Decatur delays plan to end free parking after 6 p.m. following backlash
This story has been updated.
A revision to the city of Decatur’s parking page on its website got social media users grumbling, causing the city to delay a plan to charge for parking after 6 p.m.
Parking is a contentious issue in the city. Hans Utz, a Decaturish contributor, recently published a lengthy analysis of parking in Decatur that touched on the city’s plans to enforce parking limits after 6 p.m.
“Metered street parking is limited to two hours and enforced from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, except for holidays,” he wrote. ” …You may park for free before 8 a.m., after 6 p.m. or all day on Sundays and holidays. Likewise, time limits are not enforced before 8 a.m., after 6 p.m., or on Sundays or holidays. With the most recent budget, the city authorized a flat $5 fee to street park for the three evening hours from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., but this has not yet been put into effect.”
The backlash began after the city updated its parking page to indicate that enforcement of the limit after 6 p.m. would begin next month. The city has since deleted this information.
The page previously said, “A two-hour parking limit is enforced from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. Metered parking is free after 9 p.m.
Enforcement of extended hours (6p.m.-9p.m.) will be implemented on May 1,2019. The City will be in an informational phase for April 2019.”
After receiving an inquiry about it, Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne indicated the city had jumped the gun when it put this information on its website.
“Until we have completed sign updates and printed information for distribution on cars for 30 days, we will not be making changes,” Menne said. “There will be a press release, updates through various media outlets and a report/update at a city commission meeting before changes go into effect. The proposed plan is to create zones with a flat rate of $5 from 6-9 p.m. in high use areas while other areas will be free. During the day we will offer lower hourly rates in areas with less parking demand. We are also improving signage visibility for parking decks that offer paid parking to identify as many parking options as possible.”
In response to a follow up question, she said, “I have asked that the May 1 date be removed [from the city’s website]. Until the signage and informational materials are reviewed and ready, nothing will change without at least a 30 day educational period.”
So why was the May 1 date put on the website to begin with?
“It was set as a goal for implementation but without all of the pieces in place, the 30 day roll out period will not begin,” she said.
Utz said the city’s messaging on this topic may confuse people who are trying to park in Decatur.
“I have two major concerns with this. The first was, how are we going to inform people? Every single meter is going to need its stickers changed. It’s not just a website,” Utz said. “The other thing that concerns me: I’m going to pay $5 for a flat rate from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. but I’m only allowed to park for two hours in that time? Isn’t that confusing? How are we going to communicate that?”
In response to a reader question, Menne explained why the city wants to end free parking after 6 p.m.
“In those areas where the demand is high, many of those spaces are taken up by restaurant staff, business owners and those attending receptions at the old courthouse in the evenings which means they aren’t available for customers and clients who need or want a convenient short-term parking alternative,” Menne ssaid. “We are proposing a flat rate for three hours in those areas from 6 – 9 p.m. in response to customers who asked for a longer parking limit option in the evenings to allow them to enjoy a meal and have time to shop.
“We are proposing to move to a zoned parking solution to provide lower-priced metered parking around the city that might require a two or three block walk to the square and other downtown shopping and dining districts. Other areas where the demand is lower may remain free after 6 p.m. giving a free parking option. These changes would all be part of a comprehensive approach to managing on-street parking that includes pricing options, signage and information that makes it easier to find parking deck options and real-time notification of available parking spaces.”
Here is the city’s parking page before the city edited it. The arrow points to the section that has been removed: