Motorists who park too long in downtown Columbus’ three-hour parking zones are more likely to get tickets of $10 or more this Christmas shopping season.
That’s because police promise to be more vigilant enforcing parking rules.
“We want downtown to prosper, and we want people to come here. But we also want people to be educated on the laws,” said Lt. Matt Myers, police department spokesman.
“We added five volunteers to enforce parking laws last month, and our officers are more vigilant,” Police Chief Jason Maddix said.
City parking penalties
1st violation: Warning, no fine
2nd violation: $10
3rd violation: $15
4th violation: $20
5th violation and up: $30
Source: City of Columbus
Trained volunteers wrote as many as 24 tickets in a single day recently. A motorist’s first parking misstep nets a warning. A second violation in a calendar year brings a $10 fine, and the penalties go up from there.
The amped-up enforcement has led to more complaints from motorists, business owners and others, some of whom were caught off-guard by the parking crackdown.
There has been an increase in complaints about parking of 12 percent already this year, with some violators not realizing they were breaking the law, Maddix said.
The three-hour zones include on-street parking as well as a limited number of public parking spaces in city-owned parking garages downtown.
The catch is that motorists can’t keep jumping from one spot to another within the three-hour zones to get more time. Once they park in any three-hour zone, the clock starts ticking, and it doesn’t refresh with a move. A total of three hours is all anyone gets for free.
The city’s goal with tougher enforcement and education is to spark more frequent turnover of parking spaces downtown and to keep motorists from being parking hogs.
It’s much like a restaurant trying to keep a flow of customers coming and going by clearing its tables promptly, said Laurence Brown, head of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Brown and Heather Pope, executive director of the city’s Redevelopment Commission, have played significant roles in parking studies aimed at finding the best use of street parking and two city-owned garages the past few months.
The city owns the parking garage east of the Columbus post office on Jackson Street and the garage west of the Bartholomew County Courthouse on Second Street. About 300 of the 400 spots in the Jackson Street garage are leased to businesses, with the rest open to the public.
The Second Street garage has 700 spots, most of which are used by Cummins Inc. Some of those spots are likely to be taken on a contract basis by tenants of the Cole Apartments.
An ongoing broader look at parking includes hiring a private company to manage the parking garages for the city. Pope said a contract for that project could be finalized next month and will hopefully take effect Jan. 1. Proposals from several companies are scheduled to be opened by Pope’s office next week.
Police say a lingering problem is that on-street parking has been taken too often by employees who work downtown, leaving too few spaces for visitors and shoppers.
Brown said a long-term goal is to encourage downtown employees and residents to use garages, leaving spaces on the street free for others.
Increased enforcement isn’t the only strategy being employed by city officials, though.
Brown said an ongoing review by city government, including his office, also might look at installing parking meters downtown at some point, perhaps with the first hour free of charge followed by small, metered charges that increase with time.
Earlier this year, Brown proposed that the Redevelopment Commission modify its leased-space system at the Jackson Street garage and begin controlling all parking-garage access with pay gates waiting to be installed.
Under the gate system, anyone would be allowed to park in any space. There no longer would be any reserved spaces, except for a general quantity programmed into monitors to make sure that anyone with a parking lease would have somewhere to park.