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As Long as We Remember...

November 12, 2003

Stop The Parade, I Want To Get Off!

David 'Kip' Koontz

Parking is one of downtown Frederick's most problematic issues.

The breadth of this issue is as broad as: "How can downtown compete against the shopping centers when downtown charges for parking and the shopping centers don't?" to "What do we do about those folks who work downtown and feed meters all day even if those meters are in a '2 Hour Parking' only zone?"

Well, the city has reviewed this issue and decided that in order to compete against the shopping centers, which do not charge for parking, that parking rates in downtown must actually go up.

And the city has come up with a nifty idea to help address those folks who work downtown and feed the meters all day even if they are in a "2 Hour Only" zone.

In the meantime, however, in anticipation of the new rates, there is a thought that since new rates are going into effect, that the city should invest in some sort of new parking pay system so that the old meters will not have to be reprogrammed to accommodate the new rates.

Never mind that the current ones seem to work just fine in collecting money and in running out just as the meter attendant walks by so that some unwitting tourist or someone who is not familiar with the "feed the meter" game, gets socked with a ticket.

If you visit downtown Frederick you will find at least two new fee collection methods being given a trial run.

First is a more modernized meter that is digitalized. You simply put in your money and it automatically registers the amount of time you have to go about your business.

The more exciting one is the "Pay and Display" plan.

This plan is currently at work on the south side of the first block of West Patrick Street.

When it first debuted, it appeared to be a cash cow in the making as it seemed poised to confuse and confound those who would unwittingly park in a non-metered parking place, only to find out later you were supposed to walk half way up the block to pay at a jumbo sized parking meter box, get a ticket to display, go back and put it on your car and then go about your business. Thus, if it were put into wide use, the poorly marked methodology was certain to entrap almost anyone, ensuring increased ticket volumes.

Pay and display is really a jumbo box in the middle of the block, where you park in a non-metered space and hopefully see the sign that directs you to "pay parking" with a directional arrow, but with nothing explaining what the arrow represents, nor to what it is directing you.

You are supposed to follow the arrow to the giant parking meter box, where you then put in your money, get a ticket for the amount of time you have purchased, then go back to your car and place it inside your windshield so that the meter monitor can see it, and then go about your business.

Besides being time consuming and cumbersome, this plan is based on your understanding the directional arrow and going to the payment box.

To cut down on confusion, the city has now placed a pole in the hole of the stand which used to support the meter, to which is affixed at every space a sign reading "pay parking" with the directional arrow pointing you toward the payment box, whereas, when the program first started, there were only two signs pointing people to the payment boxes.

To boot, one of the meter monitors appears to have taken up permanent residence in front of the payment box in order to explain how it works to people, seemingly flying in the face of the concept that this might somehow be a better fee collection system.

Thank goodness this system is just on loan and all the city has expended is the money to make the directional arrow signs, which is still too much.

While being assured this is working well in Europe and in some other metropolitan areas, it just seems that if we must charge to park, having your own meter to pay is the easiest way of doing it.

Though there is still time to tell our city leaders that "pay and display" would be a waste of taxpayer dollars, it might be a "good" option from the view of raising money for the city. Without correct signage, this plan will certainly bring in extra cash, as most who pull into a non-metered space will say a happy "wohoo" and go about their day, thus increasing the chance of getting ticketed, i.e. extra cash for the city!

Again, lest we forget, the new equipment is coming to coincide with an increase in parking fees.

The Church Street and Carroll Creek parking decks both went to a $50 per month fee, matching that of the Court Street deck.

Meter parking will increase from 50 cents per hour to $1 per hour, while maximum daily parking in the decks will increase from $5 per day to $7 per day, when the nifty idea the city has come up with to help deal with those downtown employees who feed the meters all day goes into effect.

That plan is the idea to offer shuttle service for anyone who wants to use it, but is targeted at those downtown workers who feed the meters well beyond the two-hour limit.

It is not a bad idea. You park at Harry Grove Stadium and ride into downtown. It is proposed that the shuttle be free, offset, of course, by the other fee increases.

A survey done by the city shows that there should be enough support of such a shuttle to give it a go.

Those who do not like the idea of the shuttle say that if something comes up you would not easily be able to get back to your car and that if you end up having to work late you may miss the last shuttle back to the stadium, leaving you stranded on the "mean streets" of downtown Frederick.

One would hope that plans would be put in to effect to accommodate variations in the norm of shuttle riding just as MARC, Metro and other mass transit services do.

If that isn't being considered, it should be, as it would be nice to have more parking places available for downtown residents and for those who have come into Frederick for government services, eating or shopping.

But, instead of all this talk about increased fees and alternative methodology for collection fees, why don't we just allow two hours of free parking, where meter attendants mark the tires of cars and if you have not moved after two hours you get a ticket?

Sounds like it just might be a friendlier more inviting way to attract people into downtown.

However, it might make a more inviting and attractive option for those who work downtown and park well past the two hour limit when they have to feed the meter. This way they would only have to pull forward or backup every two hours in order to make it look like they left and luckily returned to find the same parking place available for them.

In the meantime, residents of downtown still have the luxury of having to pay for a parking pass.

The pass doesn't assure you can park anywhere near your home, as many have to contend with the downtown employees who feed the meter every two hours, though it does exempt you from having to pay the meter.

As we improve downtown properties and develop along Carroll Creek, downtown parking will become even more of a premium.

The renovation of the Francis Scott Key Hotel alone has found many, many new residents circling downtown blocks looking for free on-street overnight parking, thus making "trash night" an even more exciting, yet idiotic competition.

One also has to ask, "Why do people who have their own off-street parking not use it?"

Anyway, parking is difficult in downtown Frederick. Let us hope that solutions for the long term are developed as we look at issues in the short.

In the meantime, one short-term relief would be to ensure that the first downtown employees who ride that shuttle are the employees of City Hall, because one of the greatest spectacles in downtown every two hours, on the hour, is the parade of city employees who park in most every space surrounding City Hall and beyond who come out for their "feed the meter break."

It just doesn't have the same effect as the swallows returning to Capistrano.

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