Rice’s Kinder Institute identifies challenges facing Rice Village

New study finds parking, management, infrastructure are most pressing problems 

Although many patrons of Rice Village might say that parking is a persistent problem in the popular shopping area, a new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research finds that Rice Village actually has ample parking, but more can be done to improve the use of available spaces.

Rice Village

Rice Village.

Parking was just one of the challenges identified in the report, “Rice Village: Parking, Management and the Built Environment.” The study also identified an overall lack of district-level management and an unwelcoming pedestrian infrastructure as issues that prevent Rice Village from becoming a “more successful economic and social hub.”

The report is the first product of the Kinder Institute’s Vital Communities initiative, part of the Urban Development, Transportation and Placemaking Program, which is designed to help bring meaningful planning, design, management and infrastructural improvements to metropolitan neighborhoods.

“The report highlights the roots of several key issues facing the Rice Village area and presents a set of potential solutions for stakeholders to consider,” said Kyle Shelton, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kinder Institute and author of the report. “Parking is just one small piece of the puzzle. To tackle these issue comprehensively and for the long haul, stakeholders must also think about how to better advocate for the district and maintain its built environment.”

The report offers the following observations and suggestions with regard to parking, management and infrastructure.

Parking

Even at times of peak demand, Rice Village has at least 1,000 parking spaces that are unused. Shelton said Rice Village’s parking currently includes individually managed private lots and dedicated spaces, little-used private garages that are not available for public parking and employee parking in on-street spaces and in business lots.

Rice Village

Rice Village.

Shelton said problems include a lack of clarity about which parking spaces are paid and which are free, lack of signage to streamline parking in desired areas and a poor pedestrian environment that discourages people from taking advantage of available parking farther from their destination.

“The perceived parking problem lies not in the amount of parking, but rather in the availability of parking that already exists and the management of the parking supply so that it can effectively meet the demand,” he said.

Shelton said that the most comprehensive solution to the parking situation would be to permit the city of Houston’s Parking Management Division to operate all public and private parking spaces and lots, price those spaces according to demand and create a parking-benefits district. However, he noted that smaller steps, such as parking meters and contracted employee parking in private lots and garages, could also be undertaken.

Management

Shelton said the lack of comprehensive parking management in Rice Village highlights a, deeper problem: the lack of management in the district generally. Cohesive management of the Rice Village area’s upkeep, signage and built environment by a dedicated entity would greatly benefit the area, he said. He laid out several special-district options for Rice Village in the report.

“Our research indicates that the combination of a municipal management district and parking benefit district represents a feasible and productive option for the Village,” Shelton said.

Infrastructure

Shelton noted in the report that much of Rice Village’s infrastructure is in disrepair.

“The streets and sidewalks in the Village are in need of maintenance, and it’s not the most welcoming pedestrian and biking environment,” Shelton said. “In addition to heavy automobile traffic, there’s a lack of public and communal spaces, well-marked and controlled crosswalks and bike racks and lanes, and there are very few tree-lined streets beyond Morningside Drive.”

He suggested that special district or management entity funds could be used to address this issue.

“Pedestrian, bicycle and roadway improvements would help make Rice Village a more welcoming and useable space,” he said. “These improvements also can be a part of addressing parking problems by encouraging users to come to Rice Village by other modes of transportation or to park once and visit several destinations.”

Shelton noted that other Houston developments — such as Bagby Street and Discovery Green — offer examples of what might be pursued in the Village.

The study was conducted in April and consisted of seven hourly counts across a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The count times were selected to represent both high- and low-usage periods. Researchers went out during each of these times and checked the status of every parking space in Rice Village. The count included nearly every private and public lot, garage and on-street parking spot in the district. The only garage left out of the study was the Hanover Building’s residential garage, as it is fully restricted to residents and unlikely to be made available for nonresidential parking.

Shelton hopes the study will spark conversation among area stakeholders about what options exist for improving the Rice Village area and how they might go about pursuing these options.

“For its part, the Kinder Institute is looking forward to being a part of those conversations,” Shelton said.

A full copy of the study is available at http://kinder.rice.edu/dtp/.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.