Government

City parking survey raises some questions

Business owners, permit holders decry GR’s lack of communication.

December 7, 2018
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The city of Grand Rapids released a survey to gather public feedback on proposed parking rate changes — and several individuals already have voiced disapproval.

The changes come in response to a Parking and Mobility Study completed in 2015 to evaluate parking demand and rates. It also established a work program for managing parking demand through mobility initiatives and investments incorporated into the fiscal year 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 budgets.

Mobile GR and Parking Services offers standard monthly permits in 20 ramps and lots in downtown. The permits currently range from $48 to $154 per month. There also are two other types of monthly permits. The Evening Monthly permit — $49 per month — is for parking 4:30 p.m.-8 a.m. on weekdays and unlimited weekend hours, and the VIP Monthly permit — $17 per month — is for parking 4:30 p.m.-6 a.m., seven days per week.

Reserved parking guarantees an assigned space available for permit holders 24/7. According to the city, only half of the spaces on average are utilized, which limits ramp and lot space for visitor and event parking.

On-street parking meters currently are enforced from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. There are no weekend enforcement hours, with the exception of Monroe Center Street, which is enforced on Saturdays from 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

The study recommended significant increases to off-street parking rates, which were approved by city commissioners in 2016 and included in the fiscal year 2017 budget.

Mobile GR and Parking Services recently released a 2018 draft of recommendations to affect both on-street and permit parking. The four draft recommendations are:

  1. Maintain current standard monthly parking rates

  2. Phase out and increase the rate for monthly nonresidential reserved parking by $50 per month

  3. Merge the VIP parking permit program into the evening parking permit program into one program — $49 per month — and extend it to more lots

  4. Extend hours of enforcement for on-street parking to 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and possible weekend hours to improve parking turnover

Josh Naramore, Mobile GR and Parking Services director, said the recommendations are preliminary at this point and have not officially gone before the city commission.

“It’s not a done deal. It’s very preliminary,” he said. “The next step would be to modify those things based on the public feedback. We’re happy that people are excited about it, whether they’re for or against.”

Mobile GR is now gathering public feedback, via an online survey, between now and Dec. 21, after which it will give its modified recommendations to the city manager, who will then determine when it goes to the city commission.

Naramore added Mobile GR is encouraging people to come to a special public hearing of the Mobile GR Advisory Commission at 8 a.m. Dec. 13 at 50 Ottawa Ave. NW.

For one business owner, the decision to increase on-street enforcement hours doesn’t sit well. Edwin Collazo, co-founder and co-owner of City Built Brewing Company, took to social media to voice his disapproval of recommendation No. 4.

In a public Facebook post addressed to the city, Collazo argued against the narrative that extending on-street enforcement would improve parking turnover.

“The changes would only add to that daily fight, and we would have to spend resources to educate our clientele instead of focusing on other areas of our business,” Collazo said. “Adding or extending metered hours would be a significant blow to our foot traffic.”

Collazo also recommended, as an alternative, to provide free parking for the first 1.5 hours so people are incentivized to park in front of a business for a time and then choose to move on or pay the fee to park longer.

As a monthly permit holder, Kimberly Houtman, marketing and business development coordinator for Miller Johnson, was particularly displeased with Mobile GR’s lack of communication with permit holders that a survey had been posted.

Houtman told the Business Journal she had expected an email from Mobile GR informing permit holders it was asking for feedback regarding changes, but she received no such message and instead was made aware through a co-worker who saw it on Facebook.

“For our firm, we have 60 to 70 people who are monthly parkers,” Houtman said. “We were surprised. No one had been notified by the city parking service.”

Houtman said part of the process of applying for a monthly permit included giving her email address, so there was no reason in her mind why the city wouldn’t be able to communicate with her.

“Once a month, I get an email from city parking services that they’ve deducted my fee from my credit card,” Houtman said. “They have access to who’s parking in the ramp, so I would think that information would be shared out to monthly pass holders, but in this case, it wasn’t.”

In response to this, Naramore said Mobile GR actually does not have valid email addresses for all of its monthly parkers because it’s working on integrating a new, more streamlined permit system, but the new vendor has proved difficult to work with.

“Many of the parkers have been with us for a long time, and we still mail them invoices and a lot are set up for direct auto pay,” Naramore said. “If they’re not happy about not being reached out to, it’s because we’re still working on that.”

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