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Parks board member ‘completely opposed’ to meters in parks

Thursday, October 24, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Last week, the city of Austin changed the prices on its parking meters for the first time in nearly 30 years. Prices jumped from $1.20 inside the city’s downtown core – $1 outside of that core – to $2 an hour at all metered stations.

Jason Redfern with the Austin Transportation Department told the Parks and Recreation Board at its Oct. 22 meeting that the city has a 74 percent drive-alone rate in Austin right now, but that only 10 percent, or 6,600 spots downtown are street parking. The result, he explained, is that people were warehousing their vehicles or exceeding posted parking limits in order to maximize the use of these coveted spots.

“People like to pull up and find that golden parking space,” he said. Increasing the price of parking meters “encourages people to do what they need to do and return that space as quickly as possible.” According to him, the meter fee hike also encourages residents to take alternative forms of transportation.

Board Member Laura Cottam Sajbel took issue with this viewpoint. “I’m thinking you’re putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “You cannot take alternative transportation if it does not go where it needs to go.”

Chair Dawn Lewis supported her statement, saying that in addition to there being “no decent alternative methods in Austin,” other options like bikes can be dangerous or impractical due to the lack of safe parking and transport carriers on buses.

Cottam Sajbel said metering requires residents to pay for access to free, public amenities. “I am completely opposed to that. I think it’s wrong ethically. It’s not equitable,” she said.

The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, Zilker, Walsh Boat Landing, Butler Softball Fields and the park access across from the Central Library are already metered. The Parks and Recreation Department is planning to install meters in the Deep Eddy parking lot in spring 2020.

Redfern explained that by metering the pool parking it will not only assist in keeping cars rotating through the spaces, but the money will go into a capital asset fund that the Transportation Department can use to fund amenities that are complimentary to transportation such as parking lot resurfacing, new signs and ADA-accessible walkways.

Cottam Sajbel acknowledged that there is a parking turnover issue in the Deep Eddy lot with patrons of nearby shops and eateries using the spaces intended for swimmers and park visitors. However, she maintained that metering the area could not be the only solution. “I think the problem is bigger than that,” she said.

Redfern agreed that parking is indeed a bigger problem today than it was 20 years ago.

Austin is one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S. According to U.S. census data, the population grew 20 percent from 2010 to 2018 and the city’s demographer, Ryan Robinson, expects the population to swell to over 1 million by 2020. At the same time, the number of on-street parking spaces has remained consistent. The result is that private businesses, neighborhoods and schools like Stephen F. Austin High have metered their area parking, which has slowly eroded the quantity of free parking around the city.

Looking for those low-cost parking slots, Redfern said, has contributed to increased congestion. Citing data from a 2016 Nelson Nygaard study, he said, “Thirty percent of traffic congestion downtown was people circling around looking for parking.”

Board members agreed that parking in Austin is a problem, but Chair Dawn Lewis said that the blame cannot be placed exclusively on drivers. “It’s also a city problem,” she said. “You need to fix that.”

The board voted unanimously to postpone taking action on the item in favor of discussing the situation further at their next meeting.

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