By NATHAN GREGORY
Motorists and pedestrians in downtown Starkville could see youth in yellow vests holding clipboards, walking by parked cars and jotting down information for a city parking assessment.
Emily Gillylen, who is doing an internship this summer for Starkville Police Department, wants people to know the workers are not writing parking tickets, but assisting her in an analysis for the Starkville Main Street District to be conducted throughout the summer on parking capacity and demand.
Gillylen, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Mississippi State University, said her goal in conducting the survey is to quantify the city’s parking issues downtown in order to present solutions to the age-old problem.
“With this problem being like it is and the city as a whole not having any documented historical type data on this kind of problem, we just know it’s a problem,” Gillylen said. “Hopefully what I’ll be able to do is (offer solutions). Right now we don’t know how to fix the problem because we really don’t understand the magnitude. It’s like knowing you’re sick but you don’t know what the illness is, so you can’t treat it. We’re trying to diagnose the problem so we can treat it in the appropriate manner.”
She said along with data being collected on Main Street, research is taking place on the streets of Lampkin, Jefferson, Washington, Lafayette and Jackson as well as D.L. Conner Drive.
She’s conducting the survey with help from participants in the Mississippi Department of Transportation Urban Youth Corps program and Starkville’s Youth Employment Services program. YES program supervisor Stefanie Shackelford said their association with this project will be beneficial for them in the future.
“What’s unique about this opportunity is that (the workers) get to deal hands on with policy and administration with the city. They’re really being educated on public administration and how a city is run,” Shackelford said. “It’s a great learning experience for them to be able to take part in pioneering this project. They can look back and say they were part of making that change.”
SPD Chief David Lindley said he is hopeful this tactic of finding a solution will produce the results downtown business owners and motorists want to see.
“What we’re doing is trying to approach this in a matter that we hope we can get accurate data on the nature of the problem and solutions and involve as many people as we can who might be affected by it, (including) merchants and patrons,” Lindley said. “We’re trying to get a very thorough and hopefully successful look at this by gathering all the hard data and facts and come up with solutions that would be most successful in implementation.”
Gillylen said the surveyors have collected 150 hours worth of data, and the research is being conducted in one-hour increments.
“I have a street team that will be counting cars and a data entry team that will be inputting the results into (spreadsheets) trying to analyze the data the street team has collected,” Gillylen said. “It’s been really good training those students to use these tools … in a more in-depth way of analysis. They’ve all caught on really well.”
She said six other focus areas in the study along with parking supply and demand are a market study, shared parking plan, site alternatives plan, schematic design, traffic impact analysis and a financial feasibility analysis.
“In addition to calculating capacity and demand, we want to see who’s parked (and) for how long,” she said. “We’re trying to calculate the legal white line parking spaces … and where people are (illegally) parked. We’re trying to measure capacity as well as demand … The only way to do that was to get out on foot and actually count them.”
She said one of the potential solutions is better communication from the city to motorists as to all their available parking areas.
“I’m looking to see how we can create better flow … Right now I would describe it as a very still traffic jam. We’re trying to create better communication as to where you can park, where should you park, things like that. More transparency (is needed), not just among the workers, the managers and employees, but so that everybody is on the same page,” she said. “My outcome is hopefully to establish some system of accountability.”