For people in the burbs, the knock on going downtown has always been paying for parking.
Now, it looks like Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker plans to make things worse. As part of his 2012–2013 budget, Becker proposes extending parking enforcement until 10 p.m. and increasing metered parking rates from $1.50 to $2 an hour. Right now, drivers can park for free after 6 p.m.
Becker hopes to raise nearly $1 million by sticking it to street parkers—$480,000 a year from new meter revenue and another half million in extra parking tickets.
Salt Lake City’s mayor isn’t the first to come up with this regressive revenue generator. Mayors from coast to coast are padding tight budgets with parking revenues: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has suggested spiking the penalty for illegal parking on street-sweeping days to $78—raising an extra $40 million a year. In Portland, Ore., the City Council raised rates at three city parking garages in March. And in Portland, Maine, the city is nearly doubling rates at city-owned garages.
Normally all about the free, easy parking, the Downtown Alliance is backing the mayor on this. Businesses cite apocryphal stories about bartenders and servers planting their cars at street meters and leaving them there until midnight. Alliance Executive Director Jason Mathis says all you have to do is watch the 4 p.m. shift change at Squatter’s when 20 servers fill the spots in front of the brewpub.
“Their cars are there until midnight,” he adds.
For all the folks from Sandy who circle the block looking in vain for an open spot, Mathis suggests you look for one of the 25,000 spaces in a downtown parking garages, where many spots are free after 6 p.m.
“This has the potential to create more parking availability downtown,” says Mathis. “The biggest challenge we’re going to have is messaging.”
The City Council will consider the mayor's proposal as it reviews Becker's budget.
Becker Spokesman Art Raymond says the mayor is not simply trying to fill city coffers. He points to similar parking management programs in Seattle and Nashua, N.H. To ease the transition—and suburban perceptions of downtown parking—Salt Lake City is planning a public education campaign. Techs also are working on a smart phone app that would help drivers find open spaces in garages.
"It's not a budget dilemma we're trying to solve," Raymond says. "We want on-street parking to turn over."