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Column: Paid parking recommendation best plan for city

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Over the past seven months, I have had the privilege of working with an outstanding group of fellow citizens chairing a committee charged with facilitating and supporting the paid consultants studying the parking situation in downtown Columbus.

I would like to thank the other members of the committee for their work: Elaine DeClue, Catina Furnish, Dave Hayward, Susan Fye and Heather Pope. Each member took the responsibilities seriously and worked hard, providing good guidance to the consultants under contract.

On behalf of our committee, I would like to thank Ralph DeNisco and Lisa Jacobson from Nelson/Nygaard as well as Jennifer Pyez and Ericka Miller from Parsons Brinkerhoff. After extensive surveys, interviews and analysis, these professionals prepared a comprehensive report of recommendations and strategies for a multilayered approach to solving the perceived parking shortage in the core area of downtown Columbus.

The study was vetted in public meetings, including a joint session of the Columbus Redevelopment Commission and the City Council. The final study was delivered to the Redevelopment Commission on Feb. 17 and the City Council on March 4. It is the Redevelopment Commission and the City Council that have the responsibility to act or not to act on the recommendations.

The report contains strategies involving free parking, better utilization of the Jackson Street parking garage as well as some paid street parking in the high-demand core business area. The paid parking recommendation is one strategy aimed to modify the behavior of current downtown parkers.

A critical step to provide better parking for the customers of downtown establishments is incentivizing employees working downtown to park in longer term spots in various designated parking garages and areas. While paid parking has generated the most publicity, the strategy cannot be fully understood without the other strategies, inclusive of additional free parking provided in the Jackson Street garage.

Recall that the city already has made a significant and sizable investment in equipment used to read passes and provide charges in that garage. At present, that equipment has yet to be utilized.

I believe the Redevelopment Commission and City Council, both under the direction of Mayor Kristen Brown, need to act on what this study has provided in the recommendations. Politically, it may not be the easy decision to act on a recommendation for paid parking in a small core area of downtown Columbus, but it is time to do the right thing and provide leadership acknowledging the recommendations, acting upon them or providing an explanation if there is no action.

The consultants are national experts in the area of parking and the science of human behaviors surrounding the issue. Our committee worked with the consulting team under the belief that the Redevelopment Commission and the City Council would have it within their power to do the right thing putting the recommended actions into action.

At the Feb. 17 meeting of the Redevelopment Commission, a “Plan B” that didn’t include paid parking was mentioned. This took me and the committee by surprise. I have since found out that the city of Columbus “requested an overview of how to approach the recommendations without implementing paid parking onstreet.” This is a quote from a memo to Redevelopment Director Heather Pope from Ralph DeNisco and Lisa Jacobson, lead consultants with Nelson/Nygaard dated Dec. 12, 2013.

For some reason, my committee and I were unaware of the request and the resulting memorandum. If we would have been aware, I would have noted the following statement from that same communication:

“In preparing this response, the Nelson/Nygaard team must note that many of these recommendations relied on instituting priced parking in the areas of highest demand, both as a means of allocating these spaces to the highest and best users, and to set a context by which other parking and travel options would be measured against. Thus, this alternative scenario will not be as effective in helping meet the City’s goals of having available parking for customers, establishing clear employee parking areas, supporting economic goals/growth, and protecting residential neighborhood from spillover.”

After the City Council meeting on March 4, the mayor presented the idea of developing a new committee with members of the City Council and Redevelopment Commission, a downtown restaurant owner and a downtown merchant. This committee presently has no city staff person assigned to it or commitment from the mayor to serve on or be a support person.

It is my opinion that the new committee will have the appearance of working on the recommendations that the consultants presented to the city with their completed Downtown Parking Study. This new committee, however, has no set mission or staff guidance to act upon the recommendations from the study. Thus, without clear direction, nothing will come from this new committee.

It appears, unfortunately, that no action will be taken on the original recommendations provided by the taxpayer-funded consultants. I am hopeful that the Redevelopment Commission and City Council — again, both under the direction of Mayor Brown — will act on what the consultants have advised in their report.

But if this is not the case, I would like to apologize to the taxpayers of Columbus and Bartholomew County for the waste of their money in providing this study but with no action. As chairman of the committee, I wish I could have done a better job in selling the two groups on the importance of doing what is recommended.

The study is well done, and the recommendations therein are solid. We had hoped for action, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. For that I am truly sorry.

Tom Dell, a small business owner in Columbus, headed the local committee that worked with parking consultants Nelson/Nygaard. He’s now part of a committee working on the downtown parking study recommendations.

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