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Parks board expresses concern over metered parking in public parks

Monday, December 9, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

After postponing their decision in October about parking meters on city parkland, the Parks and Recreation Board broached the subject again at its Dec. 3 meeting. Following a long discussion about the equity and access issues that accompany metered parking, the board voted to form a working group to investigate a solution to the parking problem.

“I think that the problem here is there are not enough good ways for people to get to these parks (and) there are not enough spaces for people to drive,” said Board Member Nina Rinaldi. “I don’t think addressing this through parking fees alone is the be-all, end-all.”

In an effort to encourage parking turnover, the city has installed metered parking at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, Zilker Park, Walsh Boat Landing, Butler Softball Fields and the park access across from the Central Library. The Parks and Recreation Department is planning to install meters in the Deep Eddy parking lot in spring 2020.

Plans to meter the lot at Deep Eddy caused particular concern for the board members. A portion of the parking lot, according to Board Member Laura Cottam Sajbel, has become de facto parking for park rangers. Furthermore, a large portion of those who park in the lot are not swimming but are patronizing nearby local businesses like Pool Burger and Deep Eddy Cabaret. Cumulatively, that limits the number of spaces available to swimmers and trail users.

Adding meters on top of that would be “nickel-and-diming” park users who just approved a $149 million bond for park updates. Annually, the parks department earns $1 million, according to a spokesperson from the department.

“I think we need to allow taxpayers from all over town to access these amenities,” said Cottam Sajbel.

Parks department Assistant Director Anthony Segura said parking passes will be available for those coming to swim at Deep Eddy. He also said that the parks department is searching for an alternative area to relocate the park ranger parking.

Metering Zilker Park was also a point of concern. Board Member Romteen Farasat said when he first saw the meters in Zilker he “had a gut reaction.”

Cottam Sajbel said the word on the street is that the south side of Zilker Park will soon be metered and will reduce the already coveted supply of free parking. She said snagging a space without a meter is already so desirable, “I’ve actually seen fistfights.”

A spokesperson for the Parks and Recreation Department told the Austin Monitor in an email, “There are no current plans to install meters on the south side of Zilker Park. The Zilker Park master planning process will study in detail traffic patterns, parking needs, circulation within Zilker, connectivity and alternative transportation modes. These studies will inform future decisions about parking and parking meters at Zilker.”

While board members acknowledged that encouraging vehicle turnover in parks was important, several wondered why the parks department could not accomplish this by establishing time limits rather than requiring a payment.

Segura told the board he did not have the required staff to enforce additional time-limited areas.

Board members and city staff ping-ponged other potential solutions back and forth, but one concern that continually posed limitations to any solution was the lack of multimodal transport options.

“We don’t even have the infrastructure to support taking the people out of single-occupancy vehicles,” said Farasat.

Cottam Sajbel said taking the bus from her house in the Travis Heights neighborhood to Deep Eddy takes an hour and 24 minutes, according to Google Maps. Comparatively, she can reach the pool by car in 16 minutes, by bike in 30 minutes or on foot in an hour.

After struggling to find an obvious alternative for metering the parking on city parkland, the board formed a working group to study parking in lands adjacent to parks, parking on parkland facilities, and multimodal access issues and solutions. Board members Cottam Sajbel, Farasat and Rinaldi are in the group.

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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