Hey dudes; Rob here. I’m hijacking the Lighthouse blog today to post some of my reactions to the City of Austin’s proposal to make people pay for street parking until midnight each Monday through Saturday. (Currently the city only charges for metered parking until 5:30pm on weekdays.)
First some background: The city has been working on a study of the parking conditions downtown (which they define as north of Lady Bird Lake, south of MLK, west of I-35 and east of Lamar). They are conducting a public survey to gauge how many drivers park downtown regularly, how much people are willing to pay for convenient parking, and which areas are in need of most improvement. The survey is available until Jan. 18 if you’re interested in filling it out.
The committee has already endorsed the extended meter hours and has spelled out a number of reasons they think they would be a good idea. According to info included with the survey, the panel believes the longer hours would:
- Increase turnover of parking spaces / free up parking for more drivers
- Help pay for new signs directing drivers to existing garages
- Fund improvements to pedestrian walkways and other public amenities
- Create a “feeling of security” (because there would be more cops writing tickets in the area)
There are several reasons I think this proposal is a very bad idea, and I spelled them out in the “additional feedback” section at the end of the survey. In case you’re interested, below is a copy of what I submitted. Thanks for reading!
I understand the need for additional funding, but I do not think it would be in Austin’s best interest to extend meter hours until midnight and also on Saturdays. Here’s why:
1) Even if extending the hours would increase turnover of parking spaces, it would also create a number of logistical problems and irritations. For instance, many people who visit downtown in the evening are going to live music shows, which can last for 3 hours or more. If there is a time limit on the meters, those people would have to leave in the middle of a show just to move their cars.
Additionally, I believe that extending the hours would lead to an increase in drunk driving. People would be pressured to leave the bar before closing to go move their cars, meaning they would have to circle around the downtown blocks filled with pedestrians to find an open spot. Austin has a bad enough DWI problem when most drunk drivers are “just” getting on the road at 2am or later. Also, if the city charges for meter parking on Saturdays, fewer drivers would be inclined to just leave their cars parked overnight on Fridays in favor of a safer ride home.
2) Privately owned garages are fine, but the cost ($8-$15 and rising) is prohibitive for many people. I know the city doesn’t set the rates for those, but if increasing the number of private garages is part of the strategy, this point certainly needs to be considered.
3) Adding signs for parking garages might be helpful, but I think the difficulty of *finding* a garage is much less of a problem than a) the lack of available street parking, due in large part to the volume of spaces occupied by private valet services; and b) the high costs of existing garages and lots. Basically, it doesn’t help much to point people in the direction of garages they can’t pay for. The pedestrian improvements mentioned above seem like a much better investment.
4) The “enhanced feeling of security” argument doesn’t make much sense. There are currently dozens of police officers keeping watch on the downtown area each night; if APD feels like the current amount is not enough, why wouldn’t they just move more *patrol* officers to the area as opposed to “parking enforcement personnel”? If the city is going to pay for additional officers, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to be actively patrolling rather than focusing most of their attention on expired meters?
In summary, I believe that extending the meter hours into the night and the weekend would be a major inconvenience, a public safety hazard, and a severe blow to Austin’s downtown culture. Further, there are alternatives that make much more sense.
Why not reopen the City Hall garage for free parking at night, like it used to be when it first opened?
Or, reduce the number of public metered street spaces that are reserved for valets.
Or, offer better alternative transportation options, such as additional bus service, to and from the downtown area between 8pm and 3am.
I urge you to consider all of the possible alternatives before putting more of a burden on those who want to support local businesses and artists.