Downtown Baton Rouge parking problem is more perception than reality, study says

    Despite all the cars lining the streets in downtown Baton Rouge and the pay-per-stall lots that fill up by mid-morning on weekdays, there are in fact enough parking spaces for every driver on the lookout for one, AECOM Louisiana Transportation Practice Leader Bob Schmidt said at this morning’s Downtown Development District meeting.

    The so-called parking problem, he said, is more perception than it is reality. The real problem is not a lack of spaces, Schmidt said, but the wrong approach to using them.

    “Overall, the supply of parking is sufficient enough to accommodate existing and planned development,” Schmidt said while presenting the DDD with the results of the study. “The on-street parking is saturated, and the structured parking is underused which creates a perception of a parking problem.”

    Schmidt recommended the city-parish remedy the situation by better policing on-street parking to increase space turnover throughout the day and lowering the fees associated with garage parking to encourage more use of them.

    DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer said the city is already working to better police on-street parking and is adding meters to spaces along Third Street next week.

    The study was completed using drones that took aerial photos of parking availability in the downtown area throughout the day. It updated a parking feasibility study from 2005 with additional information on downtown areas not included in the previous study.

    The DDD has been in the process of adding up to 500 free parking spaces under Interstate 110 and Interstate 10 overpasses near downtown for the last year. Rhorer said more than half of the free spaces are now available, with the remaining underway.

    In addition to the parking update, the DDD also received updates on several downtown projects and approved a measure to formally support the proposed tax increment financing district for a new Courtyard by Marriott, which would bring 137 additional hotel rooms to the downtown area. The proposed TIF is being questioned by some Metro Council members, who will take up the matter later this summer.

    Other projects discussed at the DDD meeting this morning included:

    • The recent opening of the new 88-room Holiday Inn Express. The hotel’s opening at 400 North Blvd. brings the DDD close to its goal of having 1,000 hotel rooms in walking distance of the Baton Rouge River Center.
    • The Commerce Building downtown is slated to be open for tenants in January 2015. The building on Third Street, originally built in 1955, was stripped bare and rebuilt from the inside out to create more than 90 residential units, with a rooftop recreational area and restaurant with views of Tiger Stadium. Developer Michael Lang said the future restaurant has yet to be leased, but it will be open to the public.
    • On July 28 and 29, national experts will visit Baton Rouge for two days to consult with city-parish officials on how to best establish a bikeshare program for the city. The visit is funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program.

    —Deanna Narveson

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