Handicap accessibility and parking enforcement were among concerns raised at the first public forum to address the parking problem in downtown Macon.
There are 1,260 on-street parking spaces and 4,600 off-street parking spaces downtown. None are being used to their full potential, said Alex Morrison, executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority.
“Parking is the first and last impression a visitor has of an area,” Morris said to a crowd of about 30 gathered at the Macon-Bibb County Government Center on Thursday night. “Businesses desperately need convenient parking for their customers to park, come in their store and leave.”
At peak times during the day, about 50 percent of off-street parking and 30 percent of on-street parking is available, Morrison said.
For a business to be successful, Morrison said nearby parking spaces need at least seven to eight different cars to park there at different times during the day. The average turnover for a parking space in downtown Macon is 2.3 times per day, Morrison said.
What’s more, the average car stays parked downtown for about two hours and 20 minutes. One way to resolve that issue would be installing in parking meters on some of downtown’s busiest streets, thus creating more turnover.
However, the idea of paying to park didn’t set well with some.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out people can come park downtown wherever without impunity,” said Addison McRee, who has worked at Oldham’s Opticians for 40 years. “Enforcement is the problem. The laws we have now solve it. ... The system of parking meters just puts the cost on customers rather than the violators.”
Outside his office on Mulberry Street, McRee said he can see three signs warning motorists of consequences for parking violations. He’s never seen anyone get a ticket.
“It just doesn’t work if you don’t have enforcement,” he said. “Meters won’t work either if you don’t have enforcement.”
Jean Bragg, who owns Travis Jean store on Cherry Street, said off-street parking decks “are not clean, not safe and not lit.”
People “want to come downtown, but it’s got to be clean, well-lit, and there’s got to be somewhere to park,” Bragg said.
Michael Herring, 30, expressed different concerns.
“With the accessible parking, as far as the ramps to get on to the sidewalks, will there be any adjustments?” Herring asked from his wheelchair.
Morrison said handicap accessibility is critical to the plan, and that’s been evident in the number of emails he’s received.
When asked about enforcement of parking downtown after the meeting, Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. Brad Wolfe said “we do what we can.”
“Calls for service outweigh ... looking for the parking violators,” Wolfe said. “Since this issue came up ... our parking enforcement officials have really turned up the heat on what they do, granted they only do two-hour parking.”
By the end of the summer, Morrison said he hopes to have a plan for a “safe, convenient and predictable parking system” for residents, business owners and consumers.
The Urban Development Authority came to be responsible for downtown parking in November by a vote of the Macon-Bibb County Commission. The authority is considered a separate entity though it receives some funding from the county and its board is appointed by commissioners.
Anyone unable to attend the meeting may email thoughts on parking issues, needs and solutions to Morrison at email@example.com. Another forum will be scheduled to present a draft plan and seek further feedback.