Will the streetcar mean a change in where people park Downtown and in OTR?

Will the streetcar mean a change in where people park Downtown and in OTR?
Posted at 5:32 AM, Sep 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-02 15:18:20-04

CINCINNATI -- Dan Hengehold is one of the lucky ones.

Hengehold, a Covington, Kentucky, resident, works as an account executive for a marketing and advertising firm located in downtown Cincinnati. Like most who work in the area, he commutes by car. His luck is two-fold: First, his employer covers the cost for him to park, and, second, he gets to park in the same building where he works.

"I wouldn't think I'm the typical Downtown professional," Hengehold said. "I'm pretty lucky in that regard."

Lucky to the tune of $140 per month or nearly $1,700 a year.

"Luckily I don't have a far commute into Downtown, but if my employer no longer offered to pay for our parking, I'd look very long and hard at my public transportation options, as well," he said.

For those who work Downtown, those public transportation options are about to expand, as the city's long-awaited -- and highly contentious -- streetcar system, the Cincinnati Bell Connector, sets to launch passenger service on Sept. 9.

The connector, which runs a 3.6-mile loop reaching as far north as Rhinegeist in Over-the-Rhine and stretching down to Great American Ball Park, has no shortage of destinations along its route.

There's also no shortage of parking facilities near the route, and with a streetcar arriving at each stop every 12 minutes during the week, its launch could mean more people who work near the route could start going multimodal. That's because, for some, parking a bit farther away and riding the streetcar could save them some serious cash.

MAP: What it costs to park Downtown and in OTR

Here's a look at the parking facilities located along the streetcar loop. To zoom, use the +/- buttons in the bottom left corner. To select a specific location, use open the legend using the button in the top left:

(Note: This map is not exhaustive and does not represent every parking option near the streetcar route or otherwise.)

As the map demonstrates, the parking facilities along the streetcar route vary widely as far as pricing, capacity and duration of stay. For instance, to park in the garage beneath Fountain Square, probably the most central parking location in the bunch, it costs a whopping $210 per month. But for less than half that cost, someone who works near Fountain Square could park in Washington Park's garage and hop on the streetcar (there's a stop roughly 100 feet away) for $2 each day. If one works about 20 days out of each month, that's $40 one would spend compared to the $110 they would save by switching up their parking location.

The $70 per month in savings is probably the widest margin one would see, but there are a number of albeit smaller lots along or near the route that max out at $5 per day, not much more than Washington Park's $90 per month rate.

Several of the more central, public parking garages surrounding Fountain Square hover around $200 per month.

RELATED: 9 things to know as streetcar sets to launch
QUIZ: How prepared are you for the streetcar?

Streetcar expands options

It's a looming reality that has people like Katie Bray, who also works Downtown a few hundred feet from a streetcar stop, beginning to rethink their options.

Rather than pay as much as $13 per day to park at her employer's in-house parking garage, she parks instead in a garage about a 10-minute walk away, to the tune of a much more manageable $90 per month.

"It's not bad in the warmer months, but it can be extremely brutal in the winter," Bray said.

But she also said the savings are worth it: "My co-workers pay a lot more for closer garages, but I chose to save money with a longer walk to our building," she said. "Downtown parking in general is really pricey and something to factor in if you're considering a job down here."

While Bray said she's already saving money by committing to a moderate walk to and from her car, she said she might scope out other options once the streetcar opens. "If the streetcar stopped at a cheap place to park, I would absolutely consider taking it every day to and from work," she said.

Tips for planning parking based on the streetcar

  • Use $40 as your barometer: $40 is what you can expect to pay for streetcar far throughout a month's worth of work days (if you work on weekends, parking rates change, so this might be different). If the difference in parking costs doesn't exceed streetcar riding costs, the switch might not be worth it.
  • Remember the streetcar moves in one direction only along the route. Think of it as a clock: If your destination is 1 o'clock but your streetcar stop is at 2 o'clock, you have to go around the entire circuit before arriving where you need to be. Look into where your parking space and closest streetcar stop sit along the one-way route, and plan accordingly. This tip holds true whether you work or live in the area, or if you're just planning a visit.
  • Remember a streetcar will arrive at each stop roughly every 12 minutes, 15 on weekends.

It happens there is a very cheap -- essentially free, in fact -- parking facility just a couple blocks from the streetcar: JACK Casino. JACK opens its garage to Club Jack cardholders, a free membership program that, according to its rulebook, only requires intermittent play inside the casino for the account to remain active. It's also located in walking distance of multiple streetcar stops.

The garage -- which has entrances and exits on Reading Road and Gilbert Avenue -- is already a popular place to park for folks who work nearby, with a steady stream of vehicles seen leaving around 5 p.m. each day.

With the streetcar so close, JACK could see a surge in an already crowded parking and traffic situation and unintentionally become an ad hoc park-and-ride facility.

JACK Casino did not immediately respond to WCPO's request for comment.

Helping visitors explore

Everyone's specific circumstances will dictate how much of an impact the streetcar will have on their parking situation. But, beyond those who work Downtown, the streetcar's arrival certainly will impact visitors' parking decisions -- and their inclination to explore other parts of town along the route.

Some say that's the point.

"The impact will be to help equalize peak parking demand, especially during events," said Derek Bauman, vocal streetcar supporter and southwest Ohio regional director for the rail advocacy nonprofit All Aboard Ohio. "People may choose to park near Findlay Market, have lunch, and ride the streetcar to The Banks and spend less in total than they would have just to park near the riverfront."

Looking to the future, Bray said she hopes the streetcar eventually extends closer to her home, so she could sidestep the parking problem altogether.

"If it stopped anywhere close to Eden Park where I live, I would take it daily in a heartbeat."

In the meantime -- as with anything new -- we'll have to wait and see how the Queen City adapts.