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City hires consultant to study parking

Preliminary solutions include shuttles to free leases for developers

June 29, 2005

The City of Hood River has hired a consultant to find a long-term fix for the downtown parking problem.

While that study is underway, some merchants will be allowed to exchange a customer’s expired parking meter ticket for a discount waiver.

Richard Williams Consulting has been chosen to spend two months studying the parking situation in the historic district.

The Portland-based company was selected by the city council on Monday out of three firms vying for the $34,940 job.

The elected body wanted to have the consultant onboard during the tourist season when vehicle traffic was heaviest.

Some of the solutions the consultant team of traffic engineers and architects will be looking into include: shuttling employees — who take up about half of the available spaces — to work from another location.

Another idea is to provide a developer with a free long-term lease of downtown property in exchange for the construction of a parking structure.

Meanwhile, Bob Francis, city manager, wants to try a new experiment to get through the current busy season. He plans to issue Downtown Business Association (DBA) owners with five parking ticket waivers per month. These can be redeemed for $1 to provide short-term relief for clients until a solution is found for the lack of available spaces.

“We’ve never had a program like this before. We’ll try this to see if it works and if it doesn’t we’ll come back to the table and look at something else,” Francis told members of the DBA parking committee last week.

“I think we’re trying to come up with some good solutions,” said Kathy Bruce, manager of the Hood River Hotel and a committee member.

In mid-July, signs will be posted in the windows of DBA members announcing the new start of the new waiver program. The coupons issued by the city are intended to help out shoppers who have forgotten to plug the meter and can produce a receipt to show a purchase from the store. Francis said the idea is to spare customers from the regular $10 price tag for a parking violation when he/she forgets to plug the meter while browsing. However, he said the waivers will not apply to other infractions and cannot be used by employees or business owners.

The waiver program replaces the short-lived 30-minute grace period granted to motorists when a meter expired just as the enforcement officer arrived. Francis said some vehicles violated the intent of that offer by remaining in place without paying for almost two more hours, the length of time it took for the officer to make the rest of her rounds.

Chris Kelly, owner of Storm Warning, said the waivers need to be accompanied by a “warm and fuzzy” approach to enforcement. He and other DBA members have requested that deference be given to motorists whenever possible so that hostility is alleviated over the “hot button” issue of parking violations.

“It’s my experience that parking tickets are one of the most contentious things that law enforcement can do,” agreed Police Chief Bruce Ludwig, who was present at the June 23 meeting.

He said if the city had parking meters, it was the job of his officers to make sure the rules were followed equally. Kelly and other DBA committee members agreed with that position, but requested that the “benefit of the doubt” go to the customer whenever possible.

Francis hopes one day that parking issues in Hood River will be a thing of the past. He said for more than 30 years the city has been trying to find an affordable solution to the challenge that is common in most American urban centers. The starting point toward that remedy, said Francis, will most likely be found in the recommendations submitted by the chosen consultant in October. That inventory of all public and private lots and spaces within the downtown corridor will also include interviews with business owners about parking needs.

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