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Ever feel like you're gambling when you don't feed the parking meter or race through that just-turned-red light?
Now a new website - and soon a smartphone application - will help Baltimore drivers know the odds of receiving a ticket wherever they illegally park their car, run a red light or exceed the speed limit.
SpotAgent.com is the creation of James Schaffer and Shea Frederick, Baltimore computer professionals who are among the first to create a web application using a recently released trove of data on Baltimore - information about everything from parking to crime to property taxes.
In making government data freely available on the Internet, Baltimore is following an emerging national trend among municipalities. Baltimore City officials posted the data in January, and last month a group of about 40 technologists gathered at the city's technology incubator in Canton to try crafting useful applications for the public.
Schaffer, who lives in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood, thought of a citywide parking application for the web because he constantly gets hit with tickets.
"I've just totally gotten whacked with parking tickets," said Schaffer, 29, a senior interface designer at Advertising.com. "My girlfriend yells at me all the time."
Using the city data, Schaffer and Frederick created a web application that allows a user to type in an address and then learn the probability of getting a ticket there. The website can tell you the worst day of the week to park on any given block, as well as the cost of the average citation for parking violations and from red-light and speed cameras.
At the Light Street Pavilion, at 301 Light St. at the Inner Harbor, the most common violation is a red-light camera ticket, which carries a $75 fine. The web application also cautions users to be careful parking there on Tuesdays.
The new app "gives you a threat rating," said Frederick, 34, an independent computer developer who lives in Hampden. "We can look at the history of citations and gauge the likelihood of getting a ticket."
Schaffer and Frederick said they plan to build paid mobile applications for iPhones and Android-powered phones and to expand their coverage to other cities, including Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.
Whether web developers can use the city data to make applications that bring in revenue is still unknown. Baltimore officials released the data without providing terms of service to guide developers seeking to create applications for for-profit ventures.
Baltimore's law department is crafting guidelines for how developers could use the data in such ventures, said Rico Singleton, Baltimore's chief information officer.
Frederick said he would rather charge a small fee for a mobile app than make money by selling advertisements in a free app. App stores for iPhone and Google Android-powered phones have thousands of free apps filled with advertising.
"We're not into the whole ad thing - ads are kind of creepy," Frederick said. "I don't like to see ads on my phone."
Motorcyclists have packed a courtroom for their latest legal battle to block on-street parking fees in the heart of London.
The "No To Bike Parking Tax" campaign (NTBPT) is asking the Court of Appeal to overturn a High Court decision backing £1-a-day charges introduced by Westminster City Council.
Passing traffic honked support as scores of bikes were lined up outside the Royal Courts of Justice in a demonstration at the start of the hearing.
The British Motorcyclists Federation has urged motorcyclists all over the country to support the legal action.
It fears that if the Westminster decision stands it could signal the end for free parking for motorcyclists all over the country. The Westminster on-street parking charge scheme was made permanent in January 2010 following a pilot scheme begun in August 2008.
The rates run from £1 a day up to £100 for an annual permit. There are still free motorcycle parking bays in council car parks and a residents' permits scheme operates. The council says there are almost 900 free spaces in car parks across the city.
On Monday Philip Coppel QC argued on the bike campaigners' behalf that the city council had taken a legally flawed and "fundamentally wrong" approach, and the High Court had "erred in its analysis" of the situation.
Outside court, Cllr Lee Rowley, the council's cabinet member for parking, said: "We have always maintained that, with huge demand for on-street space in Westminster, charging motorcyclists a small sum to park was reasonable and fair and the decision has been rigorously scrutinised, open to widespread public debate and tested in the High Court.
"This case has cost local taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees and staff time and we had hoped the earlier ruling would draw a line under the issue. However, we remain confident that the scheme has been implemented correctly and the court will dismiss this challenge in due course."
The charges impose a £1-a-day fee, or £3.50 a week, £13.50 a month, £33.50 for three months or £100 a year.
For some, it's an all too familiar feeling. Your stomach sinks, and your head jerks frantically from right to left as your hand clutches the keys to a vehicle that is nowhere in sight. Your car has been towed. But you're not alone.
Chapel Hill police, parking enforcement and towing companies are pursuing similar strategies in an effort to curb illegal parking in the Chapel Hill area.
Jaffey Barnes, president of Barnes Auto & Towing Inc., said his company doesn't tow vehicles on private property unless he receives authorization from clients to do so.
When he does, he uses wheel lifts and tire dollies to lift vehicles off the ground to be towed.
"When the car rolls down the road, it rolls down on the dolly tires," Barnes said. "The only thing we touch on the car is the rubber of the tire."
Owners of lots where towing is enforced are required by law to provide signs that include towing company contact information in the event their vehicles are towed.
Flora Parrish, records supervisor for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said some companies who own parking lots conduct predatory towing, in which tow-truck operators sit and watch customers park before towing.
Parrish said predatory towing is not illegal.
"If the signs are there, then it's a legal tow," Parrish said.
Chapel Hill Parking Superintendent Brenda Jones said the majority of cars her department tows are from expired meter violations, which cost $15.
Other common violations include illegally parking in handicap spaces or no-parking zones, Jones said.
The town uses three parking enforcement officers to control parking downtown. They work six days a week with staggered shifts from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and are paid at an hourly rate with a starting salary of about $27,000.
The town has issued almost 10,000 parking tickets since July and issued 17,000 tickets in 2010 alone.
"In the past, the majority of people we've hired have had security or military background, but this is not a prerequisite," Jones said.
Chapel Hill police use stickers to track cars they suspect to be abandoned and select cars to monitor based on resident calls.
Parrish said a vehicle is considered abandoned in Chapel Hill if it is parked in the same place on town property for more than 48 hours.
"Even if it's in front of your house, it has to be moved so we can tell that it's been moved," she said.
Despite the 48-hour rule, Parrish said police usually give drivers a seven-day grace period to claim their vehicles before they go to the town's impound lot.
Impounded cars can be retrieved only by going to the police department at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Violators whose vehicles are towed must pay a parking ticket, towing fee and storage fees for the impound lot.
The town also uses a residential parking permit program to curtail transient parking and allow residents to park on streets where parking is either prohibited or difficult.
If a homeowner lives in one of the program's 16 designated zones, he or she would need to bring a valid motor vehicle registration card, driver's license, lease agreement or other proof of home ownership and exhibit a need for parking.
It's not the money, it's the principle.
That's what's going through our heads as several dozen of us sit in Room 402 of the District Court of Maryland in downtown Silver Spring. Frankly, we may not be that principled, but given the chance to rail against injustice, we grab it.
Judge J. Michael Conroy Jr. calls a name and a 50-ish gentleman with a salt-and-pepper beard rises and approaches His Honor. Like most of us, the gentleman isn't sure what to respond when asked whether he pleads guilty or not guilty.
