Modesto eyes parking meters, other steps to improve downtown parking

05/17/2014 7:02 PM

05/17/2014 9:01 PM

Modesto may consider installing parking meters downtown in what proponents call an effort not to raise money but to make more parking available close to restaurants, shops and other businesses during prime hours.

The proposal is part of a plan to change the financial incentives for parking in order to change drivers’ behavior.

It works like this:

While parking on downtown streets is free, the city charges people to park in its three parking garages and five parking lots. The cost is $1 an hour during the day and $74 for a monthly parking pass. That encourages workers at downtown stores and restaurants to park on the street, said Josh Bridegroom, the city’s downtown program manager.

He said that ties up a lot of prime street parking. It also contributes to traffic congestion. That’s because downtown streets have limits on how long people can park, typically two hours. That has created what a parking consultant working with the city and downtown interests calls the “two-hour shuffle,” as workers move their cars to avoid a $33 ticket for parking too long at one spot.

Proponents say changing those financial incentives – by charging for prime street parking while reducing the cost of off-street parking – would encourage those who are downtown all day to use a parking garage, parking lot or park a few blocks away from the downtown core where there would be no meters. That would free up more prime street parking for people coming downtown to eat lunch, shop or take care of other business.

Bridegroom said other downtown businesses – such as offices – provide their employees with parking or purchase monthly parking passes. The government workers at Tenth Street Place – the city-county administration center – park for free in two of the parking garages, though Bridegroom said some park on the street, contributing to the “two-hour shuffle.”

Proponents say better parking incentives not only would bring more visitors downtown but would encourage businesses to relocate or open downtown because their customers would have convenient parking.

The Downtown Modesto Partnership – which consists of the city, downtown businesses and other downtown interests – has commissioned a $10,000 parking study through Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, which specializes in parking management and other transportation issues. The $10,000 is from a grant.

Brian Canepa, who is with the firm’s San Francisco office, was in Modesto on Thursday and Friday to meet with partnership members and others. His next step is to develop a set of recommendations and present them to the City Council. That is expected to take place in about six weeks. Bridegroom said the recommendations will be vetted by the partnership before going to the council.

Canepa said those recommendations should include looking at parking meters and reducing what it costs to use off-street parking. He said the focus is not on generating money for Modesto but in managing downtown parking so prime spots near stores, restaurants and other businesses are available during prime hours.

He said Modesto has about 16,000 to 18,000 downtown parking spots, but only about half are in use during 1 p.m. on weekdays, which he said is downtown’s peak time. Yet the prime spots for street parking can be hard to find.

The money generated by the parking meters could be used to improve downtown, which is what other cities have done. Bridegroom said the proposal is for meters only where parking is a problem, so they would not be in all of downtown. The proposal is in its early stages, and the details would have to be developed if the council decides to move forward.

But one visitor to downtown on Friday said she did not like it. “I smile because it’s a small city,” said Manteca resident Matile Khizeran, who was meeting her husband for lunch. “Let’s just keep that focus. It’s unique. Let’s stay away from the big-city” mentality. She and her husband go downtown about five times a month for lunch or dinner. She said street parking is seldom a problem but, when it is, they use a parking garage.

Bridegroom said he was not surprised by Khizeran’s reluctance. He said if the city and partnership move forward on the proposal, that effort will include making the public aware of the proposal, why it’s being considered and its benefits.

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