Dayton evaluating downtown parking

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Too harsh meter maids

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The city is too aggressive in enforcing parking rules, according to respondents to a survey.

Many people have complained about overzealous ticketing and unpleasant experiences with meter enforcement in downtown Dayton, but the city is taking a closer look at parking to try to improve people’s perceptions and attitudes of it.

A recent survey found that nearly half of respondents who live and work downtown and nearly six in 10 business owners characterized the city’s parking enforcement as unreasonable and inconsistent, according to new data.

“Your business people are feeling the heat from this parking enforcement program and that’s a rather alarming statistic,” said Andrew Miller, project manager and senior planner with Carl Walker Inc., a full-service parking consulting firm in Michigan.

Dayton can make parking more convenient and customer friendly by modifying its fining policies, establishing more consistent and desirable time limits on meters, adding new mobile payment options and changing other parking regulations and operational policies, the consultant said.

The city is evaluating parking at a time when a hot housing market and new investments have propelled more people to visit, live and work downtown.

Miller gave a presentation last week to Dayton commissioners about the city’s parking system, how citizens feel towards it and how it compares to other similar communities across the Midwest.

Dayton is home to about 1,350 on-street, time-regulated parking meters. Time limits range from 30 minutes to 10 hours.

About 1,687 people responded to a downtown parking survey, and among the highlights were that people feel the urban core has an adequate supply of parking spaces, but enforcement is too aggressive, officials said.

About 81 percent of online survey respondents rated Dayton’s parking as average to excellent.

But one-third of all survey respondents said they feel parking enforcement is unreasonable and inconsistent.

Unfavorable views of parking unenforcement was even more common among people who live and work downtown and who own businesses. Downtown stakeholders view the harsh behavior of parking enforcement as a deterrent to attracting people to the center city.

“There are some pretty universal feelings that enforcement is overzealous,” Miller said, adding, “You want to make these negative numbers go down and track them over time.”

In May, Briana Snyder was ticketed for parking in a loading zone in front of her store even though her flashers were on and she was gone about six minutes to make a delivery.

Snyder, who co-owns Knack Creative on West Fifth Street, said a meter maid had instructed her to use the loading zone for quick deliveries after getting a ticket for stopping right in front of her store.

The city of Dayton has made improving customer service a major priority, but its parking enforcement could be more customer and business friendly, Snyder said.

“It could be a little more in line with the broader goals the city is trying to achieve,” she said.

Citizens indicated they want more free and low-cost parking options and less punitive meter enforcement, the consultant said.

Miller also recommended issuing warnings instead of fines for first-time offenders and making parking fines cheaper for initial offenses and then escalate costs for subsequent violations.

He suggested eliminating time limits on some spaces, but charging higher prices for additional hours, meaning it gets increasingly expensive to remain in one spot.

Billy Pote, co-owner of Blush Studio on St. Clair Street, said it would be more business friendly if meter maids sometimes issued warnings instead of fines.

He also recommended that officers who give tickets include information about downtown’s other parking options or provide a free one-day pass to a city garage to be helpful.

But to truly improve the environment downtown, parking enforcement must change its culture so officers act as downtown ambassadors and treat people as if they are actually wanted in the center city, Pote said.

“Our downtown has been experiencing another exciting wave of growth and development lately,” Pote said. “Let’s not hurt our momentum by continuing to handle meter enforcement like we always have. We can do so much better.”

Miller also suggested privatizing meter enforcement and changing the organizational structure that oversees public parking spaces.

Some improvements can be made quickly and inexpensively, such as adding mobile payment options, because they require no capital cost from the city as the providers handle installation, he said.

City of Dayton officials said the parking report will be finalized in about four to six weeks.

The report’s recommendations will be reviewed and analyzed by city staff, and after that, city commissioners will be presented with recommendations for action steps, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.