Some parts of downtown Tacoma that have too many empty parking spots might get longer time limits or drop out of the paid parking system altogether, a top city engineer says.
Two weeks after paid parking began, about a dozen people attended a public meeting Thursday with the citizen parking task force. People offered suggestions, including eliminating paid parking on Saturdays. None of the four business owners there said paid parking had hurt business.
City staff and task force members emphasized that adjustments will be made to rates and time limits to find the sweet spot – which is one open space for every six spaces downtown.
“We’ve got a ton of little tweaks we’re looking at,” said Kurtis King-solver, a traffic engineer in the city’s public works department. “There may have been places we missed the mark. We may have areas that go to three hours, four hours, or (paid parking) could just go away.”
On Sept. 20, three decades of free parking ended downtown. The city is trying to make room for customers and visitors by getting employees and students to park elsewhere. Parking now costs 75 cents an hour, and drivers can’t park for more than two hours on the same block. Since the program began, north downtown and Market Street have been particularly vacant, while south downtown, near the University of Washington Tacoma, has seen little easing of congestion.
Tobin Ropes owns Mad Hat Tea Co. on Broadway, in the middle of downtown. Many Mad Hat customers use the 12th Street staircase – recently reopened after being closed for more than a year – to get to the shop from Pacific Avenue. Paid parking opened up spaces in front of his store, Ropes said, and more people are parking closer and staying longer.
Ropes, who also lives downtown, said residents should be allowed to park for free until later in the weekday. And frankly, he said, paying for parking anywhere downtown on Saturdays feels punitive because so many parking spaces are open.
The issue of paid-parking-as-moneymaker came up too. Gregory Fricker, a board member of the Speakeasy Art Cooperative on Broadway, said it seems as if there is a connection between the end of parking requirements for new downtown development and the start of paid on-street parking.
If the city is encouraging developers to build without parking, he said, the existing spots become more valuable. The price of paid parking will have to go up as demand increases.
“I could make a lot of money in parking,” Kingsolver responded. “Seattle right now is balancing their budget with parking. That’s very public. Our council can’t do that.”
Money from parking fees and fines goes to the Parking Enterprise Fund, which benefits only the parking system – street parking and garages. The revenue will pay down debt on the pay stations and city-owned garages downtown, as well as for maintenance and enforcement.
Task force member Steph Farber, who owns LeRoy Jewelers, said he got involved to ensure that parking fees don’t go into the city’s general fund.
If you use parking money for everything, “suddenly you have a cash cow instead of a parking system,” he said.
One business owner had a simple request – making a quick run into the post office.
Rick Bacon, general manager of the Camp 6 Logging Museum at Point Defiance, said he represented more than 1,000 businesses that use the downtown post office. Since paid parking instituted 2-hour zones everywhere, few spots are open around South 11th and A streets.
Businesses have their post office address on legal documents, he said, and they’re not going to change that. His organization has had a post office box there for 46 years.
“We just need it to be 15 minutes. If we gotta drop a quarter, we gotta drop a quarter,” he said, referring to the 25-cents-for-20-minutes rate. “The overall program I see no problem with.”