Parking changes on the way for Downtown

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

After 10 months of discussion and debate, some substantial changes are coming to Jacksonville’s metered parking ordinance and enforcement.

City Council approved an amendment yesterday that will allow parking for up to three hours at all meters. The penalties for feeding additional coins to meters with one- or two-hour time limits will be waived for the first three hours, and people will be allowed to repark vehicles less than four blocks away from their initial spots without a fine. The City also plans to paint lines in the streets and on curbs to clearly define parking boundaries.

“The new parking ordinance speaks to flexibility issues to get consumers Downtown,” said Ron Barton, executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission.

Since last March, some business owners have been lobbying for parking changes they believe will bring more people Downtown to eat and shop.

Speaking to a group of Downtown business owners on Monday, Barton cautioned that the changes might not have the effect they expect. He said the new ordinance will allow people to “squat” on meters, effectively eliminating a parking place from the inventory.

“It could do the things you want or cause a new set of problems,” said Barton. “Changing the law is the best way to find out.”

He encouraged business owners to monitor the effects of the changes and added, “You’ll be the ones who will know if it’s working.”

Barton said other parking changes are planned, particularly in the areas of enforcement and advanced technology. He pointed out the Parking Enforcement division is under the City’s Administration and Finance departments, making parking fines more about raising money and less about fair enforcement.

Barton said he has discussed customer service issues with Mayor John Peyton and proposed synchronizing parking enforcement policies with the JEDC’s objectives to promote and develop Downtown.

“Parking Enforcement has to be tolerant and use discretion. They don’t have to write a ticket 30 seconds after the meter expires,” said Barton. “The City is in the customer-service business. We need better skill sets. The City is the first line of contact for a taxpayer’s experience when they come Downtown.”

Downtown curbs might see some new technology, as well. Barton said funding is available to replace two-thirds of the City’s 1,500 parking meters with modern “smart meters,” which will allow maximum time limits to be easily changed on a block-by-block basis to adapt to demand. The new meters will accept coins along with debit and credit cards. Barton said installation of the new meters could begin in about four months.

The City could also change how it disburses the revenue derived from parking fines, Barton added. Although all of the money for parking meter fees and fines is collected Downtown, 30 percent of fines levied goes to the Police and Fire Pension Fund and the rest goes into the City’s general fund. The money collected from parking fees at meters and municipal garages goes back into the Parking Enforcement budget. Barton said he thinks it should change to designate more money for Downtown initiatives.

A new design effort is also underway for parking information. Barton said the City might provide signs to garage and surface lot owners if they will assume the cost of installing them.

“It’s time to re-brand Downtown,” said Barton. “The current regulations are 12 years old, and we need new specifications.

“We want to improve consistency and let visitors know where to park and how much it costs ...That’s a small investment to help Downtown work.”