East Lansing plans parking to increase downtown walkability, urban atmosphere

By Jason Laplow

April 14, 2023

photo by Jason Laplow

The City of East Lansing, after taking input from the public, will have its new master plan for parking completed by “mid-April,” according to Sarah Cheesebro, the city’s deputy administrator for parking.

An 18-question survey with  inquiries about individuals’ usage, reliance and opinions on downtown parking was promoted on social media and sought to “provide the City with options for improving the parking system.” It focused on “fostering a vibrant quality of place and sustaining future economic development in the downtown area.”

Cheesebro noted that engagement surveys are common in city planning and allow for those impacted to share thoughts on how parking experiences can be improved.

East Lansing is partnering with Walker Consultants, a planning and design firm, to assess the current parking climate and how it is impacted by various factors including seasons, times of the day and times of the week.

The state of Michigan requires its cities to update master plans every five years to include planning for the following 20 years. The 2018 edition of East Lansing’s master plan noted that surface parking lots consume valuable real estate and decrease a city’s “walkability” and “urban atmosphere” while multi-level parking structures, especially those “fronted by first floor real estate,” cater to a more centralized downtown.

The city’s downtown hosts a mix of parking garages and surface-level lots. On Bailey Street, for example, a parking ramp and surface lot sit adjacent to one another. While the structure may cater toward a better urban atmosphere, it comes at a significant cost.

The 2018 master plan provided insight on the cost, saying that the median cost of a parking structure is $19,700 per parking space, and that providing adequate parking space in downtown “continues to be an ongoing challenge.” On an ordinary day, the parking rate for East Lansing garages and lots ranges from between 75 cents to $1 per half-hour, with the rates increasing for special events, according to the city’s website.

Despite the cost, the new master plan will likely continue to call for new structures. It comes at a time when East Lansing’s downtown continues to grow with new construction. The area’s parking capacity will continue to grow with it, but the new plan will likely account for an increased trend toward public transportation and biking, as well, which was also a theme of the previous plan.