[IQP] An Assessment of Parking in Downtown Reykjavik

Sophia Brennan
Isadora Coughlin
John Mushatt

Abstract: As Iceland has become a major tourist destination over the past ten years, parking congestion has increased in downtown Reykjavik along with the concerns of residents. To better understand the parking situation, we assessed the public’s awareness of parking locations and evaluated the usage of parking resources in downtown Reykjavik to generate data that we used to develop recommendations to reduce parking congestion concerns. Our results demonstrated that rental cars are not having a significant impact on parking congestion. Our recommendations included improving parking signage, revising their parking/permit policies, removing car stickers that make rental cars easily identifiable, and creating a phone application to centralize parking payments.

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Executive Summary

In Iceland, there are 345,000 registered cars (Icelandic Monitor, 2017), making it the country with the fifth-highest ratio of cars per capita in the world (List of countries by vehicles per capita, 2019). Given that 97% of tourists who visit Iceland spend part of their trip in Reykjavik, and 54% of tourists rent cars, it is no wonder that residents of Reykjavik blame tourists for the increased parking congestion in the city (Sheivachman, 2016). The primary tourism marketing organization, Visit Reykjavik, has received complaints from residents who have noticed a lack of parking spaces in the central business district (CBD), where it used to be easy to find a space. Although the Reykjavik Parking Service, Bilastaedasjodur, has taken steps to expand the paid parking zones, Visit Reykjavik is now also receiving complaints about an increased number of rental cars from residents living just outside the new parking zone borders.

For residents and visitors who drive, there are 11 public and private car parks and numerous parking lots centrally located in Reykjavik. These car parks and parking lots are the most inexpensive way to park your car in the CBD. There is also a permit available for long term parking in any of the public car parks. This permit allows 24/7 access to a specific car park where you will always be guaranteed a spot. Reykjavik also has a street parking system. The streets in the CBD are split into 4 zones that vary in size and cost based on proximity to Laugavegur, the main shopping street. Zone 1 is the most expensive and zone 4 is the least expensive. There is also a residential zone parking permit which has its own zones and allows residents who live in that zone to park there without paying the metered parking fee.

The purpose of this project was to assess the public’s awareness of parking locations and evaluate the usage of parking resources in the CBD to generate data that could be used to develop recommendations to reduce parking congestion concerns.

We completed three objectives to achieve our goal. Our first objective was to create a baseline set of parking data from the Reykjavik CBD. To do this we obtained archival data and recorded location, capacity, and signage of car parks and parking lots. We also photographed and digitally archived parking signage, capacity, and location of CBD car parks and parking lots. Additionally, we contacted local rental car companies and local hotels and asked them where they recommend people to park.

Our second objective was to identify parking usage. To address this objective, we selected streets, car parks, and parking lots throughout the city that our team visited twice a day to count the number of cars parked, the number of empty spaces there were in each parking lot or car park, and the number of rental cars vs residential cars. The utilization of car parks, parking lots, and streets were then determined.

Our third and last objective was to identify perspectives on parking and the impact of rental cars. To gauge community perspective, we identified key stakeholders including residents and local government agencies within the CBD. We used a survey to collect the viewpoints of the community on rental cars and parking, which was administered in a neighborhood Facebook group. Additionally, we surveyed tourists to determine where they parked and their reason for choosing that location. Our data was collected during late August and early September of 2019, so it is only an accurate reflection of this time period.

Results, Discussion, and Recommendations
Although some of Reykjavik’s residents maintain a perspective that rental cars are taking up residential parking spots, the data shows that this is not the case. In fact, rental cars only take up on average 10% of parking spaces in free parking areas, which are mainly residential. Additionally, car parks located within the CBD were always underutilized, dropping from an average of 57% utilization during the afternoon to 23% at night. Since car parks are being underutilized, this leaves parking congestion to occur near the edges of Reykjavik’s zoned parking, which happens to be near residential areas. Survey results also indicated that signage directing drivers to car parks was confusing, potentially dissuading residents and tourists from locating and parking at car parks. Of the rental car companies and hotels we spoke to, 90% (n=20) referred us to street parking because of its low cost. We developed five recommendations the city should consider in order to reduce parking congestion in the CBD. Our team’s recommendations with short descriptions are as follows:

Improve the visibility of signage for car parks and the parking information available to tourists: The signage near car parks is limited and poorly designed for tourists. Adding more signs and improving their design, as well as modifying the Bilastædasjodur website to have more information available in English, will help both residents and tourists better use these resources and reduce street parking congestion.

Install time-limited parking for P1 and P2 parking zones: Data from observational studies and surveys has indicated that time-limited parking spots in the P1 and P2 zones that require parked vehicles to leave after a set number of hours would meet the desires of the tourist district business owners who would like more parking availability near their stores. This change would force cars parked in these zones to cycle out on a regular basis, allowing more residents and tourists to park in these areas.

Revise residential street parking permits to increase the availability of parking for residents: This recommendation addresses residential concerns over the lack of available parking in residential areas. The desired change is to create permit-parking only areas on residential streets and require non-residential cars to park in specific areas or car parks. This change would help ensure that street parking in residential neighborhoods is being used by the residents who live there.

Remove stickers identifying rental cars: Residents easily recognize rental cars because of their identifying stickers. Our team believes that this visual indication is giving residents a false impression of the number of rental cars parked in parking spaces. Thus, removing the stickers should decrease the number of complaints and perceived impact of rental cars.

Adopt a software system and cell phone application that combines the payment process for parking on streets, car parks, and parking lots: The current parking system uses a variation of digital and analog methods of recording parking payments. By having place to find information about all of Reykjavik’s parking resources and to pay for parking, this application would simplify the parking experience for users.

Our data demonstrates that while there is parking congestion in Reykjavik, rental cars are not the perceived primary contributor. Rather, the problem is the underutilization of car parks and parking lots, caused by the lack of visibility and awareness of their locations. The main problem Visit Reykjavik could address is not parking space, but rather informing residents and tourists on how to better use the available car parks and parking lots. Reykjavik can implement strategies to improve its parking system for residents and tourists. By modifying its parking system, Reykjavik will not only continue to be a destination for tourists for years to come but will also be the home of happy residents.