout the 39-blocks of downtown. Peacock says they’re happy with the system.

“There’s [sic] challenges anytime you have something new; but I think a lot of the bugs are being worked out,” said Peacock. “We’re finding that there’s more and more user error, and time will help some of that.”

The Haas Center report was presented to the DIB and later in that meeting, Executive Director Curt Morse resigned. Peacock says the two were not related, and had no further comment.

“I will say that this was a Curt Morse-driven study,” said the Haas Center’s Amy Newburn. “He came to me and wanted to evaluate what was going on and what he was hearing; so we collaborated with the launch of this project.”

Calls to Curt Morse have not been returned. Fresh off the downtown parking study, Newburn says they’re already preparing for a new project with the DIB -- a downtown perception study scheduled to begin in July.

“That’s a really larger study that understands how people feel about downtown more generally,” Newburn said. “But some parking questions will likely also be on that survey. We also hope that we get additional feedback after a couple of months and perhaps some changes have rolled out, and see if there’s any difference for them.”  

DIB Chair John Peacock says while they don’t want to “study things to death,” they do want to establish benchmarks. Some changes and new policies are expected to be put into place to better inform the public, and see if DIB can move the needle on parking perception.