Greater City Providence

Parking is hard

Parking Lot District

Providence’s Parking Lot District. Image from Bing Maps.

On Sunday, The Providence Journal had a story titled Developer who would head Rhode Island’s Route 195 panel relishes a challenge. That developer is Colin Kane, Governor Chafee’s nominee to chair the 195 Commission. On Saturday he introduced a panel discussion at the PPS Symposium.

As part of his remarks Kane stated that the Jewelry District and 195 land redevelopment would be “useless” without parking. The North Kingstown resident stated he only eats at Al Forno and Capital Grill when he comes to Providence because both restaurants have parking. If he tries to go elsewhere he is stuck “doing the loop” searching for parking. Apparently, parking is too much of a challenge”¦

Allow me to go into the wayback machine and pull out this gem again.

Providence Parking Crisis Illustrated

Download printable copies

Before you jump on me and my car-free curmudgeon-ness, yes, parking will be one of many issues that will have to be addressed over the coming decades as the 195 land is developed and the Jewelry District and Downcity are built out. But seriously, you can’t park Downcity?

Believe it or not, I often do find myself in the cars of friends and acquaintances, and when with them, we have never not been able to find free on-street parking within easy walking distance of our destinations. NEVER! And if your destination is a restaurant, 90% of them valet, for free!

OH! AND! We just tore down a parking garage!!!

During the panel discussion that Mr. Kane introduced, Richard Spies, Brown University’s Executive Vice President of Planning, stated that parking could not exist in a vacuum and had to go hand in hand with a transportation plan (i.e. streetcars, buses, bikes”¦). Indeed, as the Symposium was reflecting on 30 years of Capital Center development as a way for us to look ahead to the 195 land and adjacent areas, we can see how parking has evolved in Capital Center.

Both GTECH and Blue Cross Blue Shield RI under-built their parking garages. Their garages do not have enough spaces for their employees, both utilize RIPTA’s Eco Pass program to move employees out of cars and reduce their need for parking.

Mr. Kane stated that business will have to partner with government to address the need for structured parking in the district. This is probably true, I can’t see the city or state in their current economic conditions being able to float a parking structure as a means to attract developers to the area. However, I also don’t see a stampede of developers knocking down our door at this point either, especially when at the top of the Commission’s agenda seems to be forcing those developers to build structured parking.

Currently Johnson & Wales and Brown are the only entities that we know are seeking to build on or around the 195 land. Brown already has a parking garage at the Med School, and judging from Mr. Spies statement, it seems that Brown is setting a tone where they will be looking to support transit, as they have for some years now converting their staff and faculty to RIPTA passes as a way to avoid building more parking.

Will Johnson & Wales build a parking garage? Well, if they do I’m sure part of the deal would be for them to tell the city to forget about a large part of our PILOT funds.

My fear is that Mr. Kane is laying the foundation for something. He had to know his remarks on parking would go over like a lead balloon to a room full of preservationists and urbanists (to be fair, it was not all he talked about, but it was all any of us were talking about afterward). I’m stumped on who exactly is going to partner with the city and state on building structured parking. Maybe we give the first developer to step up huge incentives to build more structured parking then they need, to create parking for future development. Maybe those incentives will suck from an urban perspective. Maybe the ground is being laid for more surface parking on the 195 land and in the Jewelry District as an “interim use” (so far as I know, it is not a restricted use (even if it were restricted, the Commission can grant variances)).

Looking back to the top image on this page and the parking lot map, we have no lack of parking in this city, that cannot be denied. What we lack is any form of parking management.

There is no rhyme or reason to how the lots function, when you can park in them, who can park in them, how much they cost, etc. Predictability, consistent signage, prices, hours, etc. will make people who feel they cannot find parking in Downcity able to find it. This is a discussion we’ve had over and over again. The various owners of the parking lots and garages in the city are not going to come together and create management on their own. There needs to be leadership from the city, there needs to be some sticks, and yes some carrots to get lot owners to work together.

Coincidentally, the ProJo also had a blog post about the current Parking Administrator Leo J. Perrotta who was appointed by Mayor Cicilline on his last day in office.

Only two parking-meter maintenance people report to him now, and his immediate boss is the public works director. Perrotta’s duties include training staff; coordinating meter repair, street signage signs and meter collections; monitoring rate pricing; and recommending policies and practices for an effective parking program.

Sounds like he has time to get the lot owners together and start to hash out how they can work together and with the city to make sense of Downcity’s parking, doesn’t it?

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • First, I wanted to echo Jef’s experience. I have never had a problem finding free, on the street parking at any time of day Downcity.

    Second, now that I live Downcity across the street from two parking lots, I can say with a ton of confidence that except for during the work week, there are always empty spots in surface lots directly on Wesminster Street (unless the Lion King is in town).

    Third, at the public meeting on the Knowledge District Development Framework two weeks ago I heard a couple of clear signals. One, neighbors are pissed off about the surface lots, particularly around the hospital which creates a sea of asphalt that fractures the city as badly as a highway. Two, it was pretty clear to me that Providence Planning is thinking about structured parking in large buildings alongside the I-95 area where they hope to lift some of the height restrictions. The idea is to build parking structures up to the level of the highway to help reduce noise pollution as well as provide parking, while maintaining a strong, beautiful, and distinct look for anyone on the highway entering the city.

