Higher fines, tighter spaces, more meters, narrower streets and two new multimillion-dollar garages would go a long way toward helping relieve parking shortages downtown, a parking engineer has recommended.
Now it's up to Lawrence city commissioners to decide what to do.
"It's an envious problem to have," Commissioner Bob Moody said. "A lot of communities would love to have our problems. We have a downtown that is more viable now than it probably has been in decades. ...
"But there's no such thing as an easy fix, and there will be nothing that will be done with complete consensus of the community. What the commission is going to have to do is use its best judgment."
City officials released the report Thursday. Don Monahan, a parking engineer who wrote the report for Walker Parking Consultants/Engineers Inc., of Denver, offered the following suggestions for improving downtown parking:
- Eliminate two-hour free parking and install meters with rates of 25 cents for two hours in downtown current "free" lots; patrol lots more often; increase overtime fines from $2 to $5; boost meter fees on Massachusetts Street by 50 percent, to 25 cents per hour; and prohibit moving a vehicle less than three blocks in order to avoid getting a ticket.
- Restripe existing long-term lots on Vermont and New Hampshire streets to provide 40 to 50 more spaces.
- Add angled parking along the east side of Vermont and the west side of New Hampshire, which would add about 275 spaces. The changes also would reduce traffic on each street to two lanes. To avoid traffic congestion, the streets would have to be designated one-way.
- Build a three-story parking garage atop a current city lot at the northeast corner of Ninth and Vermont streets to add 400 spaces at a total cost of $5.65 million, which would be funded in part by the city.
One-way: `Good step'
Pat Kehde, a member of the city's Downtown Design Steering Committee and a board member for Downtown Lawrence Inc., warmed to the idea of making Vermont and New Hampshire one-way streets.
Not only would it open 275 new spaces "basically for the cost of the paint," she said, but it also would serve to calm traffic speeds for the benefit of pedestrians.
And merchants wouldn't have to cough up millions of dollars for a new garage. Using the report's cost estimates, Kehde figures her Raven Bookstore would be on the hook under a downtown benefit district for $7,200 over 20 years to pay for a new garage.
"And we're a small store," Kehde said.
Commissioner Erv Hodges also likes the idea of going one-way with the two downtown streets, although he knows it will cost more than a few dollars for new signs and signals. He wants to know about potential traffic problems before moving ahead.
"If we can get up to 275 additional spaces, it would be a good step along the way," Hodges said.
Increasing fines also wouldn't be out of the question for Hodges, although he's "reluctant" to take away free parking in two-hour lots. The report estimates that strengthening parking rules and regulations could boost the availability of short-term spaces by up to 20 percent -- the equivalent of building a new 250-car parking garage at $2 million.
"Most of our people are fine, law-abiding citizens, and I don't think the fines will bother them," Hodges said. "They will go ahead and obey the law. The people who abuse the system, they should be fined."
Mayor: Garage or don't
Mayor Bonnie Augustine said she wouldn't be comfortable increasing fines for parking because commissioners already had approved doubling parking fines -- from $1 to $2 -- for this year. She also opposes making streets one-way, because of potential traffic snarls.
The Walker report provided excellent information and a variety of alternatives, Augustine said, and the time has come to make a concrete decision.
"Coming up with a fair and equitable way for building a garage will be the challenge," Augustine said. "We're either going to bite the bullet and build a garage, or we need to stop studying it."