Downtown Parking Supply 2015-2018

Last August we wrote a post in which we analyzed Greater Downtown parking supply for the years 2014-2016. We explained how parking spaces were distributed by area and estimated changes for 2016. Now we are taking our research one step further, projecting expected changes in parking supply between 2015 and 2018. 


Our first take away is that the total number of parking spaces remains almost constant from the end of 2015 to 2018. Although some changes will occur in the parking supply in the near future, when we add all the new spaces and subtract the ones we will lose, the number is practically the same. 

There are however, some changes in the distribution of the parking spaces. As we can see on the map below, in 2015, 5% of the parking spaces were located in the Lower Hill area, while 8% were in Station Square. In 2018, these percentages change to 2% and 6% respectively. In contrast, the proportion of spaces in the North Side changes from 21% in 2015 to 23% in 2018. The Golden Triangle area follows the same increasing trend, showing an increment of parking spaces from 43% to 47% of the total. The share of spaces in the Near Strip and Uptown remains unchanged through the years studied. 

By 2018 we see a shift in the distribution with more spaces located in the Golden Triangle and the North Side, and less in the Lower Hill and Station Square. 

Map by Sarah Kontos

Map by Sarah Kontos

The next map tells us the location of the parking spaces we are gaining or losing through 2016-2018, so we can understand better the shifts in distribution shown above. In the Golden Triangle, Tower 260 and the PNC Tower garages added a large amount of new spaces to the area. More new facilities will come on line soon, including new public and dedicated spaces at the 350 Oliver and Union Trust buildings. New developments such as the Distrikt Hotel, the Holiday Inn on First Avenue, the Drury Hotel, and the former Macy's building project will also include parking options for Downtown visitors and commuters. In the meantime only a few spaces are going offline due to projected developments in the Cultural District.

On the North Side, a new garage will be built on the site of Red Lot 6 (behind Heinz field). In addition, the SEA plans to construct a new garage on a piece of the Gold lot 1 area. The Lower Hill will experience the largest loss of spaces as a result of the new development on the former Civic Arena site, where currently there is a 2200 space parking lot. Likewise, the Station Square East Lot is going off line sometime soon, but some parking spaces will be included in the new project on that site.

Finally, the Homewood Suites hotel has added some spaces to the Near Strip, while the Flats on Fifth have increased parking spaces in Uptown. Nonetheless, the amount added is not much compared to the large number of spaces located in these two areas, which is why the share of total spaces will remain the same in both over the next 2 years.

Map by Sarah Kontos

Map by Sarah Kontos

Understanding the current and future picture of parking supply is crucial to supporting the Downtown growth strategy. According to Make My Trip Count survey results, 38% of daily commuters to Greater Downtown drive alone: that is more than 40,000 people parking their cars in the area everyday*. Calculating parking supply for the next 2 years helps us to foresee future mobility trends and plan accordingly. In this sense, parking supply projections combined with expected Downtown employment, residential and visitor growth estimations are a great source of information for stakeholders planning the future of the area and for everyone to understand the changes that are taking place. 

*According to the 2015 State of Downtown by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, 109,050 people work in Greater Downtown. 
Note: For the purposes of this study we have included private and public parking facilities located in the Golden Triangle, the near Strip, the North Side, Uptown, and Station Square. 

Commuting Downtown with Uber

In Pittsburgh, a combined 88% of Downtown commuters either take public transit, drive single-occupancy vehicles, or use people-powered modes like biking or walking to get to work; when we talk about daily commuter transportation options the focus is often on the split between these three popular modes. But in recent years, ride sharing through apps like Uber and Lyft has grown as a practical choice for those looking for alternative modes of transportation in urban areas. We took a cursory look at how this new technology is changing the way we think about getting around the city by comparing two key indices in a few focus areas: Uber fare estimates and the price of parking in the Golden Triangle.

We began with a list of a few areas inside and outside of the city that had high percentages of vehicular commuters and/or were physically far away from key public transit corridors (image below). 

Scroll through the slide show below (using the reference map above for label information) to see how different parts of Allegheny County compare when traveling to and from Downtown using Uber on a typical weekday.



What can we learn?

