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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Council considers new downtown parking meter regulations
Thursday, March 3, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano
City Council prepared to vote on extended paid parking hours for the downtown area with a debate at yesterday’s work session that is expected to continue today.
Council will vote on a proposal to expand downtown parking meter hours until midnight and to include Saturdays in the area between Cesar Chavez and 10th streets and from Lamar Boulevard to I-35. The proposal will also expand enforcement and security to manage parking. If Council votes to approve the new regulations, they will be put in place this August.
According to the briefing, the extended hours are expected to generate more than $3 million dollars in the first 12 months. More than $1.6 million of this revenue will be allocated to additional parking enforcement, equipment upgrades, and maintenance, with the remainder going toward transportation initiatives and downtown reinvestment.
Additionally, the city anticipates more than $1 million dollars in increased citation revenue, which would go into the general fund.
Public interest in the extended hours has been high, with a survey about the proposed changes garnering about 10 times the number of responses as were anticipated. Concerns include limiting parking options for downtown employees and musicians, safety, and increased drinking and driving due to the new Saturday hours.
“Fundamentally, I’m concerned that this is going to change the ecosystem of downtown, and we’re looking at potentially fewer people, or not, but we’re also looking at changing who comes downtown,” said Council Member Laura Morrison.
Morrison expressed concern that people who are on a fixed entertainment budget, employed downtown, or volunteers, would be discouraged from coming downtown.
“We’re trying to achieve something, and I’m respectful of that. But the bottom line is that we’re taking some money, some millions of dollars per year, out of our citizens’ pockets and putting it into the coffers of the city,” said Morrison. “I do have to say I have particular concerns about the million dollars in fines that we’re going to be capturing from people who are breaking the new law that we are putting in there. All that just starts to feel a little out of whack for me.
Morrison was not alone in her concerns.
“If the cost to bring another $1 million into the general fund, for example, through traffic tickets, is a loss of $2 million to the general fund through sales receipts, then obviously we shouldn’t be doing it,” said Council Member Bill Spelman. “How quickly would we know if this were a problem?”
“I would guess that we would have some indication pretty quick, within six months, of what the overall impact is,” said Director of Transportation Robert Spillar. “At that point we would be happy to come back and talk to you about what we think is going on out there.”
Council members spent some time in the work session discussing various ways in which they might temper the regulations.
When asked about why the new regulations would apply to weekday nights, when parking is not congested, Spillar explained it would be for the sake of consistency.
“If the real point of charging on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday is because it’s easier to understand, because you don’t have to think about what day it is, then I really have a problem with us charging on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday,” said Morrison.
Morrison also agreed with the joint subcommittee of the Urban Transportation and Downtown commissions’ recommendation that free parking should still be available north of Seventh Street and that the extended hours should target busier areas of downtown.
“Whatever we come up with has to be fairly simple, easy to understand,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell “Not confusing to people where they have to step out of their car and read the fine
print on the parking kiosk to figure out whether they need to pay or not.”
Still, some members saw the changes as necessary for the growing city.
“We’ve heard from a lot of folks in the community who are saying, ‘Y’all are making it a pain to come down and park,’ and I think what the message that you are trying to convey is: Actually, it’s been a pain to park downtown for a long time,” said Council Member Chris Riley. “There are measures that we could take that would actually make it easier to park.”
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