Parking-meter dialogue opens againA small public meeting held Feb. 16 at City Hall initiated a new round of discussions about what, if anything, the city should do about its metered parking.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
A small public meeting held Feb. 16 at City Hall initiated a new round of discussions about what, if anything, the city should do about its metered parking.
Management Analyst Paul Fagin and Police Chief Roger Leque led the meeting and invited about 300 people from downtown businesses.
The hosts said it was a preliminary input-gathering session to help with an eventual decision about parking meters.
Fagin and Leque said there would be more opportunities for input in the future. The general plan was to present the City Council with options by about May.
The police chief clarified that the issue of parking meters is in the city’s 2011-2013 work plan.
The topic historically draws a range of opinions. Business owners, employees and patrons as well as local citizens and out-of-town visitors all use the spaces a little differently.
Suggestions about them range from keeping the quaint penny meters or increasing the price to getting rid of metered parking.
Fagin said, “We’re looking at the benefits and costs of replacing our system, either with a new system or by scrapping the old one.”
He had gathered information about the existing meters and different options to replace them:
- There are a total of 513 meters in the city
- Main Street has 167 meters, nearly even amounts of a one-and two-hour limit
- Second Street has 62 two-hour meters
- Walnut Street holds 80 two-hour metered spots
- Elm Street has 30 two-hour meters
- Locust Street holds 21 two-hour meters
- Maple Street has 17 two-hour meters.
All the others are meters are in various parking lots and have a 10-hour limit.
Fagin clarified, “The city is not operating meters to make a profit.”
Installed in 1970, all of River Falls’ meters are manual and old and have failing parts. Fagin said it has become difficult and time consuming to find parts.
The nickel-penny meters seem to be viewed in equal amounts as charming and annoying. While they’re unusual to see, most people also don’t carry nickels and pennies.
If the coins inside the meter become wet, they must be dried before they can be deposited at the bank. Sometimes the meters freeze in winter and must be thawed with an acetylene torch.
Parking analyses say the absence of downtown meters would impede the turnover of parking spaces downtown since more all-day parkers would likely occupy unmetered spots along Main and Elm Streets.
Fagin and Leque clarified that the parking-meter system is designed to be self-sustaining, but sometimes the city spends more in resources than the meters are making. They say if the meters are kept, River Falls needs to charge a realistic fee.
The two summarized three basic options:
- Single-space digital meters at each spot
- Pay-n-display stations where patrons would insert money or a credit card at a kiosk to get a ticket they’d display on their dashboard.
- Pay-by-space stations use technology similar to pay-n-display, but they separate the space by number, include a pay-by-phone option.
Fagin and Leque said the pay-by systems would enable them to easily adjust meter prices and time limits.
About 20 downtown business people listened then commented and asked questions.
Custom Framing and Art owner Pat Hammarback said her customers say they wouldn’t mind a higher cost but don’t want to walk farther. She was concerned about people, especially the elderly, walking with full arms or through snow.
The business owner agrees the metered spaces help with parking turnover, “Parking downtown is valuable,” she said.
Owner of Bo’s and Mine Cedric Ellingson asked if there were any single-space meters that also process a credit card -- yes.
He thinks there are enough parking spots for the ‘usual’ downtown patterns and suggested having a two-hour limit on Main Street, four hours in spaces off Main Street, and 10 hours in the metered parking lots.
Craig Foster of Foster Sports also expressed concern about the walking associated with a pay-n-display system. First people must walk to buy a ticket, then walk back to display the ticket in their car before also walking to their destination.
David Trechter, of UW-River Falls and the homeless shelter Our Neighbors’ Place, expressed concern about the reliability of the pay-by-space station -- would it consistently read people’s dollars and cards?
He didn’t mind the idea of a price increase and said, “It seems to me an adjustment is reasonable.”
Chamber Director Rosanne Bump said feedback to her indicates that whatever option is used, it should be well lit. Maybe it would be a benefit to offer the first 15 minutes anywhere for free.
Everyone seemed to nod in agreement when Bump said, “I’d like to see Heritage Park remain free.”
Vince Seidling of Edward Jones said his opinion was to begin charging quarters in all the meters and agrees with Ellingson about meter locations and time limits.
Most people agreed that if the city went to a pay-station system, the kiosk should have a shelter over it.
Leque clarified that the idea was to improve the parking situation in a way that benefits everyone, “We do not want to make downtown less traveled.”
He and Fagin emphasized that the parking analysis is in the early stages -- still brainstorming and gathering facts.
The two said as the analysis moves along, there will be opportunities for citizens and other members of the general public to offer their feedback, too.
The police chief said, “We still want to get a broader perspective.”
He and Fagin welcome people to send them via e-mail comments related to parking meters. Their addresses are: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.