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Downtown parking fees extended, expanded to Rainey Street

Friday, March 4, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Late-night free parking in downtown Austin became a thing of the past Thursday, as the Council voted in favor of major parking changes for the downtown area.


On a 6-1 vote, new parking regulations were approved that extended downtown parking hours until midnight, and expanded the affected area south to the Lady Bird Lake to include the Rainey Street area. Council Member Laura Morrison cast the lone vote against the proposal.


Prior to the vote, Council members discussed at length their ability to modify the changes, should issues of problems arise with the new parking regulations over the next 12 months.


Despite the initial public outcry when the idea was first proposed, only three people spoke on Thursday against the extending parking hours.


“This is the wrong thing to do,” said Skip Cameron. As a volunteer at the Paramount, he expressed concerns that increased parking costs would negatively impact volunteerism in the downtown area.


Council Member Randi Shade expressed sympathy for this perspective, but after weighing the options, came to the conclusion that increased access to downtown parking and information about downtown parking would ultimately serve downtown non-profits as well as businesses.


Some of the anticipated $3 million that would be generated by the new regulations would be applied to creating new directional signs and branding off-street parking in an effort to make the lots more accessible and visible to downtown visitors.


The Transportation Department and Council members also discussed more innovative measures they hope to implement in the future, such as developing systems that would measure and broadcast the real-time occupancy rates of garages, and applications for smart phones that could locate empty spaces in garages.


While Council Member Bill Spelman acknowledged that the increased cost of coming downtown could be discouraging, he weighed that against how new technology could make coming downtown more convenient.


I’m not completely sold that this is going to be a net public benefit, but I’m certainly sold on the fact that it’s worth a trial,” said Spelman.


Morrison remained even less convinced, and her attempt to amend the proposed changes by decreasing the area covered by the extended hours failed.


Morrison suggested modifying the downtown area affected by the extended hours by changing the northern border from 10th Street to Seventh Street.  Instead, the area that will see increased metered hours was expanded.


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez asked that the new regulations be extended to the Rainey Street area, which has seen its share of parking problems in recent years.


Additionally, Mayor Lee Leffingwell attached a friendly amendment that directs staff to perform outreach to non-profits and downtown churches in order to find solutions.


“We know there are probably a lot of problems that are going to come up,” said Leffingwell. “Even this morning, we’re hearing about it, that people have additional concerns about it.”


“This is change, and change is going to be difficult for a lot of people, and what I also realize is that there are going to be changes to the change,” said the Mayor. “Over the next six months, we are going to continue to receive input, we are going to continue to re-evaluate, identify problems, formulate solutions to problems…but for now I would like to maintain the full flexibility.”


“The community needs to realize that we are trying to set a longer-term vision, with technology that will make downtown more accessible for everybody throughout the city, and a major hurdle to that is the parking,” said Council Member Sheryl Cole. “We simply have to address that.”

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