Last week, we detailed Carrboro’s plan to implement paid parking in town-owned lots. (The plan won’t affect privately-owned lots in downtown Carrboro, which make up ~80% of available parking.) The Town Council plans to discuss the proposal at their meeting tonight.

There are economic benefits to having increased turnover and climate benefits to improving wayfinding and reducing cars circling around looking for available spots. Free parking has hidden costs built in, and we can see this play out in real time in the Rosemary Street lot which straddles Chapel Hill (not free parking) and Carrboro (free parking.)

However, this is just a proposal, and the plan can be improved before it’s implemented. Here are a few suggested tweaks:

Free for low-income residents, town employees

Right now, the proposal suggests a 50% cut in rates (to 75 cents) for low-income residents. This is a small pool of people, and neither group should pay to park.

Add a way for businesses to buy spots for employees

Carr Mill Mall, which is the largest employer downtown, owns a private lot next to the South Orange Rescue Squad where their employees can park for free. In Chapel Hill, businesses can purchase spots for employees and other towns allow businesses to purchase those spots at a progressive rate. We think that Carrboro should offer the same. (The Daily Tar Heel recently published a great deep dive about the availability of parking in both towns.)

Lengthen the time period

Two hours in total is way too short. Lengthen to four. Collect data on usage. Tweak as needed.

Consider a discount for Carrboro residents

Carrboro’s in a tough spot. It’s next to Chapel Hill, which charges for parking. It’s also next to UNC, which charges for parking. The result is that people park in Carrboro and head over to Chapel Hill and UNC. This means fewer spots for residents and people who want to visit Carrboro. Other locations have a discount for residents, or allow residents to buy parking spots in bulk. This is particularly needed for the new library and other civic services; is there a way to get parking comped for an hour in the 203 Lot? (30 minutes, the current proposed free rate, feels too short for a library or other civic services visit. I’m a librarian by training, and we want to reduce friction for people to access libraries. (I also totally understand the need to prevent people from parking all day in the library lot and commuting elsewhere; that would increase friction.))

Allow private lots to become paid parking when business hours close

Right now, a ton of people get towed from Carr Mill Mall because they’re from out of town, see a big parking lot, and don’t realize that they will get towed as soon as they leave the lot. Chapel Hill allows private lots to become paid public parking when businesses close; Franklin Motors on Franklin Street does this. Carrboro allowing this would provide more parking and could help with the ongoing predatory towing (because people will have many other options and find them through ParkMobile, their driving apps, or wayfinding signs.)

Make the pricing variable, depending on location and occupancy of lots

Carrboro’s lots are spread out across downtown. Some are very close to downtown and others are farther away – the pricing on the lots could be changed to reflect this. (San Francisco has dynamic priced parking that changes based on occupancy. We’re not San Francisco, but it’s still possible to have rates change based on time of day or location.)

Town-owned lots


Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....