New downtown parking plan receives praise from Ann Arbor City Council

Downtown Development Authority officials laid out a comprehensive, long-term vision Monday night for managing public parking  in downtown Ann Arbor.
The plan touches on a wide variety of ideas for improving the downtown parking experience, DDA officials said, suggesting there's a lot more to it than a controversial proposal to expand parking meter enforcement hours to 9 p.m.

DDA executive director Susan Pollay was joined by DDA board member Roger Hewitt in discussing the details of the recently unveiled Public Parking & Transportation Demand Management Strategies Plan with the City Council.

In December, DDA officials were asked by the City Council to come up with the plan and present it by April.

"We very energetically approached the project," Pollay said. "We spent most of January framing out what elements needed to be included. We had about four pages, single space an outline of all the things we felt needed to be included."
AnnArborMeters.jpgFor instance, Hewitt said, the plan outlines ideas for varied parking rates based on demand of certain areas.

"We know which parking meters have a lot of demand and which have little demand. We're looking at doing graduated rates depending on where the demand is on those parking meters," he said.

The plan takes a close look at the evening economy downtown. Pollay said one goal is to better communicate to the public the low-cost parking options that are available.

Hewitt noted a number of surface parking lots downtown are free in the evening. The DDA also offers an off-peak parking permit for $30 a month that is good from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Another idea being explored is making accommodations for inexpensive rooftop parking in parking structures, shopper zone policies, downtown circulators and expanded public transit options.

"We'd like to look at a strategic Ann Arbor-to-Ypsilanti transportation plan, because we know that many of our downtown workers live in Ypsilanti and transportation is difficult if they don't own a car," Hewitt said. "We'd like to expand the value of the go!pass, which is already a very successful program, and continue to champion the north-south and east-west commuter rail."

The new parking plan also recommends expanding the use of new parking technology such as the E-Park stations. It also discusses strategies for getting downtown and near-downtown residents to consider car storage outside the downtown so they aren't just warehousing their cars in parking structures.

It also recommends a master residential permit plan for near-downtown neighborhoods.

"We really want to discourage commuters from using that ring around downtown for free parking," Hewitt said. "There is a residential permit plan in place in a number of the neighborhoods around downtown, but not all of them. We would like to do outreaches with those neighborhoods to figure out what would work in each individual one and come up with recommendations for council on how that could be put into effect."

Council members didn't take action on the plan at Monday's meeting, but several offered praise for the DDA's work on the plan.

Council Member Sandi Smith, who serves of the DDA's board, said parking downtown will be friendlier once the plan is implemented. She said the strategies outlined will result in fewer attempts to ticket and punish people.

Hewitt said the DDA would like to schedule a working session with the City Council to go through the strategies in more detail.

"There are a number of policies that we would like to propose that we have not fine-tuned yet," he said. "There is certainly talk about nighttime enforcement, varied meter rates, varied rates in the structures. We simply haven't had time to come up with all the details, all the minutia that will go into this plan, but that is what we are going to be working on next."

One message to get out to the community, Hewitt said, is that downtown is probably the safest area of the city. And within the downtown, he said, crime statistics show parking structures are the safest place to be.

Hewitt noted there may be places downtown where it is feasible to add meters and other places where meters should be removed.

"We would like to see the surface parking lots eventually redeveloped to help increase the density of downtown," he said. "We'd like to see a city policy concerning a fee for projects or entities that want to remove street parking. We've lost about 175 spaces in the last few years of on-street parking. Part of the A2D2 plan called for a payment-in-lieu policy for developments downtown that are required to put parking in. We would like to see that payment-in-lieu policy put into effect."

The DDA's plan also recommends changing the current two-hour limit on parking meters to a three-hour limit to allow people more time to enjoy downtown without the risk of getting a parking ticket.

Other strategies being explored to improve the parking experience, Hewitt said, include more low-cost monthly permits, pre-paid event parking, early bird low rates, a free hour in the structures in the evening, and automatic vehicle identification systems where drivers can have their credit cards automatically billed instead of having to deal with a cashier or pay station.

"We would like you to be able to manage your parking account online," Hewitt told council members.
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