By isolating these areas, we found that communities located near high-volume roads often had shorter travel times despite large distances which lowered the fare, such as within Ross Township. Similarly, neighborhoods that are physically closer but located in more dense areas see higher fares, like Highland Park. In this way, Uber fares can measure the indirect costs of driving, putting a metric to both time and energy spent commuting on the road.

The biggest daily cost to a commuter driving a single-occupancy vehicle to and from the workplace is usually parking. Earlier this month we published a blog post detailing the various rates that garages and surface lots charge for those spending the workday downtown. By comparing this fixed cost to our estimates of ride-sharing fares we can realistically imitate the opportunity cost decision-making process of a Downtown commuter. If you are a driver who parks in one of the 77 lots and garages in Downtown, depending on where you come from and where you prefer to park one of these alternative options may appeal to you.

We also noticed a general pattern of distance distribution: if you live within 3 miles of the Central Business District, in many cases it is actually cheaper to take an Uber than the average person pays to park. The average cost of parking for an entire day in the Golden Triangle $17.50, and can run as high as $30. If you live in the northern or western part of Squirrel Hill and prefer to drive, chances are you are paying more than an Uber's round-trip cost. A switch to ride-sharing may not make sense if you live in Carnegie, but based on proximity to the West Busway you could take a different cost-cutting measure with a shift to Park-and-Ride. 

Of course there are other trade-off costs involved in using ride-share apps -- both personal and on a larger scale -- including air quality concerns, lack of influence on congestion, and places of work that subsidize parking spaces or transit. But by opening up our analysis outside of what we expect daily transportation to look like we are able to approach commuting as an innovative field, creating more choices for more people.


Uber estimates were determined using a combination of Google Maps online traffic prediction and the formula given for fares on Uber’s website. The geographic center of each neighborhood was used to calculate distance, as well as a range of time dependent on daily traffic levels; the maps above reflect a sliding scale of prices that are subject to change based on individual circumstances and the prices are not to be taken as steadfast fact. One-way morning and evening fares were combined to guess a typical round-trip.  Uber does not publish detailed information about surge pricing, which can change minute-to-minute based on market forces, so the above study assumes a flat rate without a surcharge.

Downtown Parking Rates

What are these maps?

Visual representations of parking rates in Downtown. We mapped the daily maximum rates and the 3-hour rates of all parking facilities that make up the Downtown parking ecosystem. For purposes of this project, we only considered “public facilities,” defined as those parking spaces available on a regular basis to Downtown commuters and visitors. We have included garages and parking lots operated by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority as well as by private individuals and companies. This map covers parking facilities in Downtown, the Strip District, the North Shore, Uptown, and Station Square. Many people that come to Downtown choose to park their cars in these neighborhoods, so we consider these areas a vital part of the Downtown parking ecosystem. 

What can we learn from these maps?

The map below shows daily maximum parking rates by parking facility.  It tell us that cheaper parking rates start as low as $3 - $7 on areas such as the Strip District, the North Shore, and Uptown, where the distance to commercial and employment centers is larger. At the same time, we can observe how prices go up as we get closer to the Downtown Core. The Convention Center, the Consol Center, and Market Square garages all offer medium to high parking rates. Some facilities located on the Cultural District and the First Side Corridor charge lower prices, despite their location close to the Downtown Core. 

Similarly, the heat map below shows the concentration of daily maximum parking rates across Downtown and its surrounding areas. Blue and yellow sections group cheaper parking facilities, while orange and red areas indicate more expensive parking options. Again, we can see how areas of high pricing are located close to key employment corridors, particularly around Market Square, Grant Street, the Cultural District, and the Gateway Center. In contrast, parking facilities located on the North Shore and the Strip District tend to charge lower rates. Station Square and the Consol Center Garage offer medium range rates.

small_ParkingRate Heat-01.png

In further analysis of distribution we classified parking facilities by operator. The highlighted points on the map below show structured parking facilities owned by public authorities (Public Parking Authority of Pittsburgh - PPA - and the Sports and Exhibition Authority - SEA - in this case), while all the other ones are operated by private individuals or companies. The map demonstrates the wide distribution of publicly owned garages throughout Downtown.  In comparing price, PPA and SEA garages generally offer lower rates than the private facilities; this difference can notably be seen in the Market Square and Cultural District areas.  

