City plans to revamp downtown parking

Rabab Al-Sharif

The city of Kent plans to solve downtown parking issues by improving management of underused lots and regulating parking in prime parking areas.

City Engineer Jim Bowling presented a tentative plan to Kent City Council Wednesday night. Council voted unanimously to move forward with the new parking plan, intended to coincide with the opening of the buildings and the streets.

Parking downtown has been an issue for some time but has become more of a problem with ongoing downtown construction.

The problem, according to Bowling, is not a lack of parking spots: in actuality, many parking areas are underused.

“There are more than enough spaces available,” Bowling said. “Everyone’s trying to fight for the most prime spaces.”

A study conducted by the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority and the city of Kent found that about 50 percent of downtown parking wasn’t being utilized. Bowling affirmed that the goal of a new parking management system would be to use 85 percent of available parking.

The spaces that weren’t being used weren’t being managed well, he said. The areas weren’t signed well, didn’t have clear walking paths, were poorly lit and poorly paved.

Public lots on North Franklin Avenue, the north end of Water Street and State Route 43 are hardly used, Bowling said.

Workers should be parking in these lots to leave the prime street parking open for customers, he said. What often happens in the current system is that people who park for longer periods of time, such as employees, often park on the street closest to their workplace limiting customer parking.

These premium spaces, including street parking on South Water Street between Main Street and Haymaker Parkway, and East Main Street between DePeyster Street and Water Street, may become fee-driven with one to two-hour time limits.

This could be a pay and display method similar to the lot at Michael Schwartz Center and other lots on campus where you are required to purchase and display a temporary permit to park.

A possible pay-to-park policy isn’t necessarily motivated by a need to generate revenue, Bowling said.

“It’s the need to manage the parking that we have so that it’s being used by the intended customers,” he said.

Pay spots would likely become free spots during evenings and weekends, he said. But if employees continued to take these spots, the spots would instead remain within rate limits.

It will cost the city a significant amount to install a meter system and signage. Currently, $750,000 is budgeted to install the parking management system, Bowling said. But, reworking the parking system is critical to ensuring that downtown development is successful.

“While the streets and the parking are not a draw to come there, the businesses are. If people come and they don’t feel they can park,” he said, “they’ll have a bad experience and then won’t come back.”

If visitors don’t feel that they can find safe, proximate, well-lit, well-maintained parking where they know they’re not going to get a ticket, the result could be long-term viability problems for the downtown businesses, he said.

The city has attempted to solve this issue in other ways, including increased parking enforcement, encouraging business owners to request that tenants don’t park in premium spots and leaving letters on cars. These were attempts to alleviate the matter before it reached this ultimate stage; however, none were successful.

Amanda Boyd, co-owner of Skullz Salon on Water Street, said she has spoken to the parking action committee, the non-profit revitalization organization Main Street Kent and the city’s engineering division to voice her concerns about the parking situation downtown. Boyd doesn’t think the city has done enough to prevent this problem.

“Parking downtown has to change because the city has changed,” she said. “You’ve got a multitude of people coming downtown to see what’s going on, but there’s no place for them to park, so they leave with a bad taste in their mouth.”

When people get angry, she said, they aren’t getting angry with city officials.

“Our clients [are] not mad about the City of Kent; they’re not mad at Jim Bowling. Who are they mad at? They’re mad at you as a business owner because there’s nowhere to park,” she said.

Boyd said the city should have taken care of the parking problem before the construction and new businesses.

“How is creating more construction zones without allocating for more parking going to help any problem?” she said. “Foresight is half the battle. Poor planning, lack of foresight is what got us into this mess.”

Contact Rabab Al-Sharif at [email protected].