Maconites react to news of parking meters coming to downtown
Anyone who’s driven around downtown Macon trying to find an elusive parking space so they can grab lunch or go to the bank may soon see more spots open.
That’s the idea behind installing parking meters, which should provide more turnover in parking spaces. On-street parking spaces will continue to have a two-hour time limit.
Various groups have talked about the downtown parking situation for more than two decades and, more recently, by the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority. The authority has signed a contract with Lanier Parking Meter Services LLC to install parking meters in downtown’s core and also manage parking downtown.
About 850 meters are expected to be installed on certain downtown streets by the end of May, said Alex Morrison, executive director of the authority.
“The main group that has been calling for the meters are the business owners downtown who feel their customers come downtown and then can’t find parking, so they go on somewhere else,” Morrison said. “But this would be a way to create the necessary turnover of spaces to get people to be able to find spaces near where they would like to go.”
Michael Taylor, owner of Between the Bread Café and Michael’s on Mulberry, agrees. He said it was similar to a restaurant needing a turnover in its tables to serve more customers.
“I think it may actually help my business because it will keep employees off the street,” he said. “I know it happens.”
Taylor provides private parking for his employees.
Many downtown workers are now parking on the street, and the hope is they will choose off-street parking in one of more than six public garages.
“Most of the decks downtown are currently largely vacant during the day, and no more than 50 percent occupied,” he said.
Lanier also will manage the parking decks that the authority owns or operates, and it is separately contacting other garage owners to manage their decks. Two more parking decks are being built, and Lanier will manage those.
"Parking rates are typically dictated by ownership on a case-by-case basis, ... including in public and private-sector settings," said Steven Taff, regional vice president with Lanier.
At this time, the streets that should get meters are: First, Second, Third, Cotton Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Plum and Walnut streets. Others to get meters are Mulberry, Cherry and Poplar streets between First Street and Martin Luther King Jr.
Lanier will enforce the parking laws
The authority looked at several different cities to see how parking was managed, including Athens, Savannah, Asheville, North Carolina, and Columbus. Some cities have invested in municipal decks, and they have limited on-street parking and strictly enforce time limits, Morrison said.
“Time and time again, people have tried to solve it in different ways, as we have for years, … and nothing has worked,” he said. “Metered parking has been the norm for nearly almost every growing city that hasn’t just eliminated on-street parking altogether. And we feel having on-street parking is a valuable asset.”
With a team of two employees "we would expect to install approximately 20-30 (meters) per day," Taff said. "The more resources dedicated to the installation, the quicker this will get done."
The meters will be bolted to the sidewalk, and no wires are included.
“It’s all cellular communication and solar power,” Morrison said.
Each meter has a battery pack, and it stores power for days at a time.
Metered parking will be enforced 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday-Saturday , and it will cost $1.25 an hour. People can use coins, credit card or pay with their smartphone with an app called Passport.
Lanier will collect all payments and deposit those funds into the authority’s parking fund account. Lanier is paid a management fee by the authority.
“We anticipate that revenues would generally be around $1 million for one year,” Morrison said. “But most of that would be washed away by the expense of running the business. We are just trying for the first year to break even. We’re not looking to make money, but any money we do make would then go into improving accessibility and parking access downtown.”
Lanier also will be in charge of maintenance, and it would enforce the parking laws downtown. The Macon-Bibb County Commission changed an ordinance creating a parking enforcement officer. The officer will be able to write any kind of parking ticket for things such as parking in a loading zone or overtime parking.
Lanier will be using license plate recognition technology, so if people overstay the two-hour time limit, they would be ticketed for overtime parking.
Anyone who receives a ticket would have the opportunity to pay the citation directly to Lanier, “then it wouldn’t go to the court system,” Morrison said. “But if they refuse to pay it, it would be turned over to the court system.”
Lanier will have a residential permit program, and the authority is working with garage owners to come up with discounted rates for residents to park off street.
There used to be meters downtown, but they were removed about 35 years ago when downtown was “in the pit of its decline.” The thought was it would be an economic stimulus to advertise free parking, Morrison said. “It did not generate that response.”
It wasn’t until the late 2000s before downtown hit its stride and began growing, he said. Now, that growth has created the need to manage the parking.
“This is meant to be a business development and economic development support, not a punishment,” he said.