In an effort to better understand parking rates and find interesting trends, we also mapped the 3-hour parking rate for all public facilities. It is relevant to include the 3-hour rate in our analysis because it impacts visitors and commuters that spend just a few hours in Downtown. As we can see in the map, the 3-hour rate price distribution is consistent with the pattern observed on the daily maximum rates map. Once again, the most expensive areas are located close to key employment corridors or event areas. However, it is worth noticing that some of the parking facilities located in the Downtown Core that offer medium to high daily maximum rates also charge medium to low 3-hour rates, particularly those close to Mellon Square. 

Why is it important?

All this data allows us to explore, among other things, if parking prices are correlated to demand. If so, it is worth analyzing how we can use pricing to impact downtown commuters’ and visitors’ behavior. This data is also useful to better coordinate how garages operate as a system that supports the development and vitality of Downtown and its adjacent areas. In particular, an exploration of parking rates presents a key opportunity to leverage public ownership of key garages and to understand how public pricing decisions impact the entire parking ecosystem.

The information obtained from the Make My Trip Count Survey (MMTC) gave us an understanding of where people park and work. Further steps could involve layering the MMTC information on top of the pricing data, in an effort to better understand why people are choosing to park where they do. It would also be interesting to analyze how these prices change during sports or cultural events to accommodate the accompanying greater parking demand.

Editors Note: Martina Gesell is a masters candidate at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Martina has joined the Envision Downtown team for the summer as a research intern and will be focusing on expanding our understanding of parking supply/demand, future mobility trends related to parking and leveraging relevant Make My Trip Count data. Expect more great things from her over the next few months

Downtown Parking Supply

Source: aggregated from various contributors

Source: aggregated from various contributors

What is this?

A 3D representation of off-street parking supply in Downtown Pittsburgh.  For purposes of this map, parking facilities have been classified as “public parking” (available on a regular basis to downtown commuters and visitors), “dedicated parking” (parking restricted to a specific user; ex. UPMC Mercy visitor parking or resident parking at City View Apartments), “lease only” (public parking available only by monthly lease) and “event day only” (parking made available only during special events).

The height of the representative columns indicates size of the parking facility by number of spaces.  Lots and garages with fewer than 100 spaces have no height.

What can we learn?

Understanding existing parking ecosystem in Greater Downtown is critical to promoting the continued success of Downtown Pittsburgh as a major jobs center.  Downtown’s unique concentration of jobs (1 in 3 jobs in Western Pennsylvania is located in Downtown) combined with limited land area results in high demand for parking. Approximately 39% of the downtown workforce drives to their job each day (32.1% drive alone, 6.9% carpool)¹. To effectively serve this large volume in a such small geographic area this parking predominantly takes the form of structured garages that primarily serve daytime parkers.  

The five largest parking garages/lots in Greater Downtown Pittsburgh are:

  1. Allegheny Center Garage – 2,500 spaces
  2. Civic Arena Lots – 2,200 spaces
  3. Chatham Center Garage – 2,100 spaces
  4. Duquesne University Locust Garage – 1,645 spaces
  5. Station Square West Lots – 1,390 space

Capturing the current picture of parking supply provides a launching point to examine changes to the supply and demand equation over the next few years.  Changes to supply (eliminated spaces due to development in the Lower Hill District, Station Square, the Strip District, and the North shore and new spaces planned at various garages throughout Greater Downtown) are relatively easy to identify and project forward.  


The number of parking spaces dipped slightly in 2015 but will rebound next year as new facilities (including new public garages at the Gardens & 350 Oliver and dedicated parking at the Union Trust Building & Homewood Suites in the Strip) come on line to maintain the status quo. 

Changes to demand such as reduced demand due to technology and demographic shifts or growing demand from increased full-time residents and new hotel rooms are harder to quantify, but are critical to planning for the future of the parking system. A more comprehensive investigation into future demand changes will be undertaken this fall.

¹Employee Transportation Need Assessment, July 2010 - Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership