The two-hour time limit on downtown Tacoma's paid parking zone might be one of the first things adjusted under the city's new parking system.
“I think you’ll see us looking at that sooner,” David Carr, the city’s parking services manager, said Monday before a question-and-answer session about paid parking at the University of Washington Tacoma. “There are some areas that aren’t that busy.”
The city implemented a paid parking program two weeks ago. Downtown watchers, using social media sites including Twitter, have commented on large vacancies in some places. Local blogger and neighborhood advocate Erik Bjorn-son has posted several pictures of empty spaces on recent weekday afternoons on the north end of downtown, on St. Helens Avenue and along Antique Row.
Carr said that systemic cultural change takes six months to a year to settle out. Any changes will be data-driven and guided by the citizen task force, which designed the system and is having a public meeting Thursday, he said. An initial review is expected at the five- or six-month mark, he said.
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The vacancies people are noticing tell Carr that employees were, in fact, taking up most of the parking spaces. The goal of paid parking was to make room for visitors and customers by getting employees to park somewhere else, and that seems to have worked.
Parking enforcement officers issued 2,108 warnings in September and 753 tickets after the Sept. 20 start of paid parking, Carr said.
One Antique Row business owner is happy with the change.
Empty space “just means people have room to park in front of my store,” said Ron Adamson, owner of Broadway’s Best Antiques. Business is up over last month, which tells him that paid parking isn’t keeping customers away, he said Tuesday.
The paid parking system also was designed to further discourage “chain parkers,” people, often downtown workers, who move their cars to avoid parking enforcement officers.
Martin Osborn, the manager of Puget Sound Pizza on South Seventh Street, said Tuesday that chasing away the chain parkers has hurt his lunch business.
“There used to be a large group of people who would chain park on South Seventh, so it’d be a convenient place to eat,” he said. Now, the street is empty most of the day.
Carr sees the vacant spaces as an opportunity for downtown businesses. “Customers can get there now,” he said. They might have given up before because there was nowhere to park. It takes awhile for shoppers to reconsider their habits.
Osborn rejects that argument, saying he fought the meters because he knew what would happen to his business.
“It insults my integrity that they keep telling me this is good for me,” he said.
On the south end of downtown, in the crowded UWT area, about 20 students attended the Q-and-A session Monday. Those who spoke said two-hour time limits aren’t practical for students who attend multiple two-hour-plus classes; commuting by bus takes longer than driving, and garage parking leaves their cars vulnerable to crime. Most of the commenters indicated they found paid parking to be inconvenient and not designed for them.
They’re right: It wasn’t.
“This is really about access” for people who are making short trips downtown, Carr told them. “The front porch of the area needs to be open for business.”