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Parking meter idea drives debate


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The west entrance of the parking garage along Jackson Street, across from the U.S. Post Office, in downtown Columbus Thursday October 17, 2013. Though parking needs in Columbus are manifold, issues Columbus continue to be revolve around the demands of downtown workers.  (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
The west entrance of the parking garage along Jackson Street, across from the U.S. Post Office, in downtown Columbus Thursday October 17, 2013. Though parking needs in Columbus are manifold, issues Columbus continue to be revolve around the demands of downtown workers. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)

Cars park along Jackson Street in downtown Columbus Thursday October 17, 2013. Though parking needs in Columbus are manifold, issues Columbus continue to be revolve around the demands of downtown workers.  (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Cars park along Jackson Street in downtown Columbus Thursday October 17, 2013. Though parking needs in Columbus are manifold, issues Columbus continue to be revolve around the demands of downtown workers. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)


Parking meters in downtown Columbus should be a last option for solving the city’s public parking problems, some officials said, but others aren’t ready to dismiss that possibility.

The city hired parking consultant Nelson/Nygaard to provide the Columbus City Council and the Redevelopment Commission with recommendations to address perceived parking problems.

Among initial recommendations from the consultants and a local parking steering committee were changes to the city-owned parking garages, more free parking in the downtown area and the introduction of parking meters in a four-block stretch of Washington Street and along parts of Fourth and Fifth streets.

The study concluded that the city has enough parking spaces downtown, but the spaces are not used efficiently, which creates the appearance that there is a parking shortage.

Council members and the mayor said they want to put together a list of steps that they can implement to try to improve parking before moving to parking meters.

Mayor Kristen Brown said that downtown parking meters would be controversial. She suggested the city first look at changes in the Jackson Street garage, adding more downtown parking spaces and removing the loading zone in front of The Commons as quick-hit items that could be changed easily.

But some problems just can’t be solved, she said.

“It is physically impossible for us to have enough parking spaces for every customer and every employee to park for free, unlimited within a half a block of where they work,” Brown said. “It just isn’t going to work. No matter what we do, it is going to be far from perfect.”

Council member Kenny Whipker said he thinks

parking meters should be a last step.

“If and when it got to that point, it would be a limited amount of kiosks that I would be at least considering, versus (individual) parking meters, so it doesn’t affect the aesthetics of downtown,” Whipker said.

Before that, the city should work with downtown employers to make sure workers aren’t taking up prime spots, and the city should look at changes to the parking garages, Whipker said.

The consultants recommended opening up garage spaces to public parking by no longer leasing space in the Jackson Street garage to Cummins Inc. and finding ways for employees of the city’s largest business to use space in the company’s garage.

Council President Ryan Brand said that he views the study as a comprehensive plan, but he wants to see if there are ways to divide the plan into pieces for implementation. He said consultants frequently give many options but do not give an order of where to start. He said the city could see what kind of results it gets with various components and then move on accordingly.

“I also think that we need to be looking at what the return on investment will be,” Brand said. “We may want to start with signage that dictates where there is public parking available for people to come down. How do we do that, where do we come up with the money to start with that process?”

Idea worth considering

Sarah Cannon, president of the redevelopment commission, said the city will receive a final report from the consultants that provides more detailed technical information that should provide more guidance. She said that it is too soon to definitively say that parking meters should be the last step.

“I would hate to see us make a decision yet on the order. There are so many moving pieces, and they have such a domino effect,” Cannon said.

Tom Dell, president of the parking steering committee and a downtown business owner, said that the city should not stray too far from the recommendations it paid for.

“I would hate to second-guess our consultants that gave us a lot of good information,” Dell said. “I would much rather wait to see what they come back with as far as their recommendations, because otherwise we are all trying to put our own spin on it, and these people are experts in parking studies. ... If we start putting our own twist on it before we get their information back, I think we short-sight ourselves.”

Lots of discussions

The results of the city-paid study of downtown parking were presented last month to the Columbus City Council and the Columbus Redevelopment Commission.

Council and commission members discussed the parking study and its proposals at their meetings two weeks after the Nov. 4 presentation.

The council controls on-street parking under city ordinances, and the commission owns and controls the city-owned parking garages.

Council members Brand, Whipker and Frank Jerome all volunteered to work with the local parking steering committee on developing the recommendations. Brand represents the council district covering downtown Columbus, Whipker lives downtown, and Jerome is the council’s liaison with the redevelopment commission.

Jerome said it was his sense that the redevelopment commission wanted the council to take the lead on parking changes and the council wanted the mayor to take the lead.

Post office changes

The results of the parking study and the uncertainty of the future direction of downtown parking already has led the redevelopment commission to change its relationship with one tenant of the Jackson Street parking garage. The contract with the U.S. Postal Service expired at the end of September, and negotiations were held off until the results of the parking study could be assessed, said Stan Gamso, attorney for the commission.

The commission soon will consider a month-to-month contract with the postal service for the 75 spaces the federal agency rents in the garage. The cost would continue to be $80 a space a month, or $72,000 a year.

The city previously had locked the post office into a five-year contract when the garage opened in 2008. The commission has yet to schedule a meeting to consider the contract and it was not on last month’s agenda as an action item.

Parking recommendations

A local steering committee worked with Columbus parking consultant Nelson/Nygaard to provide Columbus City Council and Redevelopment Commission with recommendations to fix the downtown parking problems. The committee’s suggestions:

Create paid parking in the core of downtown priced to make spaces available for customers.

Remove time limits on paid parking spaces.

Eliminate restrictions on moving a vehicle between parking spaces.

Provide free, unlimited on-street parking outside of the core area.

Offer more convenient customer-paid parking in the Jackson Street garage.

Consolidate employee parking in the Jackson Street garage.

Establish a Parking Commission to govern, regulate and establish policies for downtown parking.

Develop policies to protect the residential neighborhoods.

Provide a combination of free and permit-required spaces in city-owned lots and garages.

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