Can we plead "guilty with an explanation?" Apparently we can.
The man offers his explanation. "I was at the dentist," he begins. "I'd put 75 cents in the meter."
But 75 cents wasn't enough, for at some point in the treatment, the dentist noted troubling signs of gingivitis. A scaling procedure was deemed prudent.
"I need to feed the meter," the man told the dentist.
But before he had a chance to, he felt the jab of a Novocain-filled needle. Don't worry, said the dental hygienist, I'll do it. The man pulled some change from his pocket.
"I told her it was the first car," he tells the judge. You guessed it: parking ticket.
A uniformed parking enforcement officer confirms that the meter was expired and a ticket was issued.
The judge mulls. Who bears responsibility when a dental hygienist feeds the wrong meter? Or perhaps she fed the right meter and the ticket-writer made a mistake?
The judge announces his decision: The parking ticket will be knocked down to $20, plus $22.50 in court costs. As the original parking ticket was $45, the man just took half a day off work to save himself $2.50.
But it's not the money . . .
"I can't make my husband walk a whole block," says a woman, explaining to the judge how her husband suffers from a severe head injury and uses a walker. She had to park in a no-parking zone to help him up to their apartment. When she returned: ticket.
The judge waives the fine and orders her to pay $22.50 in court costs.
"I told him I was getting money for the meter," says a man who didn't have any coins on him and ran to a restaurant to get a quarter just as a parking enforcement officer walked up.
"The rules state that once you get to the registration on the vehicle, you may finish the ticket," the parking officer says. "I had passed the registration, so I finished the ticket."
The judge waives the fine and orders the man to pay $22.50 in court costs.
When I hear my name called, I rise and explain that I was taking my daughter to the eye doctor on a rainy day in November. The meter I parked at stopped registering time after my first quarter. I hurriedly jotted a note and stuck it on my windshield. I got a ticket anyway.
The judge knocks the fine down to $10, plus court costs.
Then, drama: Al Pacino from "And Justice for All" launches into a tirade.
"They assume we're going to pay it," he says loudly. "It's a tax. It's unfair. It seems like they're getting a commission. I'd really like to know if they're getting a commission, your honor."
It isn't really Al Pacino. It's a man who found two tickets on his car in downtown Bethesda: one written by a police officer for parking too close to an intersection, another written 20 minutes later by a parking officer for the same offense.
"I'd love to know why I got this ticket on top of the other ticket," he exclaims.
The judge reduces the fine to $20 plus court costs.
"It's not about the money," the man says. "It never was."
About 4 p.m., Judge Conroy comes to the end of the day's parking ticket docket. He rubs his eyes wearily. Laquondra Shaw approaches the bailiff. Her name wasn't called, she says. Yes it was, says the bailiff.
I think I would know if my name was called, Laquondra says. The judge tells her she can request a new date.
"No," says Laquondra, bridling, almost on the verge of tears. "I'll pay it."
I catch up with her outside the courtroom. She's a law student at American University. "More than anything, I would have loved to have gotten a chance to talk," Laquondra says. "I'm so upset."
We hurry across the street, to the county-run garage where we're parked.
"I just hope I don't have a ticket for waiting all this time," she says.
The Calgary Parking Authority is forging ahead with a review of parking in the city's downtown and will also look at the prospect of returning some of its revenue to local business revitalization zones.
The recommendations come in two reports that will be heading to a city committee next week and flow from work done in the wake of a damning consultant's report on the authority last year.
Downtown parking has been a perennial complaint for some, who say there are not enough short-term spaces and it's too expensive.
"There's always give and take on it," said Maggie Schofield, with the Calgary Downtown Association. "Obviously, free parking is not the answer, but some sort of measured ability to be able to find parking easily and adequately and then fair payment for the times that you're there."
Last year's report by Western Management Consultants also recommended diverting five to eight per cent of parking revenue generated in business revitalization zones into a special fund for those groups.
The parking authority will investigate the proposal, likely next year. Schofield believes revenue from parking should be invested back into the area it is being generated from.
"Why wouldn't that money be re-invested, either into the infrastructure itself in the downtown, for instance, or into things like transit, which alleviates a lot of the traffic problems in the first place," she said.
One alderman who sits on the parking authority board said the organization's tone is changing, but that such a culture shift can be challenging.
"We are moving to more of a model of providing service," Ald. Gael MacLeod said.
The owners of the Northern Hotel and parking garage in downtown Billings have agreed to sell the garage and land to the city, which would tear it down and build a modern 500-to-700 car garage with retail stores along the north side of Montana Avenue.
Greg Krueger, development director of the Downtown Billings Partnership, said the potential deal was struck Thursday with the owners, Mike and Chris Nelson.
"The Nelsons have agreed to sell the building for the appraisal price and have agreed to let us build a park garage and possibly lease back their 187 parking spots," Krueger said.
First, though, the city needs to buy two more properties: the Empire Bar parking lot and the office building that was originally the Windsor Hotel on the corner of Montana and North 27th Street. Bill Honaker, who owns Walkers Grill, has options to buy the Windsor and Empire properties and has agreed to sell those to the city.
The Nelsons, who have invested nearly $10 million of their own money into buying and restoring the 160-room Northern Hotel, ran out of money last fall after gutting the building. They had a staff of about six working through the winter and plan on investing money from the sale of the garage into the hotel.
For four months, Chris Nelson has said they have been close to closing loans worth another $20 million, but banks are skittish after the recession.
"It's been the longest financing I've ever had to go through, but we're still working on the right mixture," Nelson said. "We do have financing tentatively lined up and we're trying to get that finalized, including the working capital for the first year."
The total project would cost between $12 million and $14 million, Krueger said, with a maximum of $10 million coming from a bond sale.
The new five-story building, tentatively called the Empire Parking Garage, would run the length of Montana Avenue between North 27th Street and North 28th Street. Private developers would own 18,000 square feet of retail space on the street level.
"There are three reasons for doing that. To offset the costs, stimulate new development in that area and to make up about a 500-car deficit in the downtown," Krueger said.
The public-private model was used successfully to build a parking garage in Bozeman, he said.
Buying and tearing down the properties would cost about $3.1 million, about $1 million in parking funds and $1.5 million from the North 27th Street Tax Increment Financing district.
"That is very significant, but when you are in a downtown as urbanized as ours is, land is very valuable," Krueger said.
Kruger hopes to have a final proposal ready for the March 28 City Council meeting.
"We probably wouldn't start knocking anything down until next spring, and then it would be an 18-month construction schedule," he said.
Billings Public Works Director Dave Mumford said the boarded-up sidewalks around the Northern have become an issue because people walk unsafely into the street. He said the city recently asked the Nelsons to spend about $2,000 to install a boardwalk with a roof to protect pedestrians and they said they didn't have the money.
Mike Nelson said he is trying to work out a deal with the city but said the cost of the sidewalk changes could eventually be as high as $75,000 and would have to be reversed when work resumes in full. The year-long permit to close the sidewalk is still good, he added.
The city has two appraisals on the garage. The first is for $800,000 and the second ranges from $900,000 to $1.2 million. When a third appraiser finalizes a price, the city can pay only $10,000 above that figure.
That won't be enough money because the appraisals come in so artificially low in Billings, said Mike Nelson, who is managing the construction project and will run the hotel. Downtown Billings has only two private parking garages: the Northern and the former Hart-Albin. The city owns four and heavily subsidizes the prices, where monthly parking can run $30 to $40, he said.
A hotel without parking is no business at all.
"We're trying to structure the deal with the Northern being guaranteed parking to the tune of 187 spaces, which is what I have now," Mike Nelson said.
The property taxes are current. The Nelsons paid $139,501 on Nov. 29 for the local taxes due on the hotel and garage.
In a surprise bid two years ago at a foreclosure sale, the Nelsons, who are Billings natives, bought the debt-ridden and empty Northern.
Mike Nelson worked in the hotel and casino industry in Las Vegas, Nev. Chris Nelson lives in Bozeman and owns 21 companies, making his first fortune at Zoot Enterprises, which conducts instant credit checks.
Mike Nelson said completing a "gorgeous hotel" in this part of downtown will spur development, and he complimented the City Council and Krueger for their efforts.
"The better the business, the more taxes, the bigger the tax base and then we can have better services in Billings," Nelson said.
The new Tom Green County library will have a host of new features to be enjoyed, if you can find parking.
The Commissioners Court at its Tuesday meeting agreed to let the city of San Angelo use its parking lot in the back of the Edd B. Keyes building as the city prepares to renovate the run-down parking garage behind the new library building.
"It's going to be a problem," Larry Justiss, the library director, said about parking.
Justiss said the current library draws about 1,000 visitors every day, and he is expecting more for the various attractions the new library will have.
The library, scheduled for a grand opening April 4, will include a cafe, a new section for teenagers, a used bookstore and a conference room that has standing room for 540 people, or dinners for more than 100 and lecture space for about 250.
"If you have an event with 540 people, that means you're going to have about 539 cars," Justiss said.
He said the conference room already has booked events, such as dinners to thank donors.
Justiss said the first two of the parking garage's four floors will be dedicated to the library, giving about 85 parking spots in addition to street-level parking.
"The building was worthless without parking," Justiss said about one of the reasons the Hemphill-Wells Building was chosen: its proximity to the parking garage.
The top two floors are to be reserved for the city and those who park at the Spur Building, which connects to the parking garage.
David Knapp, the construction manager for the city, said the renovation will cost from $1.5 million to $2 million.
"We've done a set of drawings to do a phase one, to get the structure up and running," Knapp said. "Funding is the biggest question."
Knapp said the city came into possession of the building for tax reasons, although it had been built for the Spur office building.
Knapp said the lowest floors are open to parking for anyone, that all of the leases have been ended, and the top three floors have been closed off.
"The city came to the commissioners court, planning on rehabbing that as a parking garage," County Judge Mike Brown said. "They're closing floors so they can start working on it."
Brown said the county will lets the city reserve about 20 parking spots at the back of the Keyes building.
Knapp said a major part of the rehabilitation will be to remove from the top of the building an air conditioning unit that has created structural issues and spilled chemicals into the building.
"It becomes a lengthy and expensive endeavor," Knapp said about the cleaning.
Knapp said the building must be brought to code with a stairwell, a way to get down other than the ramps cars travel on. Additionally, corrosion has taken entire steps out of the stairwell, leaving rusty gaps. Elsewhere electrical wires are exposed where lighting used to be.
Knapp said the building may also need to be reinforced in areas since today's cars are often bigger and heavier than those around when the garage was built.
Justiss said when the building is finished, the library will help pay for the regular maintenance.
"We knew when we began we would need more than street level (parking)," Justiss said.
The Winnipeg Parking Authority is asking the city to approve an increase in fines for parking violations at metered spaces.
The fines for people who go over time or are parked improperly at meters would go up to $60, a hike of $10 to $20, depending on the type of ticket.
The parking authority also wants to change the time that paying for metered parking begins, from 9 a.m. to 8 a.m.
The recommendations will go before a city committee next week.
The Winnipeg Parking Authority reports more than 166,000 parking tickets were issued in 2010, up from 150,000 in 2009. More than a quarter of those tickets were parking-meter related, while over 20 per cent were for parking in no-stopping or no-parking zones. Another 15 per cent were issued for overtime parking when there are residential restrictions.
It is expected that parking tickets from 2010 will bring in more than $6.5 million in revenue to the parking authority.
Drivers lost almost £60million last year by failing to appeal against unfair parking tickets, according to a survey.
In 2010, around 5 per cent of motorists in the UK received a parking ticket where they had grounds for appeal, paying out an estimated £58.5million, the poll by car insurer LV found.
Of these, only 22 per cent bothered to contest the ticket but of those who did, 88 per cent were successful in their claim.
More than half (53 per cent) who chose not to appeal said they assumed they would lose, while 8 per cent did not know how to initiate a claim.
The poll of 2,003 adults, including 1,728 drivers, showed that
the majority of unfair parking fines are issued in areas were
parking signage is unclear.
A total of 2 per cent of drivers said parking attendants had fabricated evidence to support the issuing of a ticket.
Nearly half (49 per cent) of tickets issued unfairly are given out on public roads, while 10 per cent are issued in car parks of public buildings managed by local councils, including libraries, hospitals and doctors' surgeries.
Also, 182,000 tickets issued unfairly last year came from unregulated private parking operators.
As many as 10 per cent of motorists given an unfair ticket on privately-owned land said they had been threatened with court proceedings or debt recovery action if they did not pay up.
The average cost paid by motorists given a ticket in unfair
circumstances was £42.
LV said London councils took the most money per parking penalty issued, with Camden in north London averaging £78.
Outside London, Poole Council in Dorset averaged £66 per ticket. South Gloucestershire took the least money - at just £10 per ticket.
LV car insurance managing director John O'Roarke said: 'It's shocking to see motorists paying out millions every year in unfair parking tickets, particularly at a time when soaring fuel costs are already putting a huge strain on drivers.
'It is vital that the appeals process is communicated clearly in all tickets, penalty notices and subsequent documentation to ensure drivers are aware of their right to contest a fine they feel is unjustified.'
Students React to Athlete
Exclusive Parking Lot
Susan Gager / KEZI 9News
March 10, 2011
View Video News Story
The University of Oregon is building a new parking lot almost exclusively for student athletes, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually supports the lot. The university already issues more parking passes than there are parking spaces available on campus.
