DVI: no Downtown parking problem

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Downtown Vision Inc. Executive Director Terry Lorince said with 40,000 parking spaces, contrary to popular belief, there is not a parking problem on the Northbank.

“Parking is an issue in all Downtowns,” said Lorince, at a meeting of the Downtown Action Committee, which is chaired by City Council member Suzanne Jenkins. “We have over 40,000 spaces. Our opinion is there is parking, you just need to know where it is.”

The committee met Monday morning to discuss parking and transportation issues.

When asked about the committee’s proposal to modify parking meters Downtown to allow as much as three hours in every space, Lorince said that metered parking is for short-term parking to allow people to run errands, for example. She added that parking garages are for long-term needs and that DVI’s Web site has an interactive parking map that can direct people to ample parking near their Downtown destinations.

Lorince also said that she loves metered parking because, “It makes people feel safer and it’s free after 6 p.m. and on the weekends.”

She also said she would prefer to work with owners of parking garages Downtown to adjust their rates and time limits rather than modify the meters to allow longer parking times.

Jenkins asked Lorince if it might be possible that DVI could train parking enforcement personnel to interact with the public more like the Downtown Ambassadors.

“It’s bad enough to get a ticket, you don’t need the attitude that goes with it,” said Jenkins.

Lorince also pointed out that it’s important to change the public’s perception about the size of Downtown compared to suburban shopping and entertainment areas.

“Walking from Hemming Plaza to the Landing is equal to the parking lot at a suburban mall,” she said. “We have to educate people that it’s not too far to walk to destinations Downtown.”

Mike Miller, Jacksonville Transportation Authority director of external affairs, attended the meeting to answer questions about changes in Downtown transit the committee is proposing. One suggestion is to install signage on the Trolleys so that potential riders will understand that the service is free of charge.

“We could advertise that the Trolleys are free,” Miller said, “But the JTA might not want to do that. In winter weather, the Trolley becomes a mobile home.”

Miller said the purpose of the Sunflower Trolley is to take people from the Trolley lot, which is owned by the City and is adjacent to the Arena, to their jobs at the Courthouse and City Hall Annex on Bay Street.

When asked about possibly redesigning the trolley routes Downtown to make the service more user-friendly, Miller said the JTA is currently working on a route restructuring program but changes to existing routes Downtown is not the top priority.

“The JTA is focusing on expanding Trolley service beyond Downtown rather than improving service in the core,” he said. New Trolley routes serving Springfield, Riverside and West Arlington are being considered, said Miller.

He added that the JTA wants to make the Trolley an extension of the Automated Skyway Express in order to attract more Skyway riders but that marketing the Skyway’s park-and-ride service from the Kings Avenue garage to the Northbank has not been successful.

Miller said the JTA has poured thousands of dollars into a marketing campaign to convince people to park in the Kings Avenue garage and ride the Skyway – for $22 a month including free Skyway rides back-and-forth.

“Three people have signed up,” said Miller. “Those are the most expensive three people.

People don’t want to transfer unless it’s a special event like a Jaguars game or the Florida-Georgia game. Then it (the Skyway) is filled.”

Miller said that in addition to having no Skyway transportation on Sundays, the JTA is considering shutting down the service on Saturdays as well, since it’s not making money.

“Then let’s just tear it down,” suggested Jenkins.

“We’d have to return the Federal money (that built the system),” said Miller.

Transportation issues are complex, Miller said, and real changes will require a campaign to sell the public on using mass transportation instead of driving their cars all the time.

“It’s not a sprint, it’s a long marathon,” he said.

After the meeting, Jenkins said that she thinks the committee is serving the purpose she hoped for when she formed it in response to the March 6 public meeting that was attended by more than 400 people with concerns about the future of Downtown.

“It’s good for the members to hear input from the experts. This is a learning process,” she said.

The committee agreed that the JTA will present its 25-year plan for a Bus Rapid Transit system in Jacksonville at next Monday’s meeting at 8 a.m. in Committee Room A at City Hall. In two weeks, the committee will address housing and streetscape issues.