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City of Grand Rapids: Data-Driven Policy Decisions

The City of Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan. It has a vibrant downtown with a variety of businesses, activities and events. The City has nearly 10,000 public parking spaces serving the parking demands of residents, customers, employees, and event goers within an area smaller than one square mile. Fast economic growth and increased real estate development in recent years have created additional pressure on parking in this metro area. Many garages and metered streets routinely exceed 90% occupancy.

Rather than sitting back, the City decided to take a proactive approach to manage their parking assets and optimize existing parking inventory around these dynamic market factors. In addition to daily parking management, the City wanted to integrate their parking policies into a holistic multimodal mobility initiative.

"As a public agency, it is our responsibility to provide information to the private sector and the public, to address their concerns and help them understand the City’s mobility policy. Smarking provides easily attainable data and charts that we use instead of developing costly and time consuming materials from scratch.” - Jennifer Kasper, Business Manager, City of Grand Rapids

The City engaged Smarking in 2015 to help achieve mobility goals. Since then, the collaboration between the two organizations has created 10x more productivity within City’s parking management team, along with more effective stakeholder engagement.

Results at a Glance:

• The City was able to update parking equipment and introduce new PARCs systems without going through a chaotic historical data preservation and cross-system data integration process, saving time and money, while preserving unified, quality data.

• With all the current and historic data in one platform, the City no longer needs to spend weeks or months collecting and analyzing data to develop new policies and evaluate the results of policy changes.

• Using Smarking’s dashboard to visualize their data, the City has been able to communicate more efficiently and effectively with key stakeholders regarding

parking-related concerns and information requests.

• The City used Smarking data to create more productive market survey and campaign for other mobility programs and services provided by the City.

Smarking is very good at data integration. It has made it very easy for us to onboard new vendors. We’ll be relying on Smarking as we adopt new technologies and build for the future.“ - Jennifer Kasper

Robust Data Integration Provides Continuity in Parking Data Management Embracing advancements in parking technology, Grand Rapids has replaced old parking meters with more modern smart meters and pay stations in recent years, and is planning to make more changes in the near future. Despite the benefit of lower collection and maintenance costs, better data tracking capability, and more payment flexibility for parkers, the introduction of new PARCs systems often creates discontinuity in parking data management as historical data often gets lost during PARCs swaps. Even when historical data is preserved, it often cannot be directly combined with new data due to the inconsistency in data format across equipment manufacturers. Keeping historical data is incredibly important as it helps organizations to assess market trends over an extended period of time to formulate strategic decisions. Discontinuity in parking data makes it extremely difficult to perform trend analysis.

Historical Trend Analysis

By partnering with Smarking, the City was able to conveniently capture historical data from their previous PARCs systems. This data was then converted into Smarking’s standard data format, stored in the same location as the data from the new PARCs system, and presented in the same format as the new data on one dashboard to allow for quick and easy comparison. This saved the Mobile GR team tremendous time and effort as they didn’t need to learn to work with new vendor data and reports. Conducting historical trend analysis now only takes a few minutes instead of weeks or months. Moving forward, the City expects to integrate additional datasets such as bike-share data into Smarking as the City explores new initiatives to facilitate comprehensive mobility policies.

Granular Data Supports Data-Driven Decision Making As a key component of the City’s mobility initiative, the City launched a comprehensive parking rate study to formulate demand-based parking policies. The City was particularly interested in optimizing their event parking pricing so that event attendees, many from out of town and not familiar with the neighborhood, would easily find parking nearby. The challenge however, was that at its peak, the downtown area can have 5-6 regional and local events occurring on the same day, each generating unique parking demand. To model event demand dynamics, Jennifer Kasper, Business Manager for the City of Grand Rapids, and her colleagues would spend weeks or even months collecting data from field surveys. Due to the difficulty of obtaining high-quality data at an acceptable cost, optimizing event parking pricing through demand modeling didn’t appear feasible.

"We are using Smarking data to model parking demand. It is more than just time-saving. The data is more granular and gives us insights that we couldn’t get otherwise. Eventually, we expect to set different rates for different parking facilities.“ - Jennifer Kasper

Forecasting Parking Demand

With the historical data now in Smarking, Jennifer and her colleagues were able to more accurately analyze parking demands on a per location basis. The data in Smarking has much broader coverage and more granularity than a typical survey, allowing their analytical team to properly assess how the hourly occupancy, entry, exit, and revenue had changed around different types of events. As a result, the team can now build very sophisticated models to estimate parking availability and revenue under various pricing scenarios.

Automated Tracking Made Experimenting New Programs Easy The City is also designing new parking programs in response to observed parking behavioral changes. In December 2017, the City implemented the first-ever mixed-use parking model at a leased garage in the downtown retail core. It dedicated the garage’s ungated first floor to short-term parking (up to 2 hours) with mobile and pay-station payment options. The goal was to attract short-term parkers, mainly retail customers, by providing easier access and more convenient payment options.

However, without a tool to conveniently track parking usage across the different systems, the City would have to manually collect data from multiple PARCs reports to properly analyze the effects of a program like this. This lengthy and tedious data analysis process would slow down the program evaluation and create a roadblock to fine-tuning and expanding the program.

Automated Tracking

With Smarking, Grand Rapids automated the tracking and evaluation process. Jennifer and her team can now quickly determine how effective a strategy has been in attracting transient parkers through their Smarking dashboard. So far the program has shown an early success - both short-term parking transaction volume and revenue have been increasing, suggesting the program has been effective in attracting short-term parkers.

"Smarking made it very easy to track the impact of the new model and to communicate the results with stakeholders. It will help us decide if we can expand it to other facilities. As we continue to explore innovative parking programs in response to emerging urban mobility trends and the region’s economic growth, we’ll be relying on Smarking to evaluate new programs.”
- Jennifer Kasper

Data As a Public Service to Advance Policy Agenda

The rapid economic growth and land development activities in downtown Grand Rapids

have sparked a perceived “parking crisis” among local residents and entities such as

business owners and developers - who believe it is necessary to build more parking.

Anecdotal information suggests that the existing parking inventory can serve the needs

of downtown visitors and residents. However, proving this objectively typically requires

an expensive and lengthy parking study to gather ground-based facts.

Real-Time Occupancy

Now with parking usage metrics and data visualization readily available from Smarking,

the City’s staff are able to address parking-related questions and concerns from the public quickly and with compelling, easily digestible evidence. When an institution in downtown Grand Rapids was considering building a new garage to accommodate its members’ perceived unmet parking demand, the City, provided occupancy data for adjacent parking facilities. The data visualized in the dashboard showed the availability of parking spaces in the vicinity, which, along with cost factors, convinced the institution to forgo the new garage construction.

Data Made Market Survey and Advertising More Productive

To create more parking availability in downtown for visitors and business customers, the

City decided to provide shuttle service between the Westside parking lot and downtown

core to encourage downtown employees to park outside the core. The City engaged

an advertising agency to create a campaign for the shuttle service, but the lengthy and

expensive market survey posed an extra burden on the City.

"As a government agency, we are not always good at advertising our services. Due to Smarking, we had a productive market survey and were able to use the survey result to advertise our services." - Jennifer Kasper

By using Smarking to monitor the hourly parker arrival patterns at the parking lot, the

advertising agency was able to send the right number of surveyors to the field at the

right time. They collected sufficient high-quality survey data at lower costs and

within a shorter period of time. Continued data tracking allowed the City to monitor

the usage of the parking lot and to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign.

For additional information on Smarking, or to see a demo, please email us at or request a consultation.


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