Once upon a time, the Jaqua Athlete Center was a parking lot, as was the Matthew Knight Arena. While there are no official numbers showing how the newer buildings affected parking near UO, parking has always been a challenge and students aren't thrilled about another exclusive athlete facility.
"I love my ducks a lot, but sometimes I feel like my ducks get favored more than this duck," said UO Student Nathan Campeau.
"They do deserve to have their own facilities and their own parking, but with parking such a pain around here, sometimes it is kind of frustrating for us regular students," said UO Student Taylor Schmidt.
In defense of the student athlete lot, university administrators say they are required by the NCAA to provide academic support services for their athletes. They say the new parking lot is consistent with that mandate. Administrators say athletes can only park in the lot, freeing up more spaces on the core of campus.
Parking revenues for Dayton International Airport are up by nearly 15 percent from a year ago, with the airport's new parking garage considered a major contributor to the results.
Through the end of February, total parking revenues stood at $1,816,291, up from $1,585,270.25 a year earlier, a 14.6 percent increase, airport spokeswoman Linda Hughes said.
Revenue from the parking garage boosted the results, offering customers protected parking during winter weather in comparison with the airport's uncovered parking lots, said Stanley Earley, Dayton's deputy city manager.
City officials opened the $37 million, three-level parking garage - the airport's first one - last summer in front of the terminal building.
In another project, a contractor has begun removing asbestos from the old Dayton Airport Hotel prior to the building's demolition to make room for a parking lot. Airport officials are awaiting a report from parking consultant Carl Walker Inc., of Peachtree City, Ga., to determine what rates will be charged for use of the new parking lot.
Boise State is among the first honorees in the League of American Bicyclists' new Bicycle Friendly Universities program. Announced this week at the League's National Bike Summit in Washington D.C., the new awards program recognize colleges and universities that create exceptional environments where bicycling can thrive and provide a roadmap and technical assistance to create great campuses for bicycling.
"With fuel costs and carbon emissions on the rise and cities becoming more and more congested and unhealthy, now is the time for universities to step forward," said Boise State President Bob Kustra. "From our groundbreaking research on renewable energy to this outstanding recognition of our efforts to promote and support alternative transportation, Boise State is proud to be among those setting an example for the future."
Universities received awards in platinum, gold, silver and bronze categories. Stanford University took the only platinum-level award, with UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara taking gold. There also were nine silver winners and eight bronze, including Boise State, Cornell, Emory, Indiana University, Michigan State, UC Los Angeles, University of Maryland College Park and University of North Carolina Greensboro. Ten universities received honorable mentions.
"Universities have long served as incubators for developing bike-friendly cultures and practices, and that has a big impact on the expectations that students bring to the workplace and beyond," said Bill Nesper, director of the League's Bicycle Friendly America Program. "With the launch of the Bicycle Friendly Universities program, we're able to highlight the crucial role that academic institutions play in shaping a more bike-friendly future."
Among Boise State's winning bike-friendly attributes are:
■More than 1,000 official spaces to park bikes on campus and an
online map for users
■A new Bike Barn in the Brady Parking Garage (another is planned for the Lincoln Annex) with the capacity to store 65 bikes on special racks in a gated, weather-protected area
■Bike Barn in the Kinesiology Annex with the capacity to store 50 bikes
■Bike Corral that encourages football fans to ride to Bronco Stadium and take advantage of valet and security services
■Free compressed air station
■Cycle Learning Center resources ranging from workshops on basic mechanics to products such as tubes and slime
■Showers, lockers and towels available post-ride in the Campus Recreation Center
■Annual Community Bicycle Congress
In its seventh year, Boise State's Community Bicycle Congress seeks to engage the university and greater community in an open forum, where local concerns can meet global knowledge about alternative transportation. The 2011 event will take place April 20-21 and feature workshops presented by Bill Nesper of the League of American Bicyclists. The workshops will offer hands-on technical assistance to help community organizations achieve recognition as Bicycle Friendly Businesses.
"We live in a bicycle friendly community where many businesses and agencies deserve recognition," said Bicycle Congress founder George Knight, who recruited the local 2011 honorees, REI and Healthwise, to apply. "I hope these workshops motivate other businesses to participate. This is a community engagement project that could result in an interesting expression of community values."
Knight, who teaches in the Department of Philosophy and commutes by bike, played a lead role in putting together Boise State's application for the Bicycle Friendly Universities program, along with Geoff Harrison in Campus Recreation and JC Porter, John Daurer and Casey Jones in the Transportation Department. Porter chairs a newly formed Bicycle Advisory Committee helping the university implement its Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Master Plan, adopted in 2010.
"Being recognized by the League of American Bicyclists is both an end point and a starting place," Knight said. "Lots of people share the passion that I have for bicycling, and their efforts over time have helped shape the supportive environment at Boise State. Our job now is to begin advancing to the next level."
The League of American Bicyclists promotes bicycling for fun, fitness and transportation, and works through advocacy and education for a bicycle-friendly America. The League represents the interests of America's 57 million bicyclists, including its 300,000 members and affiliates.
The Virgin Islands Public Works Department hopes that by October 2012 it can start tearing down Zora's Sandals, the St. Thomas Federal Credit Union and a former police command station to make room for a multi-level, mixed-use parking garage at the Fort Christian lot, Commissioner Darryl Smalls said Tuesday.
Smalls spoke to V.I. Senate Finance Committee members, who unanimously agreed to forward a bill that will allow Public Works to work with a private entity on designing and building the facility. Under the bill, the project can be no more than three stories in height.
"If downtown is going to be revitalized, one of the components of any revitalization must be safe and adequate parking," Finance Committee chairman Sen. Carlton Dowe said.
The new facility should "more than double" the existing parking lot's capacity of about 350 spaces, Dowe said. Reached by phone after the meeting, Smalls was less certain that would be possible.
"Ideally I would love to double the capacity, but the design will dictate the number of spaces," Smalls said.
Downtown Revitalization's David Bornn said his group of nearly 30 businesses, trade organizations and nonprofits supports the plan.
"We have 100 percent ... " Bornn paused, then added: "500 percent driven support on this issue."
The project is in its earliest stages, but Smalls provided committee members with some details on how he wants the finished structure to look and operate. Smalls wants the new facility's exterior to resemble downtown's historic facades, he said. It should be more than a parking garage, and it could potentially contain businesses displaced by the construction, office spaces or public rest rooms, he said.
The intention is to keep the existing parking lot as open and undeveloped as possible, so that Carnival activities can still be hosted there, Smalls said.
"We are trying not to reduce it," Smalls said. "But if there is any reduction, it is going to be minimized."
