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Oxford parking review ongoing

As the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission continues to ponder the need for a parking garage, its decision is going to be based on data rather than what people “think.”

“We will come to a conclusion as to whether we need additional parking, when? Do we need it now or two, five or 10 years from now based on data we have where we can anticipate the trends,” said Commission Chairman Tom Sharpe. “We have information on the growth of the community and the university and now, information on the growth of the number of restaurants.”

The commission agreed last month to hold two monthly meetings instead of one. The agenda for the regular meeting includes any business before the commission while the second meeting focuses on discussions to determine if Oxford needs a parking garage and if so, how soon and where it should be located.

On Friday, the commissioners discussed the effects of restaurants on parking.

Tim Akers, former city planner who was contracted by the commission to study downtown parking, said the number of restaurants around the Square have steadily increased since 2000 when there were 16 restaurants. In 2005 there were 24, in 2010 there were 26 and as of last week, there are 32 restaurants on the Square. Cafés like High Point Coffee were not included in the count.

“We’re basically adding one a year,” he said. “The demand for parking is higher with restaurants normally. They tend to need more parking then, say, a business office.”

However, just the number of restaurants doesn’t necessarily indicate a need for more parking, Akers said.

“It could be the size of the restaurant,” he said. “You get two large restaurants, it could easily skew all the numbers.”

Shuttling to Square

The commission also discussed the feasibility of providing shuttles to the Square from other areas. Mike Harris, commission member and director of parking and transportation for the University of Mississippi, talked about the university’s shuttles where students park at the Jackson Avenue Center and South Depot parking lots and ride the Oxford University Transit buses to campus. The campus also provides a lunch shuttle from campus to the Square on weekdays.

“You can’t be more than three to five minutes between buses,” he said. “If you get to 10 minutes, people aren’t going to ride. If you get through eating, you want to go home, you don’t want to sit there for 10 to 15 minutes. You also need back-up buses. If you have two shuttles, you need a third in reserve in case something happens, and something always happens.”

Having a golf cart or small vehicle shuttle from the water tower might get more people using that parking lot that is used less than the other city-owned lots; however, sites farther from the Square didn’t seem to be a viable option other than for large events, like Double Decker.

“Sounds like no one is really thrilled with the shuttles,” Frye said.

Parking director Matt Davis has been getting parking data together for the commission but could not make the meeting Friday. He will present his findings as to parking occupancy statistics to the commission during their next meeting at 9 a.m. Nov. 6 at City Hall.

“We’ll begin looking at that data in terms of occupancy and days of the week over a period of time,” Sharpe said. “We’re hoping to see where the greatest problem is with inadequate parking and when we have the most serious parking problems.”