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Archive for Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Parceling out parking

City commissioners are trying once again to refine downtown parking regulations.

September 17, 2003

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Parking, parking; where's all the parking?

During a recent discussion about parking fees and fines, Lawrence city commissioners touched on the topic of using signs to better inform downtown Lawrence visitors of the location of free and long-term parking spaces. Concern was voiced about cluttering downtown with too many unattractive signs pointing to various parking options.

Is it better to have a few well-placed signs or to have a bunch of angry visitors with overtime parking tickets?

City commissioners agreed to raise downtown parking fees to 25 cents per hour and extend many parking meters from 90 minutes to two hours. They declined, however, to increase overtime parking fines from the current $2 after hearing from downtown representatives that they feared increased fines would drive shoppers away from downtown.

Commissioners also showed appropriate concern about where downtown workers park their vehicles. Those workers obviously should be parking in long-term parking lots on the downtown perimeter, but there are many reports that downtown employees use prime metered spots on Massachusetts Street.

Commissioners suggested that reduced-price parking permits for long-term lots may entice some employees to vacate short-term parking. If dangling that carrot doesn't do the job, officials may have to consider raising overtime parking fines. As commissioners accurately noted, a $2 parking ticket isn't much of a disincentive.

In the meantime, the city should do a better job of informing people about downtown parking options. Maps to long-term and short-term parking lots downtown exist, but aren't widely available. Displaying those maps prominently and distributing them in downtown businesses may do the trick, but additional signage also might help guide visitors. Many local residents aren't even aware where long-term lots are located.

It is true that people in Lawrence have a skewed view of what constitutes a "close" downtown parking space. They wouldn't bat an eye about walking half a block across a big-box parking lot, but when they have to walk that distance downtown, they rant about the inconvenience.

Every parking study done in Lawrence in recent years has shown that parking is adequate if people are willing to walk a block or two to their destination, and especially if prime central parking spots aren't hoarded by downtown employees.

The parking fee increase approved by commissioners is minimal and the extension of many meters to a 2-hour time limit should accommodate more downtown shoppers. By putting out a little more information, city officials may be able to entice people who want to stay downtown longer to use lots with 10-hour meters.

What they probably won't be able to do is eliminate parking complaints. It's good to remember that a perceived lack of parking downtown is far preferable to row after row of unused spaces.

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