Look north and you’ll see parking meters. Look south and you’ll see parking meters. But on the central Downtown stretch of High Street, there’s not a parking meter to be found. That will soon change as the Department of Public Service plans to begin the installation of approximately 130 new parking meters on High Street before the end of the year.
The idea dates back to the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan, which called for a new vision of High Street with enhanced public transit systems, transit stations and on-street parking to service new retail businesses. The funding to study these improvements to High Street (and other Downtown streets) was approved back in April of this year.
“The goal is to introduce on-street parking to serve existing and future businesses along High Street,” said Randy Bowman, Division of Mobility Options Administrator at the Columbus Department of Public Service. “The city desires more retail along High Street to serve the growing residential population plus the Downtown workforce.”
A common complaint about Downtown Columbus is that there are already too many parking lots, single-use parking garages and other auto-centric accommodations. An effort to fill in surface parking lots with new development over the past decade has replaced several thousand parking spots with new condo and apartment developments, and consolidated some of the parking spaces into new multi-story garages. Bowman doesn’t see the installation of new parking meters on High as running counter to that ongoing initiative.
“On-street metered parking is very different than off-street parking,” he explained. “On-street parking is typically for short term use and is usually tied directly to the land use that the parking is in front of, to serve restaurants and retailers. This type of parking is critical for both the success of the business and the convenience of the customer. If there is to be more retail on High Street, then the immediacy of parking is important.”
He says that on-street parking also helps with traffic calming measures. One goal of this initiative is to have a safer roadway for all uses, including bicycles, pedestrians, motorists and bus riders. The goal of traffic calming still must be balanced with the goal of preventing traffic congestion. Keeping COTA buses running on time is another important factor.
“Throughout the process, the impact on COTA operations was an important committee consideration,” said COTA President and CEO Curtis Stitt. “As a consequence, we believe that the impact on COTA service would not be substantial.”
Stitt says that a joint monitoring effort between COTA and the Department of Public Service will evaluate the impact the parking meters have on all types of traffic to be able to resolve any issues moving forward. COTA will also be removing two High Street bus stops that are within close proximity to other shelters, and relocating two others to make way for the new parking meters.
In 2011, COTA studied a proposal that called for the development of a Downtown bus transit center, as well as the idea of rerouting bus lines away from High Street to accomodate metered parking. Both ideas were deemed unfeasible due to financial costs and negative impacts to transit scheduling.
“Currently, there is no ongoing study of moving some of COTA’s service from High Street to other streets,” said Stitt. “I believe that there should be an unbiased assessment of how bus service in downtown, and throughout the system, can be improved. If such an assessment finds that realignment of some routes might improve service for COTA riders those realignments should be considered.”
Bowman says that the Department of Public Service would still like to see some bus routes moved away from High Street, and are planning to convert other nearby one-way streets to two-way streets to be able to accomodate moving bus routes in the future.
“These things all work together to respond to the desire for more livable streets Downtown, more bikable streets Downtown, as well as creating the framework that COTA could look at to change their bus routes or bus service Downtown,” he said.
The on-street parking plan calls for the installation of between 120-130 new parking meters on High Street located between Goodale Street and Mound Street. The meters will accomodate adjacent businesses with 30-minute meters near coffee shops and two to three hour meters near restaurants. The meters will all be equipped with “smart” meter heads that will accept major credit cards in addition to coins for payment. Several strategically placed handicap meters are also expected to be installed.
Parking restrictions would also be in place at these new parking meters, prohibiting their use during weekday rush hour from 7am to 9am and 4pm to 6pm. Similar rush hour parking restrictions have been recently removed at the request of business owners who claim that they hurt businesses and prevent customers from stopping during important times of the day.
“We’re trying to be responsive to the land usage that abut these roadways and balance that with the need for maintaining capacity for the motoring public, including buses,” said Bowman. “If we create too much congestion, buses don’t stay on schedule, so we have to balance those needs.”
Cars parked at the new High Street meters during restricted hours will be subject to ticketing and towing.
“Alway look at the signs and stickers,” warned Bowman. “If you have doubts, don’t park there. The signs are always up and they tell when towing is in place. We need people to read the signs.”
A public meting and open house is scheduled this Thursday evening to provide more information about the parking meter plan and to solicit feedback from the public.
“We want to begin installing the meters this year but probably won’t complete the installation this year” said Bowman. “We’re excited about this project because it will continue the momentum to make Downtown more livable.”
For more information about Thursday’s meting, CLICK HERE.