Stricter enforcement of downtown parking rules and changes in the two-hour restricted parking times should be in place before the busy winter season begins.
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Transportation Director George Krawzoff said the city wants to shift responsibility for parking enforcement from the police department to the transportation department, which would include hiring new enforcement officers. The department also plans to change restricted two-hour parking times from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to curtail evening-shift downtown employees taking prime parking spots from shoppers and diners.
The parking changes should be in place by early December before the busy holiday season, Krawzoff said.
Parking enforcement is being done through the city's police department, but recently the police department has been short-staffed, and other more pressing issues have taken precedence over parking violations.
"They have a lot of different criminal matters and traffic issues, and parking tends to become a lesser priority. At least making it a transportation function, there is a little more focus on it," Krawzoff said. "It has not been routinely enforced as we would like, and we are going to do better."
By using transportation department employees instead of police officers, Krawzoff also hopes the new employees will serve a double role, enforcing parking and acting as ambassadors for the downtown public area.
The city is working out the details of how to pay for the increased number of parking enforcement officers, Krawzoff said. Funding will come from the existing budget and be augmented by revenue from fines paid on parking tickets.
Parking fines are not expected to increase, Krawzoff said. The first parking ticket costs about $10 and doubles with every subsequent offense.
Ty Lockhart, owner of F.M. Light and a member in the downtown parking focus group, said the increased parking enforcement should help.
"I have always pushed for stricter enforcement," he said.
The city has looked for solutions to the downtown parking problem for years, Krawzoff said, and he believes the community is not ready for paid parking.
"I just don't see the need or support for it," he said.
Instead, he supports stricter enforcement and changes in parking restrictions.
Lockhart said parking downtown can be difficult all day, but it is worse in the evenings. Because the two-hour parking restriction ends at 6 p.m., Lockhart said employees with later shifts use the prime, time-restricted spaces, taking up spaces that are left open in the day for downtown customers.
"(With the restrictions) ending at 6 p.m., it precludes any of the nighttime employees having to worry about parking," Lockhart said.
Krawzoff points to a study done in March 1999 that found employee vehicles account for two-thirds of downtown parking. The study also found that although non-time-restricted public parking areas could accommodate the employee parking, the two-hour restricted parking was being used by employees during peak afternoon hours.
With evening-shift employees parking about 4 p.m., Krawzoff said, when people come to the restaurants for dinner, spaces already are taken.
Parking is not a problem until the lunch hour, Krawzoff said, so it makes more sense that the two-hour parking restrictions should start at 10 a.m. and end at 8 p.m.
The two-hour parking restrictions are mainly along downtown Lincoln Avenue and its side streets and in downtown public parking lots.
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