Williamsburg considers downtown parking revamp

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

A parking consultant’s recommendations to the city suggests a switch: charge for on-street parking to push long-term visitors off the streets and into garages and other lots.

Illinois-based Walker Parking Consultants made the suggestion in their October 2016 study and a year later, the city is beginning to implement what they can.

Williamsburg does not charge for on-street parking, which fills quickly. It does, however, charge for off-street parking in lots and garages.

Among its recommendations, Walker Parking Consultants suggested the city implement paid parking downtown. Paid lots would be $1 per hour, and on-street parking would be $1.50 for the first two hours and $3 per hour after that.

Phil Serra, the city’s finance director, said Williamsburg collected $351,000 in parking structure revenue last fiscal year and expects $320,000 this year.

The consultant has not said how its recommendations might affect the city’s parking revenue.

Parking studies performed in 2016 and 1995 both have the same premise: people should pay for parking near the destinations and not for parking spaces that are farther away.

“The heart of their recommendation is flipping that pricing strategy that we currently use,” said Assistant City Manager Andrew Trivette in an Oct. 9 work session. “The idea being that you pay for convenience and not inconvenience.”

Paid parking is one of the best ways to guarantee turnover, the study states, meaning people can’t simply park in one spot and leave their car there for several hours. Trivette recognized when potential patrons can’t find spaces by the businesses they’d like to visit, those places suffer.

“The perception of a parking problem is a parking problem, especially for those businesses that are trying to get people to come downtown,” Trivette said.

A perceived lack of parking leads to issues such as cars driving the same lot waiting for people to exit and drivers moving their cars to different spots to avoid tickets.

In October 2016, Walker Parking Consultants found as many as 38 percent of the city's parking spots go unused.

“We really don’t have a parking problem from the perspective of shortage of supply,” Trivette said. “There’s ample supply. We don’t have spaces where people would like them to be.”

First, a warning

The city currently charges people $10 for their first parking violation, $30 for the second and $50 for their third violation.

The city collects about $75,000 in parking fines each year.

Police Chief Sean Dunn said the department historically has been slow to react to parking issues, but increased parking enforcement could help quell some of the issues.

“Our current system is not a real proactive system,” said Dunn. “It’s really a reactive system.”

Walker Parking Consultants suggested the city change how it charges drivers who err when parking downtown.

The first violation should yield a warning, then charge $35 for the first violation. The second and third violation would cost drivers $50 and $100, respectively.

“We’re a tourist destination,” Trivette said. “It’s very easy for a tourist not to know what the rules are. We should give the parker an opportunity to correct their behavior.”

In line with another recommendation from Walker Parking Consultants, Dunn’s department is attempting to hire three more parking enforcement officers.

Maj. Susan Galvin said following a September work session that payroll savings make it possible for the department to hire three part-time employees to help with parking enforcement.

There is one parking enforcement officer accounted for in the city’s budget for fiscal year 2018.

They will catch parking violations and act as liaisons for people with questions. Having those officers act as liaisons in addition to their enforcement duties is especially important in the Williamsburg community, Dunn said.

“We have a lot of visitors who may only be here for a day, then every year we have an influx of students who may not necessarily know the parking regulations,” he said.

Part of the city’s plans for fiscal year 2018 include a public relations strategy to get the word out about coming changes and adjust penalties for parking violations.

City staff also plans to install parking sensors in paid parking lots. The sensors will give the city an idea of how often paid parking spots are used, and with that information, the city could shelve or tweak other parking plans.

“They could very well change once we know more about what’s happening on the street,” said Mayor Paul Freiling.

City staff could spend the next three fiscal years implementing the changes.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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