Will parking solutions cause neighborhoods to dissolve?
By Gene Kemmeter
The dilemma of on-street parking is surfacing again, just a year after great minds decided they had the answer to a long-standing issue.
Last year, the city of Stevens Point decided to raise funds for road construction and maintenance through fees for parking in two areas, the downtown and around the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) and St. Michael’s Hospital campuses. That program started last fall around the campus, and then will expand to the downtown area.
Wisconsin municipalities and counties all face the same situation. The state cut taxes and imposed a spending freeze. As a result, general transportation aids from the state through revenues from the gasoline tax and license fees have changed little since 2011. However, costs for road maintenance and construction have continued to increase substantially, requiring a road to last for 150 years before reconstruction.
Some communities went to a wheel tax to raise revenues for roads, raising the ire of “tax-free” supporters. Stevens Point decided parking fees were the answer, allowing non-residents to provide funds to share in the cost of road improvements.
The city decided to try the use of parking meters, actually kiosks that govern the collection of parking fees in a given area. Motorists pay the fee and can park anywhere within the area during the paid-for time. The parking is enforced through the license-plate monitor of vehicles in the area.
To assist the university in filling their paid lots a number of years ago, the city imposed two-hour parking limits on city streets in the area and expanded the number of streets with the limits as hospital employees spread their parking preferences eastward. Parking meters were also installed in areas where short-term parking was requested.
Last fall the city imposed the first step of its tax plan, implementing parking kiosks in the metered areas and around the formerly free areas along Maria Drive, Michigan Avenue and Isadore, Reserve, Portage and Briggs streets. A lot at the public library was also included.
The revenues from the 17 kiosk areas between September 2017 to April 2018 showed two areas failing to generate the $680 in operational costs and five others failing to meet the $1,080 capital costs. The two areas with losses were the library lot area and the northeast Maria Drive area. East of Michigan on Maria is free parking, and the downtown area has adjacent free parking.
When the kiosks went up, the drivers fled, seeking free elsewhere. Residents of the area noticed it quickly. Where did all the drivers go, especially on Reserve and Maria where the rates are 50 cents an hour? They were going to areas farther from the campus where parking is free.
One of the new areas proposed for kiosk parking is the 2200 block of College Avenue, which holds five single-family houses, and, in full disclosure, one of those is mine. The remaining houses on the block have all changed to rooming houses, the victims of demand for student housing.
For years, this narrow street has had parking on one-side limited to two hours between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That’s a challenge for homeowners to host visitors or save parking space for contractors and deliveries. Right now that two-hour limit, while not the unlimited parking other homeowners enjoy, is tolerable.
Installing kiosk paid parking for unlimited periods doesn’t encourage single-family residence ownership in neighborhoods in the central part of the city which the city needs to keep up for tax purposes.
You failed to mention that round-abouts, while decreasing severe injury accidents, actually increase non-injury accidents. By placing a round-about at Division and North Point, already one of the busiest intersections in the county, the north entrance to the city has actually been made more hazardous. This is especially true considering the number of inexperienced drivers that make their way through that intersection.
I am curious and concerned (as I have elderly parents with mobility issues) about the ability for people with handicapped permits to be able to find parking close enough. Also, It will be difficult, let alone confusing for my parents to pull in the closest available spot, but then have to maneuver/walk a distance to get to the box to insert their payment. Perhaps a solution would be for handicapped permit holders to be able to park at all of the meters free of charge, so they will always be able to park as close as possible to their venu, while preventing hopefully the need to wander to the nearest kiosk to pay for their parking.