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Changes proposed for downtown Iowa City parking

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | DECEMBER 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Come July, visitors to downtown Iowa City may see easier parking accessibility and convenience, thanks to a $1.5 million technological upgrade and signage improvements helping drivers locate parking.

The ability to pay for parking by way of credit card, use of a smart-phone app in locating the nearest available parking space, and one free hour in city parking structures were just a number of options presented at a public forum on Monday in the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.

The ideas, in addition to a reconfigured parking-fine system, aim at enhancing the downtown parking experience and encouraging users to opt for ramp parking, while increasing the turnover for on-street parking.

City officials hope the initiatives will help reduce the overarching problem of the parking gridlock that occurs after 5 p.m.

“Let’s not make people work for parking — let’s make parking work for downtown,” said Chris O’Brien, the city director of transportation services.

O’Brien said downtown is often synonymous with having a lack of parking, with drivers having to circle around the blocks hunting for a space.

“I think that what we’ve seen more of is a demographic change downtown,” he said. “I think a lot of the new developments feel that they need to have parking [available].”

Individuals who missed Monday’s meeting will have a second opportunity on Wednesday in the Iowa City Public Library’s Meeting Room A, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Online feedback on the city’s website will be accepted until Dec. 21, and a public budget hearing is tentatively scheduled for January.

The two main types of parking are surface (parking lots and street spots) and covered (ramps and underground).  Assistant to the City Manager Geoff Fruin said fines between surface and covered parking need to be adjusted, calling the fine structure “too low.”

“Differentiating these rates is, in my mind, critically important,” he said. “In order to invest in the technology, we need to adjust our rate structure.”

If the new plan is implemented, enforced parking times in the downtown core — the area from Clinton and Market Streets to Burlington Street — would be expanded from 5 to 9 p.m. during the week. The duration of parking fines would also be extended from the current six-month period to a year-round basis.

Despite the rise in fines, O’Brien and Fruin stressed that overall cost would be reduced, because the average time someone parks downtown is three hours.

In all, there are 1,150 parking meters and more than 4,300 parking spaces in the city ramps and surface street parking. Total city revenue from the downtown parking system is approximately $5.35 million.

Additionally, the new proposal also calls for the removal of the Park ’n’ Shop program in favor of a First Hour Free initiative. Under the new program, the first hour in the Capitol Street, Dubuque Street, Tower Place, and Court Street Transportation Center ramps would be free with each additional hour costing $1.

Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said the new initiatives will encourage people to stay downtown.

“The feedback that I’ve received from downtown members is that it’s not going to be that big of a jump to the technology like the smart meters,” she said. “I think the convenience factor is going to trump the cost. It’s time. [City officials] know it’s time.”


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