The city of Vancouver has a plan to eliminate free on-street parking in downtown's newly formed "government parking district."
City councilors voted unanimously Monday night to create a 49-block parking district, bounded roughly by Mill Plain Boulevard to the north, rail tracks to the west, Evergreen Boulevard/Eighth Street to the south and Columbia Street to the east. The district includes several government buildings, including the Clark County Public Service Center and the Clark County Courthouse.
The city will then be able to meter all 783 parking spaces in the district. Currently, 60 percent of those spaces are not metered. The plan will also raise the time limits on most meters to either three or 10 hours.
The plan will take effect gradually through 2013 and 2014, according to city Principal Planner Bryan Snodgrass. The reason for phasing in the changes is to allow the city time to plan financially for the capital expense of adding new meters and signs, estimated between $480,000 and $690,000.
Councilors approved the district after city staff assured the council it can alter the plans later if needed.
Councilor Larry Smith said that as the city further outlines its plans, it needs to be sure to accommodate volunteers and other folks who need parking to get to nonprofit services in the district.
"I think I've heard enough to feel comfortable with this," Smith said. "When it comes to parking, especially for densely populated areas, urbanized areas, I worry about one thing: They provide services, many of those are social services and many of them … are volunteers."
Smith continued, "That's my only concern as we go through the process, (that) of making sure
we find accommodations as best we possibly can to make those services accessible to the very folks they are trying to serve. Otherwise we lose on this deal."
To that end, Councilor Jack Burkman said he hopes to hear from members of the community if the new parking rules don't work when they are implemented.
"There may be some learnings for people; they may have some concerns," said Councilor Jack Burkman, noting that the city's parking advisory committee takes input from the public on parking issues. "Given that we also have citizen communication times, my expectation is that, if they do have problems … those people come and talk to us. It's a plea to the public, if you will, that if things aren't going well, come and tell us so we have some idea."
Even with the capital expense of installing new meters and signs, the city hopes the new plan moves the city toward a more self-sustaining parking program.
In 2012, parking expenses, including debt, was approximately $3 million. Revenues from meters, penalties, leases and permits totaled approximately $2 million. The net cost of the program was $928,878.
In March, a parking consultant working with the city said that many of the free parking spots available west of the Clark County Public Services Center are used by county employees. The county charges employees $20 a month to park in its garage. While more than 1,000 county employees work downtown, only about 550 pay to park in the garage.