Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Change for Parking

Meeting Notice:

Presentation of Parking Improvements and Rate Changes
Wednesday, August 25th
• 8 am at 330 Main (2nd floor, over Javapalooza)
• 5 pm at 330 Main (2nd food, over Javapalooza)

Parking Director Tom Hartley will outline proposed improvements and changes in the parking rules and rates for downtown at two public meetings on Wednesday, August 25th. All members of the public are welcome to come to the presentation and share their questions and concerns. The final decisions on these proposals will be made by the Common Council at their upcoming meetings.

As readers of the Eye know, Tom Hartley was appointed as the City's new Parking Director last March. The creation of a new parking department with professional leadership was one of the key recommendations of the Parking Study, primarily because of concerns that the resources were not being managed to Middletown's advantage. In his short tenure, Hartley has focused on improving collection and billing systems (with a solid rise in revenues as a result) and in testing new parking technology for Main Street meters. Over the summer, Hartley worked with the Parking Committee (of which I am a member) to develop a plan to upgrade the quality of parking in town and balance the supply and demand, including a pricing system that will pay for improvements and help us develop new parking as needed.

At the outset, I'd like to say that the current parking system is not helping business growth in Middletown -- for decades, the City has deferred maintenance on signage, paving, meters and other collection systems, and just about every aspect of parking. The downtown business community and city government both recognize that a poor parking system is depressing property values downtown, and affecting the kinds of business owners that will locate here. And hopefully every Middletown taxpayer knows that increasing downtown property values is the key to stabilizing taxes for homeowners; the more downtown is worth, the greater share it can pay of the costs of running this city.

I'd encourage anyone with a strong interest in this subject to attend one of the meetings, but I'll attempt a summary of the presentation for those who can't make it.


The improvements that are proposed would bring Middletown's parking up to the basic standard that most cities offer.

•Upgrade the meters for each parking space on Main and the side streets. This includes a meter that would take both coins and credit cards, and a sensor which would tell the attendant that a meter has expired or turned over.
•Upgrade each parking lot so that it has adequate lighting and signage, including safety features like call boxes and cameras. In a few cases, re-paving is needed.
•Install gates or multi-space collection kiosks in parking lots, depending on how that lot is used.

Rate Changes

Before we address the issue of raising the funds to pay for those improvements, Middletown has to solve the problem of our out-of-whack pricing for parking. Everyone, of course, wants to find a space on Main Street. But those spaces don't turn over frequently and are often filled with employees -- that's because our pricing encourages people to park on Main. In fact, it currently it costs less to take up a Main Street space all day (moving your car every two hours, as many do) than it does to park in one of the off-street lots. Our highest demand spaces have our lowest prices -- oops!

•Flip the prices of on-street and off-street parking. In other words, raise the Main Street price by 50 cents/hour, and lower the Melilli price by 50 cents/hour. In terms of cost or revenue, this is pretty much a wash, with a net gain of 34 spaces that will have a higher rate than they do now.

In addition to the need for better balance in the pricing system, the rates would also face an increase to pay for the proposed improvements. The following increase would allow us to fully pay for all the proposed improvements over a five year period.

•increase rates in off-street lots by 25 cents/hour. For example, Main Street would cost $1/hour and off-street lots would cost 75 cents/hour.
•reduce free parking in off-street lots from 2 hours to 1 hour.
•permits for monthly parkers would be available in the Riverview Arcade for $75/month for long-term parkers - or roughly half the cost of parking in a metered space all day.
•those who wish to purchase a "vanity space" with their name on a sign that reserves the space for workday hours would pay the full value of that space, at $150/month.

Also, to help downtown employees cope with higher parking costs:
•through their employer, allow downtown employees who make less than $15/hour to purchase $3/shift parking passes.
•through their employer, set up a program that helps employees pay for parking with pre-tax income, as allowed.

The good news is that on average, the proposed increase is only 25 cents/hour; the bad news is that our current system is so convoluted that some spaces will have to go up more in price while some go down. That may create some "parker rage" in the short term, as people get used to the new system.

Future Parking

Hartley's presentation will also address the issue of where Middletown needs to add parking in coming years. One option under consideration would be to repair the existing Riverview Arcade and keep it in use until more parking can be developed by constructing a multi-story, mixed-use parking garage on the Washington Street side of Melilli Plaza. The cost of the Arcade repairs would be paid through the increased income in that lot.


Increasing the cost of parking to customers and people who work downtown is not a step to take lightly - and that's why these public meetings are an important opportunity for us all to discuss the impact of both improvements and cost increases. Please join the debate.


Anonymous said...

I'm wondering why the meeting place isn't at the town hall...or the library or a school.......I would hope that the second floor room where it is being held has elevator access for peoples with disabilities

Jen Alexander said...

Dear Anon @ 9:34 pm,

Point well taken - the room is not accessible to everyone - it's something we'll remember for future meetings!

I should have mentioned in my post that these sessions are not city meetings, they are information sessions that the Downtown Business District is hosting to help get the word out about the proposal. The location is the Downtown Business District office, which was opened a few months ago - I would guess this is the first time we've held a general and open meeting there.

There have already been at least two accessible public meetings where the parking proposal was discussed, at the Parking Committee and Finance & Government. Those meetings were held at City Hall - which is accessible - and which have public sessions for comment.

And the "official" parking presentation will be made to the Common Council at their next meeting, which is held at City Hall and is typically televised.

Hope you find a way to join the conversation, one way or another.


-Jen Alexander