An overhaul of parking policies in Rice Village that aims to reduce traffic headaches in the congested area draws heavily from recommendations made by the Kinder Institute in a 2015 report.
Among the upcoming changes to the Rice Village District, according to the Houston Business Journal: some storefront parking will be metered, starting at $1 for the first hour; the total number of free parking spaces will increase by 36 percent; and the area's central parking garage will now offer up to two hours of free parking.
Importantly, according to Houston Business Journal, new signage will direct shoppers to the free parking areas. The new changes will take effect in February, according to the newspaper.
The changes were based on input from the Parking Advisory Group, a consulting firm based in The Woodlands. But they also mirror several recommendations by the Kinder Institute.
The idea is that people looking to make a quick trip to a shop will happily pay the $1 for easy access, and the parking meters will encourage turnover of those spaces. Meanwhile, those looking to spend an extended period of time shopping, eating at restaurants or drinking at bars in the area will gladly walk an extra block or two in order to get free garage parking.
The 2015 Kinder Institute study highlighted a conundrum that plagues the area: Even at times of peak demand, at least 1,000 parking spaces sit empty and unused in Rice Village. Yet parking in the area is often a challenge, due to a lack of signage about parking and congestion caused by drivers struggling to access the limited free spaces open to the public.
"You get to make the choice now," said Kyle Shelton, the Kinder Institute's director of strategic partnerships and author of the report. "You can have convenience, for a small amount of money, or park for free by walking a marginal distance."
Paid parking -- somewhat counterintuitively -- encourages more shopping because it allows for more turnover of spots near storefronts, which makes shopping easier. Free parking, on the other hand, can be problematic because it results in vehicles monopolizing those spots.
The Village Arcade garage, which is set to become free for two hours, has 426 spots and is currently underutilized, Shelton wrote in his report. Today, the garage limits free parking to visitors who are patrons of certain businesses, and everyone else is charged $10. But soon, it will be open to all who visit the area.
The Kinder Institute report found that Rice Village visitors generally seemed to be unaware of available parking near their destination, unwilling to park there, or unable to park there due to restrictions. By making the garage free -- and taking steps to promote its availability -- the Rice Village District is addressing each of those concerns.
The debate about parking in Rice Village has been ongoing for years. Shelton said the changes are going to help address the area's longstanding challenges.
"This conversation about how to operate parking in the Village has been decades long," Shelton said. "There's been a variety of attempts to do something about it. This is a really great step."
So far, the plan involves two major property management companies in the area, Trademark Property Co. and Lamesa Properties. The next step for Rice Village, Shelton said, will be to see if other landlords sign onto the plan once it's implemented.
Read the full report: Rice Village: Parking, Management and the Built Environment