The Douglas County Health Department conducted an HIA on proposals considered in 2015 by the Omaha, Nebraska, City Council to adjust parking rates and increase the use of shared parking, instead of reserved. The project team examined parking efficiency, which includes the cost to build parking structures; potential heat island effects from increased pavement, and poor water quality from pavement runoff; the distance people are willing to walk from a parking location to their destination; and the demand for parking. The team reviewed scientific literature and health data from local Community Health Needs Assessments and interviewed a wide variety of parking stakeholders. It found that free street parking, coupled with fees of $4 to $8 for garage and lot access, creates an artificial shortage in parking in the Old Market area that leads to drivers circling and looking for open spots. This can harm their health by causing stress and exposing them to more air pollution. Previous municipal efforts to ensure enough parking have led to overbuilding outside Old Market, leaving parking underutilized in this neighborhood. Circling can also occur in the Main Street area due to underpriced parking.
The HIA urged the city’s Parking Division and Parking Stakeholders Committee to approve plans to balance parking rates between on- and off-street parking in Old Market and adopt shared parking strategies to reduce overbuilding. Downtown employers should also consider developing commuter choice programs that incentivize walking, biking, transit use, telecommuting, and park-and-ride options. The HIA also recommended creating Parking Benefit Districts to manage the Main Street area. This would ensure that parking revenue is used for improvements within the district, instead of going into a citywide general fund. Revenue from the district could be used for sidewalk repairs, lighting, tree planting, and other safety enhancements that could prompt more people to walk and lessen air pollution.
This HIA was conducted through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Health Community Design Initiative.