January 10, 2017

Parking study calls for more enforcement, higher fines

In their first unveiling of results from a city parking study, traffic analysts from Dixon Resources Unlimited on Friday shared a mixed bag of suggestions to curb parking complaints.

In their first unveiling Friday of results from a parking study that began in September, traffic analysts from Dixon Resources Unlimited brought a mixed bag of suggestions to curb parking complaints to the city during a day-long planning retreat Friday.

Topping the list was a push for the city to increase the enforcement of its parking laws, after researchers learned the locals know when the city’s only parking attendant isn’t working.

“Anita (Lockhart) is your parking enforcement unit, but Anita also does a lot of other things for the agency including managing the crossing guard program” and other responsibilities, said Dixon President Julie Dixon.

“You have parking policies but they’re not enforced consistently and everybody knows it. The one thing that really came out of our focus groups is, No. 1, everybody knows Anita, which is awesome because she has a personality and she definitely has a positive impact on the downtown parking area, but they also know when Anita works,” she said. “They know what time she’s going to be on Main Street and they know what her other job duties are.”

Knowing her schedule, Dixon said, gives some the advantage to “know how to game the system.”

Whether meters are added to Main Street or parking decks are raised in the future, Dixon recommended the city beef up enforcement patrols first to see how traffic improves.

Julie Dixon and David Cooker of Dixon Resources Unlimited, a company with more than 25 years’ experience in parking and transportation management, shared a few surprises in what they found.

Most of the cars taking up spaces all day in front of businesses were driven by business owners, employees and downtown residents, the study found. Main Street and side streets were operating over the industry standard set at 80 percent capacity for parking occupancy from lunchtime into the evening hours. Main Street was operating at 90 to 100 percent capacity during the busy times.

The study found that 90 percent of visitors parked on-street instead of using off-street lots, but a majority of parkers said they would consider walking farther instead of paying for parking if Main Street were metered. Use of venues with parking meters has continued to increase over the past five years, and Dixon representatives predicted it would continue to climb with consistent enforcement and updated technology.

People, on average, were spending more than 20 minutes in 15-minute spaces, according to the study, and Dixon representatives said they thought the city’s parking fines were too cheap. A woman in one of their focus groups admitted she saved money by racking up a couple of parking tickets a month instead of paying for a leased space.

Dixon and Cooker said they were able to identify the locals from out-of-town guests during a Rhythm and Brews concert by where they parked. The locals seemed to know where to go, Cooker said, while there were others who kept circling the blocks.

The analysts also noticed in their study that some of the leased spaces in lots appeared to be underutilized. They suggested a plan to overhaul the program by opening up some of the leased spots to the public when not in use.

Dixon recommended the city consider:

-Increasing enforcement of the city’s parking laws.

-Publishing the laws for all to see.

-Employing better signage for visitors to navigate parking options with uniformity in the downtown’s branding.

-Making the 15-minute spaces loading zones.

-Overhauling the permit parking program, stripping the names from spaces to give the public a chance to use some of the under-utilized leased spots.

-Increasing the fines on parking citations.

-Revisiting the idea for parking along King Street, recently nixed by city council.

-Employing a documented special event parking procedure so people can know in advance which lots and spaces will be off-limits instead of learning about the tow-away zone that morning. The procedure could also establish signs to use in special events to let visitors know when a lot is full.

-Adding parking kiosks to lots and/or smart meters to Main Street that allow a visitor to pay for parking electronically with a credit or debit card.

-Reaching out to other lot owners like the Curb Market for public/private sharing opportunities.

-Creating a Parking Ambassador program by employing others to help enforce the city’s parking laws with a customer-service oriented approach to enforcement, supplementing Lockhart’s efforts.

-Letting customer service support take over the debt collection for parking tickets.

-Adding lighting, signage and safety improvements to parking lots and walkways to tie in with Main Street and the downtown’s appeal.

-Publishing parking rules on signage at lots, the city’s website and in road maps.

-Approving a setback policy consistent with NCDOT, which, Dixon said, could free up more room for parking.

In the future, the Dixon study suggested the city could also look to find more potential parking lots, particularly on the east side of Main Street; consider hosting a transit center with public bathrooms for busloads of tourists; and consider making Main Street a pedestrian mall during peak periods or special events.

Read the rest of the article here.

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