That means the new garage will be constructed along Norre Gade and Hospital Line, Smalls said. It will encompass the northeast corner of the current parking area, as well as the area currently occupied by Zora's, the command station and the credit union, Smalls said.
Smalls told commissioners that he has spoken with credit union representatives who expressed interest in relocating.
"We recognize the fact that there are established businesses there," Smalls said.
Now, Smalls said after the meeting, he will initiate conversations with the other potentially affected parties. Smalls did not give details on what other businesses in the area might be affected.
Zora Galvin, the owner of Zora's Sandals, did not wish to comment.
V.I. Police Department spokeswoman Melody Rames said the department-affiliated structure under consideration for demolition has not been used for some time.
Public Works will put out a request for qualifications to design, build and operate the facility, Smalls said.
As the landowner, the V.I. government would lease the area to the company for a predetermined point of time. During that time, the private entity and the government would have a revenue-sharing arrangement, Smalls said. Once the set term ends, the facility would belong to the V.I. government, Smalls said.
Smalls already has received numerous unsolicited proposals from vendors who have done projects like this one "all over the world," he said.
On average, the Fort Christian parking lot earns about $260,000 a year, Dowe said.
The current Public Parking Lot Fund for St. Thomas contains about $500,000, which can be used only for parking lot repairs and service, Smalls said. Under the bill discussed Tuesday, the Senate would reprogram that money to the V.I. Public Finance Authority so it could make the parking deck project happen.
Smalls asked the committee to take the Public Finance Authority out of the bill, so that his department could directly handle the money itself.
Dowe agreed to make that revision before forwarding the bill to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
The San Diego City Council on Tuesday passed a plan that will allow community groups-especially those in Hillcrest-to have a say in how much metered parking costs in their areas.
The goal of the plan is to tailor prices to the communities in a way that encourages people to park at the meters, city officials said, emphasizing that the main purpose is not to raise parking rates. City officials estimate that the new plan could add $1 million in revenue to the $7.4 million meters currently bring in each year.
The plan passed 5-2, which Councilman Carl DeMaio, who represents Rancho Bernardo in District 5, and Councilwoman Sherri Lightner dissenting. Councilwoman Marti Emerald was not present.
Currenty, the utilization rate at the city's 5,500 or so parking meters is 37 percent, but officials want that figure up to 85 percent. Under the plan, meter rates would change based on the location and time of day through the use of high-tech meters with flexible pricing systems. Parking now costs $1.25 per hour at city meters, two-thirds of which are downtown. Most of the rest are north of downtown and in Hillcrest.
The plan would give officials the ability to set meter rates from 25 cents to $2.50 cents per hour, depending on location and time of day, and extend the hours when drivers are charged to park. Right now, meters are enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but the plan would provide officials the option of extending the hours until 11 p.m. and adding Sundays.
A small committee overseeing the construction of a parking deck at North Lumpkin and West Washington streets is narrowing in on a name for the 520-space, $17 million structure.
A couple of the top contenders they've considered: the Theater District Deck (in recognition of Georgia Theatre, Morton Theatre and nearby Ciné) or Ben Epps Deck (since the aviator first took flight a few feet away).
"We are still open on the name though," Kathryn Lookofsky, director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority, told the group's board Tuesday.
When ADDA officials solicited suggestions on Facebook, they didn't get many serious submissions, Lookofsky said.
Instead, committee members have been reviewing the history and people of the area, looking for a name that recognizes the history of the area or purpose of the district.
They've not stumbled on anything perfect, yet.
Some historical names are already taken - the Athens airport is named for Epps - and some other options may confuse first time visitors, board members said. For instance, people driving into Athens for a show at the Classic Center Theater might park several blocks away at the new deck.
"(The name) needs to be very descriptive, so people know where they are going," said Erica Cascio, who sits on the board and co-owns Square One Fish Co.
The deck - which has risen to three stories on its Washington Street side - should be complete by Aug. 31, said Ken Crellen, the project manager for Athens-Clarke County, allowing the committee a few more weeks to settle on a recommendation and send it to commissioners.
Meanwhile, Batson-Cook, the Atlanta firm that is investing $6 million in the project and will market retail and office space, has lined up some tenants.
Waffle House and Momma Goldberg's Deli, which has four restaurants in Auburn, Ala., reportedly have signed to go on the ground floor, while a software company is taking office space on the top floor, board members said.
An alert parking authority employee helped nab a man suspected of stealing from hundreds of vehicles in Lancaster city and in Manheim and East Lampeter townships, police said.
Police arrested Richard Anthony Garcia-Flores, a 24-year-old homeless man, city police said. He was charged with stealing four vehicles and trying to steal two others.
It also is estimated that Garcia-Flores entered more than 500 vehicles since December in Lancaster city and Manheim and East Lampeter townships, police said. He allegedly stole electronic devices from many of them.
It appears that all of the vehicles were unlocked, and no force was used to gain entry, police said.
"If this individual was responsible for this many in such a short time span, that would probably be a record," city police Lt. Todd Umstead said. "This just shows how one individual, or a small group of people, can be responsible for a major spike in crime."
City police investigated the theft of a 2003 Buick Century from the Prince Street Parking Garage, 111 N Prince St., at about 8:30 p.m. on March 3, police said.
A Lancaster Parking Authority employee said he had seen a person driving the vehicle in the garage, police said.
The employee located the vehicle in the garage, and the driver was still behind the wheel, police said. The driver was identified as Garcia-Flores.
The Lancaster City Police Auto Theft Unit had been investigating Garcia-Flores as a suspect in a previous theft of a 2003 Toyota Camry, police said. The car was stolen from the area of the Lancaster Amtrak train station, 55 McGovern Ave., between Jan. 27 and 29.
Detectives from the auto theft unit interviewed Garcia-Flores and as a result, Detective Heather Halstead charged Garcia-Flores with four counts of theft by unlawful taking a motor vehicle; two counts of criminal attempt of theft by unlawful taking a motor vehicle; possessing instruments of crime; and criminal mischief, police said.
Garcia-Flores stole a 2000 Volkswagen near King Buffet, 2495 Lincoln Highway East, in East Lampeter Township, on Dec. 21, police said. He also allegedly stole a Toyota Rav4 from the 300 block of North Water Street on Jan. 1.
Garcia-Flores also tried to steal a Mazda 626 and a second Toyota Rav4 from the Prince Street Parking Garage on March 2 or 3, police said.
After being unable to start the second Toyota Rav4, Garcia-Flores spray-painted the interior of the vehicle with blue paint to try to destroy evidence, police said.
The investigation is ongoing, and more charges are likely, police said.
Garcia-Flores specifically targeted parking garages and parking lots while committing thefts from vehicles, police said. He would try to locate unlocked vehicles and remove electronic devices that were left in the vehicle.
