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Parking meters saved for last; Committee no closer to decision

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The “elephant in the room,” the possibility of downtown parking meters, made a brief appearance at last Wednesday’s Columbus Parking Committee meeting.

But committee members meeting for the second time came no closer to making a decision on whether to recommend paid parking downtown or continue with the city’s current procedure, timed and monitored spaces.

Instead, they took an approach similar to the old joke about how to eat an elephant. The answer? “One bite at a time.”

The committee agreed at its inaugural meeting March 26 to go through parking recommendations from consultants Nelson/Nygaard one at a time to choose which to pursue. During that meeting, a committee member joked that the parking meter decision felt like the “elephant in the room.”

On April 2, the committee went backwards through the list, leaving the parking-meter issue for last. In the consultant’s parking study, it’s the first recommendation on the list.

The $85,000 downtown parking study recommended paid or metered parking in the downtown core area to free up more parking spaces for customers. This recommendation was also designed to encourage downtown employees to find cheaper parking outside the core district.

Before Nelson/Nygaard submitted its final report, Mayor Kristen Brown asked the consultants to create recommendations for continuing timed monitoring. In past interviews, Brown has said that she is not in favor of moving to parking meters as a first option.

Nelson/Nygaard added a recommendation limiting time in the downtown spaces to 1 to 2 hours, something downtown merchants said isn’t nearly long enough for customers. The consultants said the shorter timed parking approach wouldn’t be as effective as using parking meters in freeing up spots for downtown customers.

Brown then turned over the two options and consultant recommendations to the committee, made up of representatives from the city council, redevelopment commission, Cummins Inc., downtown merchants and downtown restaurants.

Wednesday, the committee agreed to set aside any off-street parking recommendations because of the cost of adding parking lots. Nelson/Nygaard’s estimates for building a parking lot at Lafayette Avenue and Second Street ranged from $517,000 for 188 parking spaces to about $1.1 million for 419 spaces.

The committee then subdivided into groups of two or three, assigning themselves to meet with city department heads about adding on-street parking, adding way-finding signs to tell people where to park, evaluating accessibility for disabled motorists, improving garage management and investing in technology and enforcement. Expanding employee permit parking will also be discussed with redevelopment officials and the police department.

The committee also plans to contact Bloomington officials to evaluate its parking meter installation, which was completed last year.

And then it was back to the recommendation the committee was not sure how to handle, code-named elephant.

Redevelopment Commission member Steven Scgalski said he hesitated to do anything about parking meters as it’s unclear whether the city is willing to go down that path. He added he knows of cities with parking meters that make it work, and those without that make it work. But Scgalski said he’s unsure what Columbus “has the stomach for” when it comes to downtown paid parking.

“It’s almost better taking it off the table because it’s not going to happen,” he said, referring to earlier comments by the mayor and city councilmen indicating other changes should be attempted first.

Councilman Frank Jerome put it succinctly by saying paid parking is fine if it’s there. “But because it’s not there, I don’t want it,” he said.

Retailer Tom Dell reminded the committee that only the downtown core area, about six to eight blocks downtown, would have meters or payment kiosks. The goal would be to change downtown employee behavior from parking in spaces that downtown businesses use for customers and steer them to spots farther away where they would not be charged to park each day.

“If we want the downtown area to keep growing and developing, we’ve got to change things,” Dell said. “At 8 a.m., the downtown spaces are full, and they (visitors) aren’t in our businesses. Those cars are there for the day. The way things are, it’s not working now.”

Downtown parking committee

  • Committee members who are working on the downtown parking study recommendations include:
  • Tom Dell, downtown retailer who headed the local committee working with parking consultants Nelson/Nygaard
  • Columbus City Council members Dascal Bunch and Kenny Whipker
  • Columbus Redevelopment Commission representatives Frank Jerome and Steven Scgalski; Jerome is a city councilman but is representing the redevelopment commission on the committee
  • Cummins Inc. representative Catina Furnish
  • Elaine DeClue, downtown restaurant operator

What’s next

Subcommittee reports will be given at the Columbus Parking Committee’s next meeting at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday

About the study

The parking study by Nelson/Nygaard identified the downtown core area as Washington Street between Second and Fifth streets and Washington between Third and Fourth streets. An additional area of Washington between Fifth and Seventh streets was offered as an option.

One recommendation said the city should have paid parking, at no more than 50 cents per hour, in the core area, with several blocks of free parking surrounding the core.

Nelson/Nygaard said this recommendation would re-educate downtown employees that parking in front of their businesses isn’t good for their employer, because they are taking up customer spaces.

The second option, requested by Mayor Kristen Brown, seeks to have continued timed monitored parking, but lowering the time limits from the three hours in a space currently allowed to one to two hours.

Downtown business and restaurant owners aren’t happy with this recommendation, saying it doesn’t allow enough time for individuals or families to explore downtown activities and eat at restaurants.

Downtown parking spaces

The Nelson Nygaard parking study and a survey of 1,000 Columbus residents last year found that the downtown had 5,831 parking spaces from First to Eighth streets and from Lindsey Street to Lafayette, Pearl and Sycamore streets.

The study contends the city would need only 5,681 parking spaces if all businesses, apartments and stores were using the maximum number of spaces.

The study determined that the most sought-after spaces are filled with downtown business employees, and remaining available parking isn’t being used efficiently or effectively.

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