City of Lawrence to resume parking enforcement downtown, continue ambassador program in limited capacity

photo by: Richard Gwin

In this Journal-World file photo, a Lawrence parking attendant writes out a ticket in downtown Lawrence.

The City of Lawrence will soon resume parking enforcement downtown after its temporary suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to resume all downtown parking enforcement beginning on Sept. 14, including parking meters, parking garages and overstays in the two-hour parking lots. Enforcement was suspended in March because of reduced activity downtown amid the pandemic, but Parking Supervisor Brad Harrell told the commission that demand had been steadily increasing and enforcement was needed again.

“The most recent occupancy data suggest that there’s a need for metering and enforcement services to be reinstated,” Harrell said. “Monitoring parking is necessary to create the turnover and accessibility of available parking stalls for downtown visitors.”

Harrell said one concern was that some downtown employees and residents were not adhering to the time restrictions since no tickets were being issued, and were instead parking their vehicles long-term in front of stores and in the two-hour lots, pushing customers to less convenient options. He said the city had recently converted 120 five-hour parking meters to 10-hour meters, which he said would provide more parking options for downtown employees and those who hold 10-hour permits from the city.

Regarding increased traffic downtown, data presented to the commission indicated that from Aug. 17 to Aug. 28, occupancy rates for parking were at 58% along Massachusetts Street, 52% in parking lots and 28% in parking garages. At peak times, occupancy in downtown as a whole was 66%. A city staff memo to the commission states that the use of downtown parking is nearing normal levels and that multiple business owners had reached out to city staff requesting that parking enforcement be reinstated.

Downtown Lawrence Inc. Executive Director Sally Zogry said her organization surveyed downtown businesses and about half wanted to see parking meter enforcement resume, but some were interested in keeping surface lots and garages open and free at certain times of day.

Commissioner Courtney Shipley asked about the option of resuming meter enforcement but continuing to suspend, on a temporary basis, the fees and overstay enforcement in parking garages and two-hour lots as a way to encourage more downtown visitors to use the garages and perhaps create new parking habits.

Harrell said that the city did consider that option, but that city staff anticipated that if the city were to adopt it, a certain percentage of downtown employees and residents would end up using those spots for long-term parking. He said while the city currently has plenty of room in its parking garages, he anticipated levels would start going back to normal once people with 10-hour permits were pushed back to using the garages. Ultimately, commissioners agreed to city staff’s recommendation to resume all parking enforcement downtown.

Another impact of the city’s decision that was discussed Tuesday was the city’s Downtown Ambassador program, which Harrell said the city’s four full-time parking enforcement officers have been staffing while parking enforcement was suspended. The city partnered with Downtown Lawrence Inc. and the local visitors bureau, Explore Lawrence, on the program.

The ambassadors welcome and assist downtown visitors and have also been helping keep the downtown clean and sanitized. Harrell said that since the program was created about two months ago, the ambassadors have picked up 201 gallons of trash, removed 408 stickers from public infrastructure, disinfected 213 drinking fountains and power-washed 322 yards of sidewalks and retaining walls, among other projects.

Commissioners expressed support for continuing the program, and Harrell said that one of the parking enforcement officers, perhaps on a rotating basis, could continue to serve as an ambassador through the end of the year. Explore Lawrence Executive Director Michael Davidson said that once the pandemic is over, the organization may be able to find volunteers to serve as downtown ambassadors.

Harrell said the city would communicate to the public and downtown business owners that parking enforcement would resume, including placement of digital message boards downtown.

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