    And finally, fourth, what the heck is going on with the Parkade? Are they ever truly bringing the street level food and retail that was rumored a couple of years ago?

  • I have always wondered why the city doesn’t own parking garages so they can make money on them instead of the money going into private hands.

  • What I don’t get, and what seems to exist in many other cities, is a municipal parking authority. Sure, the city cannot just buy up the lots and manage them themselves, but they can set strict regulations (and enforce those regulations) that the parking lot owners much abide by. Signage for the lots that is the same across all lots in the city informing people of what the prices are (which should be the same for ALL lots). Allow the lots to charge a set “event” rate, but that rate can only be a certain amount (as decided by the city). The event rate cannot change based on the event that is taking place. Lots don’t have to charge the event rate if they don’t choose to, they can just charge the regular rates, but if they do choose to, they can only charge the specified event rate. I’m not even talking about making parking super affordable. Make it a bit on the pricey side (New Haven charges more for parking at meters than Providence does, which means their lots and garages are probably more expensive, too). There’s absolutely no reason besides capitalism that the city cannot better regulate the parking lots. The city should also then tax the income from those lots.

    This has to be supplemented by better transit. Have buses run to key densely populated areas until 2:00-3:00am (the colleges, Federal Hill, the south side). If they’re afraid of using too much gas, use smaller vans.

    But the idea that there needs to be MORE parking in the 195 land is just ridiculous.

  • I am not sure which is more embarrassing and damning, that the new chair of the 195 Commission is from the suburbs or that he thinks it is too hard to park in downtown Providence when he comes to town for supper.

  • Maybe we should just have our awesome food trucks drive down to his house so he won’t have to drive all the up to the big city.

  • If the 195 parcels aren’t considered in isolation, there is plenty of empty lots along edge route 95 in the Jewelry District, on the South Providence side, and Downcity to locate sufficient garages for much of the district.

    Most of the 195 parcels are large enough to accommodate structured parking along with a building(s), though maybe not for every employee. There is no reason why every parcel must provide parking for every employee on site. Even suburbanites can walk a block from a garage to their place of work.

    A few years ago a state agency (RI Housing??) that owns or has control over the surface lot behind the court house proposed building a public parking garage on the site. They had there own funds to build it. Due to a previous budget crunch, Governor Carcieri took the funds to plug a budget hole. A nine or ten level garage could park around 2,000 cars on that site. The lot is adjacent to the district and could serve the district.

    In the Jewelry District there are two triangular lots next to 95 that could serve the greater area in a similar way. Both the Core Connector working group and the Planning Dept. have suggested using those sites for parking garages, which would be served by the future Coro streetcar stop.

    Another less elegant solution could be to deck over 95 between Point Street, Friendship/Pine, and Broad Streets. Due to the structural limitations of decking over a highway, a garage would be unrealistic or impossible, but a single surface parking deck could be built on the two current voids over the highway.

    It’s a sick irony that the Outlet Garage was just demolished. Perhaps there’s a fear that if every employee is unable to park their car at the building they work at, the suburbanites won’t work in the district. It’s more likely that the declaration the district will fail without adequate parking has to do with providing the suburban ideal|free parking.

  • When Mr. Kane goes shopping in Wickford, the village to which he resides, does he walk? Does he drive; if so where does he park? Would Wickford Village be better off with a parking garage? Or would we have to tear down half of the existing structures to make room for more parking? But then that would mean: more parking = fewer businesses to patronage = fewer jobs = less income = fewer collectable taxes = poor quality of life which results in a huge failure of urban design. Does Wickford Junction really need that commuter rail station when they’ll all just be driving into Providence anyway?

    Already off to a horrible start. Can someone please send these folk to New York City, Boston, Provincetown, shit… even Newport! for a day or two??

    Lets end this now and not 30 years from now.

  • RunawayJim’s comments on the (lack of a) municipal parking authority suggest a reasonable direction for working towards a more ordered parking situation in the city. Are these authorities typically made of up mayoral appointees?

    Also, A GCPVD interview with Leo Perrotta would be interesting reading.

  • On a separate note, looking at this map again I have to say it would be nice if the State could get away with a little less surface parking.

  • Its the same trap Providence has been in all along, there is so much parking, RIPTA can’t make a go of it so VIPs like this Kane don’t even think of taking transit (as they might in Boston) , but not enough parking that is always available and free so we still need RIPTA to get some folks to work. The result: difficult, subsidized parking, an indaequate transit system, and a declining Providence core as most folks and businesses (including state agencies, i.e. PUC) just go to the suburbs.
    The only transportation advantage has in good transit access from all directions, but the VIPs never seem to try to capitalize on that.

  • “This bunch of cooks is bound to ruin the soup” was my reaction to the panel overseeing the 195 land. Now my hunch is confirmed.

    I still say, just auction off lots, in a few phases, on strict conditions that something be built, and no surface parking. The result could not possibly be worse than the camel this committee is going to hand us, should we even live so long.

  • If there’s no project, there’s no conflict of interest. If his new company were to get a project in the 195 land area and he resigned from the commission beforehand, it wouldn’t be a conflict of interest. If the company got a project and he stayed in the commission, it would be a conflict. I’m not a lawyer, but as understand it there’s no federal insider trading rule for real estate development or construction. Maybe there should be?

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