While Ninth Street business owners and many of their regular customers would like to keep the area’s parking free, they realize finding a free place to park is not easy.
The Kimley-Horn consulting firm found that the parking lot on Ninth Street’s west side and the on-street spaces along Iredell and Perry streets are 90 percent fullmorning, noon and night during the week. The Whole Foods lot on Broad Street is close to capacity.
A major reason, the consultants and merchants agree, is that there is no designated parking for employees – many of whom use on-street spaces all day. Most time limits for on-street parking are three hours, and those are rarely enforced. Lanier Parking, which manages the city lots and enforces parking limits downtown, does not handle Ninth Street.
It is expected that charging for parking would help open more spaces by accelerating turnover, as well as bring in revenue for keeping up and improving the city’s parking facilities, but the consultants did not recommend starting fees right away. Rather, they suggest:
• As soon as possible, cutting the time limit from three to two hours, instituting limits where there are none, and negotiating with Duke University and Wells Fargo bank, whose private lots are used far less than capacity, about leasing space for employees.
• Waiting to institute paid parking until it is done on-street downtown, which would probably be six to 18 months after fees get City Council approval. Council members have already raised rates at downtown parking lots and garages, as suggested in the consultants’ draft report last spring, but delayed adopting on-street fees until the latest paid-parking technologies are evaluated.
Also longer-term, the consultants advise the city to negotiate to lease spaces in private lots under construction for new businesses on the west side of Ninth Street, such as the Harris Teeter supermarket, which are expected to have excess capacity.
Business owners still worry that parking fees will send their patrons to free lots at shopping centers.
Several City Council members suggested that merchants could subsidize parking costs, and that contracting with Lanier to cover Ninth Street would help relieve congestion.
“Enforcing limits would help a lot,” said Regulator Bookshop co-owner Tom Campbell.