Thirty percent to 50 percent of the vehicles entered contained an electronic device such as an iPod, GPS unit, laptop computer or cell phone, police said. Garcia-Flores would steal vehicles if he could find a key for the vehicle inside it, according to police.
"Citizens need to be more careful about locking their doors and removing their valuables," Umstead said.
Police ask anyone who had an electronic device stolen from a vehicle in a city parking garage between December and March and who did not file a report with police to come forward. Victims also may call the auto theft unit at 735-3301.
Garcia-Flores was arraigned on Friday before District Judge Bruce Roth and was committed to Lancaster County Prison in lieu of $100,000 cash bail, police said.
City parking revenue is up 20 percent from last year already, and Easton wants to continue the upward financial trend by adding more metered parking in the city.
City officials Tuesday they will temporarily add about 66 parking spots on South Third Street this summer after the demolition of the former Perkins restaurant and Marquis Theatre.
City employees will park there instead of the city parking deck for the summer, and the site will also have between 25 and 50 metered spots for the public as well, City Administrator Glenn Steckman said at Tuesday's city council workshop.
The city will lease the Perkins site from the city parking authority for $1 for this year only, Steckman said.
"By the following summer, it should be a construction site," he said. The location is to be the home of the Easton Intermodal Transit Center.
By adding more meters, the city hopes to increase parking revenue by 15 percent. Steckman said the city could also extend the current 2-hour limit on many of its meters to three hours.
Meanwhile, the city's first 'gang meter' may be tried later this year in the city's South Third Street parking lot near Pine Street, said Mayor Sal Panto. The meter will take payments for the entire lot and will also accept paper bills, credit and debit cards for payment, he said. If it is successful, similar meters may monitor other appropriate city parking lots, or even currently individually metered city blocks, officials said.
Officials also plan to finally install parking meters on Union Street near the Northampton County Courthouse. Their plannned placement has been delayed due to construction and about 30 to 35 new meters will be installed, they said.
Free parking for the city's river park goers is likely to end too, as Panto said spots adjacent to Riverside and Scott Parks will be metered to prevent non-park-goers from taking advantage of the situation any longer.
"It's the only free parking in the city and it's not fair to the people who are paying," Panto said.
Officials plan to spend about $30,000 on new parking enforcement equipment this year in total, much of it on new 'smart meter' technology. An additional $1,000 will be spent to rent a machine to reprogram existing smart meters to reflect the proposed new 3-hour time limit, the city administrator said.
"The difference with the smart meter system is that it's an information system as well. It tells us where there are large swaths of parking spots that are going unpaid," Steckman said, adding the new meters even know when money was deposited and can send that information to the city. The smart meters cut down on 'civilian complaints', and also allow the city to ensure meter enforcement personnel are doing their jobs, he said.
Currently, the city has about 986 metered parking spaces with six part-time parking enforcement officials on staff. Metered parking revenue generates an estimated $360,000 for the city's general fund annually, and about $500,000 in parking fines of all sorts, not just overtime parking, are taken in by the city in an average year, Steckman said. Enforcement, which is paid for by the city's general fund, costs about $110,000 per year.
Despite the amount generated by fines, Steckman said the city is not dependent on that income.
"I don't balance a budget based on fines," he said. "We'd rather people feed the meters like they're supposed to."
An ad hoc parking task force made up of city officials and representatives from the business community is scheduled to meet on March 21 at 9 a.m. in the mayor's conference room to make recommendations for changes to city parking regulations to city council.
Steckman said the committee will only discuss a change in meter time-limits at the meeting.
"It will remain at 50 cents (per hour)," he said of most metered parking locations in the city. "We are allowed to take it up to a dollar around the courthouse, but that's not been decided yet."
Not satisfied with the names of downtown Appleton's parking ramps? Here's your chance to suggest new ones.
The city is holding a contest to rename the city's four ramps, currently known as City Center, East, Midtown and Washington St. Citizens can submit ideas on the city's website.
The city says winning entries will receive a $50 pre-paid parking card and $50 Appleton Downtown Inc. gift card.
The submission deadline is April 4. The winning names are scheduled to
Mary Anne Servian loved the view out of her seventh floor condo on Main Street - particularly at night, when the downtown lights subtly illuminate Sarasota Bay.
But now, that serene cityscape has been replaced by what she and her neighbors have described as the harsh glow of "a giant computer monitor that dropped down from space."
The cause: lights from Sarasota's new $12 million parking garage on Palm Avenue, which opened Dec. 31 and sits adjacent to several luxury downtown condominiums.
While neighbors applaud the garage aesthetics and convenience, at least two condo associations have complained of separate lighting issues that they say affect their quality of life.
Residents at the Plaza at Five Points condos said a flood light was pointing directly in their windows. The city resolved that last month by redirecting the light.
But the garage's overall brightness - the problem for Servian and her neighbors at 1350 Main St. - may be harder to fix, thanks in part to the city's choice to use energy efficient, but incredibly bright, LED lights.
City employees on March 16 are expected to see the problem first hand from a few 1350 Main balconies. Servian said the entire Main Street side of the building, some 50 units, is affected.
"I have faith in the city to fix this," said Servian, former mayor of Sarasota. "Part of it is that we were all used to total darkness in that corner of the city. But the garage is noticeably brighter than any other light source."
Each floor of the six-story garage has 30 overhead light clusters with at least 15 LEDs in each cluster. The rooftop has eight clusters shining down from four tall poles. That makes about 570 individual bulbs that shine too bright to look at directly for more than a few seconds.
City project manager Mary Ellen Maurer said a fix could be as simple as removing a few bulbs or adding light-diffusing lenses, although adding dimmers could be costly.
However, she is waiting for engineers to perform light measurements to see how much the lights can be dimmed, if at all, to stay within safety codes.
"Safety has to be first for the people utilizing the parking garage," Maurer said. "You don't want to create bright spots and shadows - that's worse than not having any light at all."
Maurer said one issue is that the LEDs give off a cooler, whiter glow than the warmer, softer high-pressure sodium lights typically used in street and flood lights. The LEDs were chosen to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green certification standards.
The city added large aluminum sails to the longest side of the garage, facing Palm Avenue, as an aesthetic feature and also to block overhead lights and car headlights from bleeding out.
However, those sails are not on the side facing 1350 Main because they would prevent natural light from coming in and would require more overhead lights and a loss of the green certification, Maurer said.
Not everyone who lives in the area feels the lights are too intrusive, however.
Ben and Nancy Meluskey live in Bay Plaza, directly across the street from the garage, and they like the way the garage came out.
"We adore it; we think it's brilliant," Nancy Meluskey said.
And until the lighting issue is solved, Servian said residents are still happy to have the garage that has alleviated downtown parking congestion.
