Parking commission to ask city to go back to time limits on downtown parking

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Columbus’ downtown parking commission wants to end its free parking trial after hearing from some downtown merchants that the experiment has been more of a hindrance than a help.

The Columbus Parking Commission voted Thursday to recommend that the city revert to its previous parking enforcement area and practices downtown. The vote was 4-1, with commission member and Bartholomew County Public Library Director Jason Hatton voting against the action.

In order to become effective, the recommendation will need to be approved by the Columbus Board of Works. Commission member and downtown merchant Jeff Baker, who made the motion, suggested July 1 as a date when the change could go into effect.

In December, the Columbus Board of Works voted to approve the commission’s recommendation that a number of downtown side streets move from three-hour limits to free, all-day parking on a trial basis. This went into effect in mid-January, with city officials saying they would monitor how the change affects parking space availability on Washington Street.

According to Executive Director of Public Works Dave Hayward, the following areas were included in the initial trial: Fourth Street from Jackson to Franklin, Fifth Street from Jackson to Franklin, Sixth Street from Jackson to Franklin and Seventh Street from Jackson to Franklin.

In March, the Board of Works approved another commission recommendation, this time to remove three hour time limits on Jackson Street from Second to Fifth Street on an experimental basis.

The decision to recommend an end to these trial runs and revert the areas to three-hour parking came after a lengthy discussion, in which downtown businesses including YES Cinema and The Cole Apartments, which are both located along Jackson said that removing the limits has worsened their problems with parking availability.

“I never thought I’d get upset about the hour parking getting removed,” said Cole property manager Jenny Baker.

Hayward said that after hearing from The Cole initially, he began checking in on the Second to Third Street block of Jackson at random times and days. There was one week where it was not full, but the rest of the time, it was completely full. He added that the block from Third to Fourth Street was “100% full every day.”

“That was definitely the same cars,” he said. “There are a couple of distinctive cars that you can just tell that it was the same one, and they were there every day.”

Since the commission formed, the issue of downtown employees using up on-street parking in some cases, all day long has been a topic of much discussion.

During Thursday’s meeting, some merchants indicated that this is a problem among Cummins employees in particular, despite the company having a private parking garage and multiple lots. Jenny Baker said that they’ve also had issues with these workers using spaces in the Second Street parking garage that are designated for The Cole instead of the ones that are reserved for Cummins.

“The problem are the Cummins employees, which take advantage of everything that’s there,” said Hatton. “And I just, it’s frustrating because I don’t think any system we’re going to put in place is going to fix anything. We’re just putting jig-saw puzzles around. We’re just moving this to here and this to here and this to here, and we’re not solving the problem. And that’s frustrating.”

For the complete story, see Saturday’s Republic.