After years of planning and study, parking meters went live on several downtown Charlottesville streets Tuesday as part of a six-month pilot by the city to manage its parking resources.
“I have walked around a little and looked at utilization and I’ve certainly seen a change,” said Rick Siebert, the city’s parking manager. “There are more open spaces on the street, which is what one of the objectives is.”
The City Council voted 4-1 in April 2016 to move forward with a parking action plan that called for paid on-street spaces and reduced prices at municipal garages.
As part of the plan, the city-controlled Market Street Parking Garage now offers the first hour free and the hourly fee was reduced from $2.50 to $1.50. Merchants will no longer be able to validate two hours of parking at this facility.
Validation will continue to be honored at the Water Street Parking Garage, which is operated by the Charlottesville Parking Center. The fee there will continue to be $2 an hour. A series of lawsuits between CPC and the city have thus far prevented a coordinated approach to downtown parking needs.
About 100 spaces in and around the Downtown Mall now require payment of $1.80 an hour for a two-hour maximum stay. Meters installed by the IPS Group accept coins or credit cards.
Some spaces have individual meters and others are governed by kiosks that cover multiple spaces. Downtown Mall visitors and business owners had a mix of reactions on the first day of the pilot.
“It was very frustrating because I had to dig through the bottom of my purse to find change,” said Jaclyn Dunkle, the owner of two businesses on Market Street. “It doesn’t take dollars and I didn’t want to use a credit card for parking.”
Dunkle said customers at one of her restaurants, the Tin Whistle, are frustrated they can no longer get two hours free at the Market Street Parking Garage.
“The Water Street Parking Garage is too far from these businesses for us to make that a worthwhile investment for us,” Dunkle said.
Validation will continue to be honored at the Market Street garage for a brief time, Siebert said.
“I’m going to try to get some data from what businesses are stamping so I can go back and talk to them on an individual basis to remind them their arrangement with CPC is for the Water Street Parking Garage only,” he said.
A walk around downtown just before lunchtime Tuesday revealed several empty spaces that typically would have been occupied.
Avery Cousins, of Staunton, pulled up to an open space outside the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library on Market Street just before noon. He walked to the multi-space kiosk to pay so he could visit a friend at a nearby stop.
“I’ve paid for parking meters before,” Cousins said, reaching into his bag to pull out some quarters. “What happens when I put in 50 cents? That might give me time to do what I need to do.”
Cousins stopped when the kiosk instructed him to enter his license plate number, a requirement for the multi-space meters.
“That’s a drag, isn’t it?” he said. “Having to put my license plate in changes things a little bit.”
Cousins decided to park elsewhere and tried to get his coins back, but there was no return slot. He drove off.
Seconds later, Mandy Peacock walked up with a credit card in one hand and a gift for a birthday party in another. She was aware that the parking pilot was set to begin Tuesday.
“I came from Chicago so I’m used to this, and it seems like there’s a lot more parking available today,” she said.
James Pearce runs a commercial repair business that frequently takes calls downtown. He parked in a space on Market Street but didn’t pay.
“I don’t really understand how to use them yet,” he said. “They popped up sort of out of nowhere, and I guess I don’t know what process they came out of. It’s confusing to me that I didn’t hear anything about them before they arrived.”
Max Bollinger is a bartender at Ten on the Downtown Mall. He had paid for parking on Second Street Northeast but it expired two minutes before he came back to his car.
“I used to live off of Second Street so it was walkable from my house, which I really miss,” Bollinger said. “I drive downtown two or three times a day now to get my morning coffee and then go home and come back to work.”
Bollinger said he used to like parking in the side street spaces because they were relatively obscure.
“If you get lucky and it’s available, then you don’t have to pay with quarters, which is ideal because you run out of quarters,” said Bollinger, who then pointed to a city-owned surface lot on Water Street that has the older coin-only meters.
However, those public spaces will go away as soon as ground is broken for the nine-story West2nd building on the former site of the City Market.
For 50 cents, Bollinger got 15 minutes. He said he is not likely park on the street anymore.
“It’s just too expensive for me,” Bollinger said, adding that he likely will park farther away in the future.
There are no meters in spaces reserved for those with disabilities. Meters in loading zones have altered hours. And there is no charge for the motorcycle parking on First Street South.
There were only two parked cars on all of Old Preston Avenue shortly after 3 p.m.
“That’s normally full,” Siebert said. “The objective is that if price matters to you, enjoy the first hour free in the Market Street Parking Garage and pay only $1.50 an hour. If you don’t mind paying a premium because you like the convenience of parking on-street, now you have an opportunity to do that rather than drive around looking for parking.”
Siebert said this also could lead to reduced traffic congestion as fewer motorists hunt for open spaces.
The pilot project ends after six months and the City Council will be asked how to proceed. Siebert said it is too early to recommend any adjustments.
“Right now, particularly on Day 1, I think we need to have some time to play out,” he said. “Certainly, we’ve seen a change on Old Preston Avenue on Day 1. Maybe on Day 10 or Day 14, when people realize what’s available, you’ll instead start seeing one empty space on either side of the street.”