"Most condos are limited to one parking space per unit," Servian said. "Now in the high season our parking garage is full, so to say to guests you can park a half-block away and come over is a real convenience."
Parking in the garage is free until April.
If you got a speeding or parking ticket in Lawrence in 2010, consider yourself unlucky.
The number of parking tickets issued at meters in Downtown Lawrence plummeted by 14 percent in 2010 - despite the city adding an hour to the amount of time motorists must pay the meter.
And the number of speeding tickets issued in Lawrence continued to be nearly 50 percent below the totals that the city was issuing just five years ago.
"I don't think there has been a sudden outbreak of excellent driving behavior," City Manager David Corliss said Monday. "I think it is more related to our ability to enforce the traffic laws."
The city's police department was down about eight officer positions in 2010 because of retirements and staff turnover, Corliss said. That means the department's resources have been stretched thinner, allowing less time to be devoted to monitoring for speeding violations.
The city issued 5,312 speeding tickets in 2010, up slightly from 5,237 in 2009. But the ticket totals are well below the 8,071 speeding tickets issued in 2006. Until this year's slight increase, the number of speeding tickets issued had declined for three straight years. Corliss said the number of tickets probably will go up some as the department gets closer to full-staffing levels. Currently, the department is only two officers down.
The parking ticket numbers also are related to a staffing issue. Corliss said the city's staff of five parking control officers was down the equivalent of one position for much of the year because of several prolonged absences or resignations on the staff. Because the size of the staff is small, the loss of one position for a major part of the year reduced the number of tickets the staff was able to write, he said.
Plus, Corliss said he wasn't ruling out that some changes to the city's fine system had caused people to be more cognizant of plugging the meter. The City Commission in late 2009 increased the fine for overtime parking from $2 to $3 and increased the late payment fee for parking tickets from $10 to $15.
But the city also added one hour to the time period people must pay the meters - stretching it to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. That change likely would have produced a few more tickets.
One number that didn't go down, according to the new data, is the amount of money the city collected in Municipal Court fines and fees. Total collections at Municipal Court increased by 14 percent to $4.06 million.
Those numbers rose because city commissioners in late 2009 approved $12 per ticket increases for speeding and many traffic violations.
Other numbers from Municipal Court's 2010 annual report include:
• In terms of nontraffic or parking offenses, theft continued to be the No. 1 offense prosecuted at Municipal Court. There were 444 theft cases, down from 454 in 2009.
• Minor in possession of alcohol cases spiked upward in 2010. The court prosecuted 392 minor in possession cases, up 46 percent from 2009 totals. But the numbers are still below 2006, 2007 and 2008 totals when more than 400 minor in possession citations were issued each year.
• Noise violations continued their steady downward trend. Tickets in that category have declined each of the last five years from 449 in 2006 to 189 in 2010.
Drivers in Boston won't have to search under the seats for change for parking meters anymore if they have a credit card.
The city is testing single-space parking meters that accept credit or debit card payments in addition to coins, the Boston Transportation Department said Monday.
For the pilot program, BTD crews outfitted 144 parking meters along Cambridge, Devonshire, Union and New Chardon streets in downtown Boston with credit card-reading equipment.
"Since many people are not in the habit of carrying loose change with them any longer, drivers want alternative payment options and we are working toward meeting this demand," BTD Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin said.
The remainder of the 7,057 single-space parking meters on Boston's streets will continue to only accept quarters during the pilot period.
Boston's 108 multispace parking meters that regulate parking for over 800 on-street parking spaces already accept credit and debit cards, as well as dollar bills and quarters.
The 144 retrofitted single-space meters can also notify BTD of any maintenance issues, allowing meters to be serviced more quickly resulting in fewer "out of order" meters, Tinlin said.
The city also plans to introduce a Boston Parking Meter Smart Card in the near future, the BTD said.
Tacoma's existing residential permitting system started about a decade ago as a way to manage traffic in residential neighborhoods that run up against business districts.
A permit "was $2, and still is," city engineering division manager Kurtis Kingsolver said last week. "You had to pay for your own signs. We told people it wasn't going to be heavily enforced. That's why it was so inexpensive.
"It was meant to be around the (Tacoma) Dome, schools, hospitals. Then it got moved along Sixth Avenue, and became really sporadic. There was no identification. If you lived in the North End, and asked for 25 permits, you'd get 25 permits."
The need for a residential permitting revamp is why Tacoma's volunteer citizen task force on parking was reluctant to wade in, task force co-chairman Rollie Herman said.
"It's a city-wide problem," he said. "I sure can't speak for the people up on Sixth Avenue. Nor do I want to. We have told both the city manager and the City Council that hey, this is something you need to work on."
City officials are preparing to ask the task force to address the issue, and that work could be the model for a new citywide system, said Kurtis Kingsolver, engineering division manager for the city. No deadline has been set.
"We want to get it done quickly," he said, "but there will be significant public outreach, and that will take the time."
The City of Olympia installed pay stations in its downtown core last summer. The city already had residential permits, so new complaints were few, said parking supervisor Deborah Lobe.
Permits cost $10 a year and allow registered residents to park in certain places, but within the pay station zone they must pay like everyone else.
Olympia differs from Tacoma's in other ways.
The first 15 minutes are free, as are Saturdays and Sundays.
Another key difference: Lobe said her office has issued only about 150 residential permits within the paid parking zone. In Tacoma, several thousand people live downtown.
In response to growing complaints from residents in areas drawing excessive visitors and parked cars, the city of Berkeley will implement a pilot Residential Parking program to increase the rate of turnover parking in the North Willard and Bateman neighborhoods within the next few months.
The program will outfit parking enforcement vehicles with license plate recognition software in lieu of the current system of chalking cars to monitor parking in two-hour zones. The program targets the two neighborhoods as they house two of the city's largest employers - UC Berkeley and Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
Using chalk as the only two-hour parking enforcement has been ineffective, as some people tend to wipe it off or just move their cars forward a few feet instead of permanently leaving the area, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington. He added that the new program would prevent such action.
"Instead of the meter people having to chalk the tire, they would take a picture of the license plate," he said. "When they come back around and scan it in again they can see you're in the same place."
According to the city's Transportation Manager Farid Javandel, funding for the license plate scanning technology will come from a $2 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commisson - a program that oversees many transportation projects in the Bay Area. He said the program will only use a portion of those funds.
Javandel also said the program will allow the city to analyze parking trends in the areas.
"The RPP program up till now has been traditionally low-tech," Javandel said. "We want to know how many people are just moving their cars around. We know people are doing this, but we don't know the magnitude."
The city's Department of Public Works will conduct studies of the parking situations in the affected areas as well as surveys both before and after the program's implementation to gauge its success, Worthington said, adding that public opinion will be a huge factor in deciding whether or not to expand the program to other areas of the city.
