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Wednesday, April 27, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

City launches affordable parking program, raises meter rates

In a striking display of balance, the city’s Transportation Department will both raise downtown parking meter rates and launch a pilot program that aims to ease parking burdens for downtown service industry workers – all in one fell swoop.

First, the bad (and fairly mundane) news: Parking meter rates will change from $1 per hour to $1.20 per hour on May 2 for parking spaces located within the boundaries of Lamar Boulevard, I-35, Lady Bird Lake and 10th Street. The increase was approved by City Council during the last budget cycle, and according to a memo from Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar, the move is intended to increase parking turnover and relieve congestion.

But a separate stakeholder process that has been in the works for some time brings more heartening parking news for those who work in or near the Red River Cultural District. Also starting May 2, service and entertainment industry employees will be able to purchase evening parking space on a monthly basis at the Waller Creek Center garage facility, which is located at 625 E. 10th St.

As part of a pilot program, parking will be available every evening from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. for $35 per month. At first, the program will be open only to businesses within the cultural district, but availability will expand based on demand. The passes will be obtained through businesses and can be shared among employees.

Austin Music People Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan told the Austin Monitor that the organization had been working with the city and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo’s office on the project “for quite a while.”

Houlihan said that her organization was concerned with safe late-night transportation for all aspects of the downtown economy, including musicians and those who work in clubs. She explained that although bars close at 2 a.m., employees often work much later than that and then walk back to their cars at 3 or 4 in the morning – often to parking located far away.

“We thought, well, let’s see, there are parking garages that are empty at night – are any of them owned by the city?” said Houlihan. “If it works, hopefully it will roll out to some of the other, bigger parking garages across the city. But the idea was to take care of the safety and peace of mind of our service industry workers who work until the wee hours of the morning and make sure they have a safe place to park their car.”

The city is also hoping that, if the pilot program is a success, it could lead to bigger changes.

Steve Grassfield, who is the parking enterprise manager for the city, told the Monitor that although the city is rolling out this initial phase slowly, he hopes it will inspire other shared parking arrangements – perhaps in other city garages like the one at One Texas Center or, according to a Transportation Department spokesperson, maybe even in private garages that have available spaces overnight.

“As far as I know, it’s the first (program of this type) in the United States,” said Grassfield. “So, if this works out well, we’ll open this up, obviously. We’ve got about 200 parking spaces in that particular garage. There may be others that we may be able to do this at also.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32218460

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Red River Cultural District: Established in 2013, the Red River Cultural District runs from Sixth Street to Tenth Street and is a cultural district with the Texas Commission for the Arts. Its creation was intended to help preserve the live music venues located within the district.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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