Beyond Repair

How Ferndale Reimagined Business Support During Construction

ARTICLE | Jul 11, 2018

nextERA Voice

by Joseph Gacioch, Assistant City Manager, City of Ferndale, MI
Hard Work Ahead

How do you measure the value of infrastructure improvements?

For those of us in government, the answer can be relatively simple: reinvesting in our vital infrastructure allows us to carry forward strategic objectives, implement modern mobility standards, or contribute to long-term, positive economic outcomes. For the businesses impacted by such projects, however, the answer is not so simple: infrastructure reinvestments bring short-term disruptions that can have very real—and long-term—consequences. 

Common practices for street construction projects typically include public noticing, detour signage, and scheduled updates. While helpful, these solutions tend to be static. And with Ferndale at the precipice of two longer-range, high-profile projects—the mile-long Livernois Ave. resurfacing and the Development on Troy (The dot) downtown mixed-use parking development—we knew we’d have to do more.

The City’s Mobility and Business Support Team viewed this challenge not as a problem but as a proving ground to try new solutions tailor-made for an increasingly mobile and connected society. That’s how Ferndale’s new temporary parking solutions (TPS) business support model was born. 

Over the coming year, the team will test this new suite of temporary parking solutions with the goals of promoting walkability, generating data, leveraging technology, and transforming consumer behavior. The results, we hope, will speak for themselves.

Your Door to Ours

When you’re dealing with the removal of virtually all street parking for a months-long resurfacing project—as is the case for the City’s Livernois Ave. resurfacing, taking place this summer and fall—leaving cars at home is the best scenario. That’s the goal with Door to Downtown Lyft, a program that provides prepaid or discounted Lyft validation codes to businesses impacted by construction.

The City partnered with Lyft and the Livernois Ave. business community, creating a small initial seed investment to draw from. Businesses can pull from the account to offer validation codes to guests or employees, and can partner together to add additional funding as needed. Initial response has been strong, with anchor businesses serving as Lyft pickup/drop-off locations and utilizing social media and digital channels to provide community networking and marketing about the program.

Drop and Go

During the upcoming construction of the dot—a multi-level, mixed-use parking development being erected a block behind the downtown—Ferndale will lose approximately 140 parking spaces for at least 12 months. For a concentrated city that already struggles with parking density, that’s a tough pill for local businesses to swallow.

Our solution: a downtown valet service that appeals to short-term visitors searching for convenient proximity parking. The City awarded a blanket valet contract via RFP, and worked with the vendor and businesses to identify potential shared parking targets and valet routes. Ensuring that shared parking agreements were finalized prior to launch was foundational to the success of the program. 

From the outset, valet has been the most desirable of the temporary parking solutions, which we attribute to its familiarity with businesses and guests. However, valet is also expensive. It’s essential to be upfront with businesses about the budget, establish a focus group and meet regularly for progress updates, and react accordingly. 

Your Chariot Awaits

When in doubt, call in the chariots. Chariot is a Ford Mobility solution that provides a suite of app-based shuttle services focused on solving commuter problems, gridlock, and other challenges common to urban density. Ferndale is partnering with Chariot on a 6-9-month pilot program that provides a fixed loop shuttle service connecting our downtown and Livernois business district to the surrounding community and neighboring city to the north, Pleasant Ridge. 

The app user experience is like other ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Users can monitor the shuttle’s location along the fixed route, reserve a seat on the shuttle at a stop of their choice, view shuttle capacity, and see the estimated time of arrival.

The app generates data supporting ridership and trip destinations, both points of interest to the City and the business community. We hope to understand the value of last mile service to the business and greater community as the pilot program nears its conclusion.

Park Here, Walk Ferndale

Loss or parking for any amount of time is challenging, yes—but it’s also an opportunity to promote walkability and cycling infrastructure, particularly in a geographically small city like Ferndale.

With a goal of promoting nearby parking (not directly adjacent to downtown, but just a short walk away), we worked with a marketing and communications agency to create the Park Here, #Walk Ferndale campaign. Robust signage now directs drivers to less obvious parking lots a short five- to ten-minute walk from downtown, while cash-mob market events promote business and temporary parking solutions during construction. Content for these pieces was directly driven by the business community through focus groups and surveys; we have found that a peer-to-peer approach is imperative to developing valuable and meaningful solutions. 

While the main goal was to maintain or increase foot traffic in each area, an equally important and longer-term hopeful outcome of this process is the development of business-to-business relationships and collaborations.

“The City’s efforts to support businesses are strongest when those businesses are organized and engaged in their neighborhoods,” said Jordan Twardy, Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Ferndale. “Through continued engagement, businesses will become more involved in their own neighborhoods, renewing their interest in the community and helping them embrace their place in it.”

An increasingly connected and mobile society allows us to revisit our role and reshape our approach in supporting businesses during construction periods. The renowned urban anthropologist William H. Whyte once said, “The street is the river of life of the city, the place where we come together, the pathway to the center.”

Infrastructure and culture of place truly are intertwined. A strategy that doesn’t support both equally is incomplete.

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