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City panel backs paid on-street parking

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Much of Washington Street and several side streets in downtown Columbus would have paid parking under a plan proposed by a city committee.

The metered parking would be priced at a level to drive out downtown employees and invite in customers who want to visit downtown businesses.

“Your customers are your least price-sensitive people in town,” said Ralph De Nisco, a senior associate with Nelson/Nygaard, the city’s parking consultant. “The most price-sensitive people are your employees.”

He said the employees will be doing math in their heads, calculating how much a whole day of metered parking will cost them over the course of a week or month. For many, that should be enough of a disincentive for them to find cheaper parking nearby but out of the heart of downtown.

De Nisco presented his company’s findings and a parking steering committee made up of downtown business owners and city officials made their recommendations at a special joint meeting of Columbus City Council and Redevelopment Commission on Monday night. The meeting drew a handful of interested downtown business owners and residents.

The study found that Columbus has plenty of parking spaces available downtown during even the busiest times of the day, but those spaces are frequently inconveniently located or locked away in empty, but reserved, spaces in downtown garages. And the most valuable spaces, right in front of downtown businesses, are frequently taken up by employees juggling their vehicles from one space to another in the limited three-hour parking spaces.

The committee recommended two types of on-street parking downtown:

Paid parking on Washington Street between Third and Seventh streets, and two blocks each of Fourth and Fifth streets.

Free parking outside of that core downtown area.

Three basic types of meters are commonly used, all of which take credit cards and can offer online or cellphone payment updates, De Nisco said. In each of the types, the drivers pay at a kiosk representing several parking spaces or at individual meters. After the drivers pay, they either:

Receive a printed receipt, which the drivers then place in their car window.

Enter their license plate number into the meter.

Enter a number marking the parking space into the meter.

De Nisco recommended the city choose the meters where drivers enter their license plate number. He said returning to a car with a receipt is frustrating and numbering the spaces can lead to unsightly signs or curb markings that are hidden by snow or require painting. He also said that the city should consider consolidated kiosks instead of individual meters, so the city can maintain the attractiveness of the downtown streetscape.

The meters also would be able to send a signal to the city’s enforcement staff when time expires, allowing the city to enforce parking limits more easily, he said.

De Nisco said his company does not sell parking meters and made no recommendations on the brand of parking meter the city might want to choose. Instead, he said that if the city decides to install meters, word would spread and draw heavy interest from


Jeff Baker, a downtown business owner, said he was initially opposed to the idea of parking meters. But his customers assured him that they would be willing to pay for parking, if they knew they could find a nearby space.

The steering committee proposed the paid on-street parking from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at a cost of 50 cents per hour, with the first 15 minutes free, said Tom Dell, committee chairman. The committee also recommended eliminating time restrictions in the paid parking area.

Mayor Kristen Brown questioned whether a suggested rate of 50 cents an hour would be high enough to encourage employees to relocate. De Nisco said that the city could easily adjust the rate until it achieves the desired effect.

The consultant and steering committee also recommended changing the policies on the leased spaces in the city-owned Jackson Street Garage. Under the committee’s suggestions, the city would no longer rent spaces to Cummins in that garage and the U.S. Postal

Service would no longer have dedicated, reserved spaces. Instead, most of the reserved spaces in the garage would still require permits but those permits would not be tied to designated spaces. The spaces reserved for parking permit holders would be moved to the top floors of the garage, leaving the lower floors for downtown customers.

In the garage, the first hour of parking would be free and the prices would be less than the on-street parking to encourage use.

City Councilman Frank Miller said he has yet to be convinced of the need for paid on-street parking and wanted to try other methods before creating paid parking. Dell, Baker and other downtown property owners said the paid parking was an essential component of the plan.

The study and recommendations were presented only for discussion at the meeting Monday and no decisions were reached nor direction chosen by the city boards. The City Council or Redevelopment Commission would have to add to their agenda for possible action to be taken on the recommendations.

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