According to Julia Shearer, a member of the Bateman Neighborhood Association, residents have been dealing with high density parking issues near the hospital for years, making it difficult for residents to find parking near their homes.
"There's been a tremendous amount of impact from parking from visitors who would rather not pay for the garage and employees who have the same goal of free parking," she said. "We're hopeful that this program will solve the parking situation that Alta Bates exceeds."
In addition to the new license plate recognition strategy, the City Council hopes to make affordable parking options for employees in the impacted areas.
"At the same time we're making it harder for people to cheat, we're also making it easier for employees to park in other places," Worthington said. "If you go to a city parking garage, you can get an early bird price and pay a far lower price. Some people think we're trying to get money from giving tickets. We're not. It's about getting parking turnover."
Scofflaw city workers are getting pinched where it hurts -- their paychecks.
City Hall is hunting down municipal employees who aren't paying their parking tickets -- 4,600 deadbeats with 12,000 outstanding tickets worth a total of $1.6 million -- in one of the biggest crackdowns in years, The Post has learned.
The city Finance Department intends in the next few months to garnishee the wages of evasive employees who have failed to heed the recent warnings they received from their own commissioners to pay up.
In the last sweep, in 2002, the city went after the paychecks of only 750 employees.
"No one likes fines. But people who don't pay the city are hurting the vast majority of New Yorkers who do," Finance Commissioner David Frankel told The Post yesterday.
After agency heads fired off warning memos in December, the city recovered $600,000 in outstanding fines from 2,600 workers who paid 5,600 tickets, according to agency data.
But 4,600 delinquents -- representing every city agency and averaging $350 in individual ticket debt -- remain.
CityScoff, a program designed to flag city workers in the red on back judgments, will send up to three letters to employees warning them that their wages can be seized and bank accounts frozen if they don't cough up the dough.
Finance officials would not break down the number of scofflaws by city agency. But Fire Department employees were told in an internal memo last week that "multiple FDNY employees" were in bad standing.
One retired FDNY employee admitted the Bravest, who often put union placards on their dashboards in an effort to shoo away NYPD traffic agents, routinely crumple up tickets they get when parked illegally.
"They brazenly flout the law," he said. "They have a sense of entitlement."
Officials first began cracking down on city-worker scofflaws in 1987, when CityScoff debuted.
But CityScoff suffered from glitches and was completely down between 2000 and 2002.
Facing massive budget shortfalls, the Finance Department reorganized its collections unit last December and ramped up pursuit of delinquent drivers. The agency is also sending more debts to collection agencies.
"We are going after all the tickets we can possibly collect on," Frankel said.
The city was owed $440 million in outstanding parking debt from all drivers as of last November.
By the numbers
City workers with unpaid parking tickets in December: 7,200
Amount owed: $2.2M
Employees who have since paid: 2,600
Amount they paid: $600,000
Workers who still owe: 4,600
Tickets still owed: 12,000
Amount still owed: $1.6M
Average amount owed: $350
Source: City Department of Finance
Parking in downtown Redwood City may get more expensive pretty soon.
With the cost of parking enforcement running about $1 million a year more than the amount meters and a parking garage rake in, city officials say something has to give.
"We have a big deficit," said Chu Chang, head of the city's Building, Infrastructure and Transportation Department. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the city paid $2 million for employees to collect meter change, cite parking scofflaws and operate and maintain the downtown garage. That was twice as much as the amount of revenue brought in. And the trend is continuing this fiscal year.
Staff will brief the city council Monday night about the problem and suggest some options, then at the council's direction would return with concrete proposals March 21.
In 2005, when the city did a comprehensive study of its downtown parking, revenue and expenditures washed each other out.
But then the city built a garage under the Century 20 cinema complex, mostly with redevelopment dollars. As part of its agreement with the theater, the city offers four free hours of validated parking for moviegoers, said Peter Vorametsanti, a senior city engineer.
According to Redwood City's 2005 study, the parking garage and other downtown improvements were expected to draw a lot more people to the area, making up for any new parking costs.
"Assuming moderate increases in parking use "... anywhere from $1.4 million to
$1.8 million dollars (net) should eventually be generated per year," the report states.
But largely because of the economic downturn, revenue has come up far short of those projections.
And the abundance of free parking the city offers hasn't helped its coffers either.
The city has three gated parking areas where at least the first 90 minutes of parking is free -- a parking structure at Marshall, a lot on Middlefield and the underground Jefferson garage.
Vorametsanti suggests the free parking could be limited to only morning or lunch hours.
In a memo to the city council, staff also notes Redwood City's parking facilities begin charging at 10 a.m. while those in neighboring cities begin at 8 a.m. Starting to charge at 9 a.m. could be another option, it notes.
Vorametsanti said Redwood City's hourly parking rates also are lower than those in some other cities -- 50 cents per hour in the downtown core and 25 cents in the downtown periphery. Burlingame, in contrast, charges 75 cents an hour for its downtown, San Mateo 50 cents for the first two hours but $1 each for the next two, and San Jose $1 per hour downtown. An increase from 75 cents to $1 dollar for downtown parking in Redwood City would be reasonable, Vorametsanti said.
Chris Hein, vice president of marketing for the Old Spaghetti Factory that plans to open a restaurant downtown in mid-October, said he would be disappointed if the city raises parking prices.
"We really have a lot of appeal with groups and families," he said. "Parking that people perceive as expensive, that doesn't do as well with our business."
City and downtown officials are mulling creation of a parking authority, or giving CARTA similar powers, as they craft a long-term plan to ease perceived space shortages at key times and sites.
Earlier this week, they began offering discounted monthly parking prices at some downtown lots and garages to hospitality, restaurant and retail workers who now may be feeding parking meters.
The aim, according to officials, is to free up on-street parking for others, including potential customers and patrons.
Tom Dugan, CARTA's executive director, said Wednesday that officials may go before the City Council in 60 to 90 days with proposals to ease downtown's parking problems.
He said attorney Allen McCallie is reviewing the city code to determine what measures might be implemented.
Last year, CARTA joined with downtown redevelopment group River City Co. and city officials to help solve downtown's parking predicament.
Business people, local residents and others long have complained about a perceived shortage of parking spaces in the central city.
Tom Fransescon, president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Council, termed parking "a big, big issue" for its members.
He said when the council surveys members, parking is often at the top of the list of concerns.
Gary Means, who heads a parking authority in Lexington, Ky., told the Chamber group there had been a lack of focus on the issue in that city before his group was set up in 2008.
Since that time, the authority has crafted a number of initiatives to improve central city parking including a website, an amnesty program for offenders and technology innovations, he said.
Means said, for example, Lexington offers people the option of paying for a meter using a cell phone when they park. Also, he said, if people are delayed getting back to their vehicles, they can add time via the cell phone from another location.