Parking in downtown Olympia could soon be easier to find, thanks to steps the city of Olympia is taking to free up spaces downtown.
The city is embarking on the first phase of its downtown parking strategy that will include providing bus passes to some downtown employees, conversion of coin-only parking meters, a “shared parking” pilot for evening events and the hiring of a parking supervisor to oversee the process.
This first phase would gather the low-hanging fruit of downtown parking, said Karen Kenneson of the city’s Community Planning and Development department. Future phases will require more money and more work.
“This is our opportunity to take some immediate steps,” said Councilwoman Julie Hankins, who chairs the city’s Land Use and Environment Committee.
She said the plan was put together with considerable community participation, including a downtown parking survey. The Olympia City Council approved phase one of the downtown parking strategy last week.
The plan includes a pilot bus pass program. The city will provide free bus passes to 100 downtown employees with low to moderate incomes. The passes will cost the city about $43,000, which will come from the parking fund.
The provision that passes will go to low- and moderate-income workers means the program can be funded by the Community Development Block Grant in the future, Kenneson said.
The idea is the 100 bus passes would remove 100 parked cars from the downtown area during the workday, freeing up spaces for people visiting downtown businesses, she said. Since the passes would be free, it would be a lower-cost alternative for workers who had previously paid to drive and park downtown.
The city is spending an additional $40,000 to upgrade several coin-operated parking meters to meters that accept credit cards and coins. These meters already have been installed in the downtown core.
Many of the coin-operated meters are available for nine-hour parking, Kenneson said. The new meters would allow only three-hour parking, increasing turnover and freeing up space.
New technology also will allow the city to turn credit card meters into “smart meters.” Downtown visitors will be able to feed their meters using their smart phones — avoiding standing in the elements while paying for their parking.
Customers also will be able to “top up” their meters from their smart phones. Say you’re at lunch, you paid for an hour of parking, but service is slow. You’d be able to extend your parking time from your phone, without leaving the table.
Kenneson said in the future, the city could do away with parking meters, and have all parking spots be “smart spots.”
The city also is creating a shared parking pilot. Kenneson said about half of downtown’s square footage is parking, but the city controls only a small portion of the parking spaces.
The pilot program will focus on parking near The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, and the city will make agreements with property owners to allow public parking in the evenings.
“We’ll be looking at what’s there and maximizing it to its full potential,” Kenneson said.
A parking services supervisor will oversee all of these programs, and cost the city $120,000 per year, including benefits. Again, the money will come from the parking fund.
The city council unanimously approved the plan, with several members voicing support for the bus pass plan in particular.
“I’m 100 percent supportive of this package,” said Councilman Jim Cooper.