New pay system opens parking spots in Raleigh

A remarkable change took place a couple of months ago, Tim Jannik says, when downtown drivers had to start paying to park on Fayetteville Street.
Suddenly, his customers could find a spot.

"That first day, I saw a family pull up and park out front and come into our store," said Jannik, co-owner of the Crema Cafe. "You never saw that before."

Merchants say they've seen more turnover in curbside parking spots since March, when the city activated parking pay stations on Fayetteville Street and surrounding blocks.

More turnover means more parking options for anybody who ventures downtown to eat lunch, consult a lawyer or make a bank deposit.

"It's nice to be able to let my clients know there's a good chance there will be an open spot right outside the building," said Mary Margaret Harris, manager of the Capital Bank branch at Fayetteville and Davie streets. "That has been a hindrance for folks visiting downtown banks in the past."

The city has installed 123 pay stations downtown since March, collecting $1 an hour for cars that use nearly 900 on-street spaces. Another 84 pay stations will go into operation by the end of July around the Capitol, in Glenwood South and on Hillsborough Street.

On-street parking had been free downtown since the early 1970s, when merchants persuaded the city to yank out the old coin meters. They griped about competition from suburban shopping centers surrounded by acres of free parking - and some still have this worry.

But many business owners complained in recent years that most of the on-street parking was taken over by downtown workers, not customers. To avoid tickets for exceeding time limits that range from 15 minutes to two hours, they shifted to different spots during the day.

And there were days when as many as half of the cars on a block were adorned with handicapped-parking placards. Those cars are exempt from parking time limits by state law.

Some of those placards were properly registered to the disabled drivers and riders who used them.

But merchants and workers complained that many of these cars belonged to able-bodied freeloaders using placards issued to disabled friends or relatives - so they could park all day for free.

Lots of vacant spots

Handicapped placards now have become a rarity on Fayetteville Street. There were only one or two per block on a recent weekday.

"Anyone walking downtown can readily see vacant spaces where there used to be none," Gordon Dash, the city parking administrator, said by e-mail. "The number of [handicapped] placards parking all day on city streets has been greatly reduced."

The new parking stations, which take payment by coin or credit card, still impose the old time limits. A handicapped parker can push a button signifying that he or she has a vehicle placard and stay put for the whole day. However, it will cost the driver as much as $9 during the nine hours that payment is required (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays only).

That's a lot of money, but Laura Duffie is a good sport about it.

Duffie, a law student at UNC-Chapel Hill who suffers from degenerating discs in her back, is spending a month as an unpaid intern at the N.C. Court of Appeals in downtown Raleigh. Her husband drops her off in the morning and picks her up for lunch, and then with her handicapped placard she is eligible to buy four hours of on-street parking in the afternoon.

"We can't really afford $9 every day, but that $4 is within our budget," said Duffie, 31.

She has heard about the abuse of handicapped placards, and she understands the city's decision to charge for on-street parking.

"All of these stores deserve to be able to get customers in and out," Duffie said. "It's a hardship for me, but I think it's a good thing."

James Smith doesn't see it that way.

"I don't like it, because you've got to pay money now," said Smith, 42, as he pushed dimes into a pay station on Salisbury Street. He was trying to figure how long it would take him to run errands in the Wake County Courthouse and an office building a few blocks away

"We're paying city taxes," Smith said. "They could give us something."
City of Raleigh
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