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City Council discusses plans for proposed parking shake-up

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City council discusses plans to upgrade the town's parking meters on Sept. 10, 2018. Photo by Bo Kuhn.

The council discussed installing new meters and adding zoning priorities to encourage parking throughout the city.

City Council discussed plans to replace aging parking meters with smart meters in an effort to make parking more accessible uptown at its meeting Monday night.

City Planner Paul Logue and Assistant Service Safety Director Ron Lucas delivered a presentation to the Planning and Development Committee on how the updated parking meters would increase costs for those looking to park in the uptown area, based on a zoning system.

The zones would range from high-intensity areas — Court Street in particular — to low-intensity areas, away from the main uptown area. High-intensity areas could run as much as $1 an hour, and low-intensity areas could cost as little as 50 cents per hour.

Logue said an issue he commonly hears about is the apparent lack of parking space uptown.

“Parking in a downtown or uptown environment can be tricky because you just can’t create parking space out of thin air,” Logue said.

Should the plan be implemented, it would cost Athens $443,667.50 to purchase 525 units which would include their installation. The city also has the option to lease the units for 36, 48, or 60 months, where the city would buy the units for $1 each at the end of the lease term.

The plan is based on projections from a pilot program located on Court Street that ran from February to May 2018. The pilot survey found that coin-based meters earned the city $7,549.67, while the new smart meters earned the city $8,612 and change.

The smart meters are solar powered and connect to WiFi, allowing parking enforcement to reduce the number of tracking systems they use from two to one, streamlining the parking enforcement process.

The new meters would also include multiple ways to pay for parking, including by coin, debit card, or through an app. This contrasts with the old system, which was based on coin only payment; Lucas said that system caused drivers without coins to gamble on not getting a ticket.

Lucas said the new system is designed to incentivize the natural flow of traffic and increase available parking space in the high-intensity parking areas.

“It makes consumers more aware of what service they’re purchasing,” Lucas said.

Lucas and the city planner also looked at the parking garage. Lucas cited that the parking garage often has many empty spaces, even on busy days. Lucas referenced that the sign above the garage says “city parking” which may confuse people to think the building is used to house city vehicles.

The parking plan — part of the larger comprehensive city plan — is estimated to proceed with installation over the 2018 winter break.

The transportation committee also discussed the Northwest Bike Path Spur, a bike path project. The project director has requested an extra $100,000 to complete the project that connects Armitage Road to University Estates Boulevard.

The Ohio Department of Transportation informed the city that a portion of the trail goes through what is legally considered a forest, so the route must be redrawn to avoid trees, which will increase the cost. They must also build three retaining walls to protect a stream, increasing the cost further.

The original date for completion was June 2019, but it has been pushed back to fall 2019.

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