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Study encourages Vienna to allow shared parking to balance supply and demand

A consultant study identifies Maple Avenue Shopping Center as an example of an “underutilized” parking lot (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A new study suggests shared parking and other strategies could help the Town of Vienna address its parking challenges, which it found stem less from capacity issues than management ones.

Set to be presented to the Vienna Planning Commission tonight (Wednesday), the draft report by consultant Nelson Nygaard recommends creating a program or agreements where property owners share the town’s mostly private parking lots as an alternative to building a public garage.

“Parking capacity exists in Vienna — it’s just not available for all visitors to the Town at their immediate end destination,” the report said. “A shared parking district/program could alleviate many of these issues.”

The Vienna Town Council commissioned the parking study in June 2022 to gather updated data on the demand for and supply of parking along the town’s commercial corridor of Maple Avenue. Nelson Nygaard also assisted with the zoning code overhaul that finished in October and mostly didn’t address parking due to the ongoing study.

Based on utilization counts conducted in fall 2022 and a February 2023 community survey that drew 700 responses, the study determined that the approximately 5,127 parking spaces on Maple Avenue and other nearby commercial streets, such as Church Street, are generally underused.

Utilization appears to peak during lunchtime between noon and 2 p.m. on both weekdays and weekends. On weekdays, about 45% of off-street spaces and 65% of the town’s 94 on-street spaces are filled, while on weekends, 41% of all spaces are occupied, including about 39% of off-street spaces and 72% of on-street spaces.

Hot spots that get heavily used during those peak times are mostly on the western side of Maple Avenue and along Mill Street, including Whole Foods Market, Windover Square, Hawk & Griffin, the medical center at 305-311 Maple Avenue and the auto repair shops along Mill Street and Dominion Road.

The report notes that the auto shops on Dominion lease parking from NOVA Parks, which manages the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, so “insufficient capacity could be a potential issue if NOVA Parks ever terminated those leases.”

Even though most parking in the study area was deemed “underutilized” — defined as less than 60% occupancy — the study found that Vienna still struggles with parking in part because most lots are privately owned and restricted to visitors of specific businesses.

“This does not allow drivers to park once and walk to multiple destinations within the Town, making people drive and park in multiple locations if needing to visit more than one business,” the study said.

Shared parking agreements either between individual businesses or between property owners and the town would provide overflow options for different sites based on when they’re in demand. For example, a restaurant could use a office’s lot after work hours.

“There are areas in Vienna that have capacity issues, like Hawk and Griffin and the Wawa, where customers park in the parking lot for the Village Green shopping center,” the study said. “These areas could benefit from additional parking capacity, rather than having customers for one business park illegally in another business’s parking lot.”

Other suggested strategies include:

  • Revising the zoning code to require developers to address negative parking impacts
  • Allowing increased density or parking reductions “to address the gap between capacity and demand” at some developments
  • Improving wayfinding signage so people are aware of the town’s limited public parking options, including at the Vienna Community Center and Patrick Henry Library
  • Making parking lots more attractive with public art and “creative lighting”

Nelson Nygaard says in its report that those options should all be considered before investing in new parking facilities that can be expensive to build, operate and maintain, but it cites the garage planned with the upcoming Patrick Henry Library renovation as an example of a strategic investment that makes economic sense.

“With the pending Library reconstruction due in Fall 2024, the additional public parking supply means that the Town will not need to consider a separate parking investment (i.e., garage) in the short or mid-term future,” the report said.

In the long term, the study recommends that Vienna aim to become a “park once” district where drivers can park in one location and then get everywhere they need to go by foot, bicycle or transit, instead of driving to each destination.

After today’s planning commission presentation, the report will be shared with the Vienna Town Council at a work session on Feb. 12.

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