Durham study advises end to free parking downtown

jwise@newsobserver.comApril 13, 2013 

— Those free parking places on downtown Durham streets soon could be things of the past.

That is one recommendation in a city-commissioned parking study on its way for City Council consideration.

The city paid the Kimley-Horn & Associates consulting firm $229,606 for the downtown study and a similar study of the Ninth Street area.

There are about 1,500 free parking spaces in the area the study covered, and the report recommends charging for about half of them, inside and adjacent to the Downtown Loop, around American Tobacco and the Performing Arts Center, at West Village and Brightleaf Square

Parking charges are the first of 25 recommendations in the 205-page study report. Among the others:

• Charging for and time-limiting use of electric-vehicle charging stations.

• Using a combination of electronic pay-by-space stations and cellphone technology to collect parking fees.

• Improved security, with better lighting and more frequent guard patrols.

• A 24/7 permit for downtown residents, at a rate of $90 per month.

Downtown residents currently park free, and developer Scott Harmon, who heads Downtown Durham Inc.’s committee on the parking study, said he is hearing “We’re not ready” to change things.

“We’ll see how that shakes out,” Harmon said. But those who park downtown need to “shift gears” in how they think about parking, he said.

“People want to compare parking in urban areas with parking in suburbs,” where space is available and parking is typically free, he said. “It’s not physically or financially possible to approach parking in the same way.”

Harmon said the consultants “have done a good job of ... looking at the facts” about parking in the city center.

“A lot of the focus is about making the overall system consistent ... and able to sustain itself financially,” he said.

Changing conditions downtown prompted the city to commission the study, its first in 10 years, said Durham Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen.

“Fifteen years ago you didn’t have too many residents downtown,” Ahrendsen said.

Other changes, such as the development of the American Tobacco complex, DPAC, West Village, Brightleaf Square and Durham Central Park, are bringing new visitors to downtown and increasing the demand for parking.

“We needed to get a better handle on what the current parking issues are,” Ahrendsen said.

If the City Council approves the recommendations, increased rates for monthly leases will probably be one of the first put into effect, he said. On-street parking would take time for assessing, selecting, buying and installing a fee-collecting system, but Ahrendsen said he would expect “at least some discussion” about it to start quickly. “If there’s support for it, (we could ) begin planning next year to perhaps implement it within a year from now,” Ahrendsen said. “That wouldn’t be something that’s done overnight by any means.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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