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Pay-To-Park Zones Could Be Answer To Short North Parking Crunch

The growing popularity of urban living has revitalized some Columbus neighborhoods. Condos, restaurants and shops attract new residents and visitors. But there’s a downside: parking. It’s becoming more and more of a headache for the downtown area’s thriving neighborhoods. WOSU takes a look at the parking crunch and a possible solution. Most agree having a parking problem in parts of the city is “a good thing.” It means neighborhoods are thriving. But for people who live in places like the Short North or German Village, finding a place to park their cars can be a pain. Hairstylist Adam Bahgat works at Rage Salon on Whittier Street in German Village. Bahgat used to live near the salon, but he moved away. One reason: parking. “We did have a one-spot driveway which was more of a blessing than most people in the neighborhood had," he said. But when it came to hosting guests, Bahgat said the conversations went something like this: “Well if you drive down three or four blocks that way, you might be able to find a spot over there.” It’s a common story in trendy areas. To try to help, the city, years ago, created residential permit parking zones. Residents buy a permit from the city for $25 a year and they can park in their neighborhood. There are no assigned spaces. It worked, so other neighborhoods wanted them. Today, the city has issued 1,570 passes to residents of German Village, and the neighborhoods adjacent to the Short North: Italian and Victorian Villages. But there’s still a parking crunch. Marc Conte is a researcher at Capital Crossroads and Discovery Special Improvements District. He has studied parking in the Short North. “What’s been happening over the years is as one block will get permit parking, that’ll sort of shift visitors to the next block, and then that block will get [permit parking]. And then you keep shifting and shifting," Conte said. Conte and his team have submitted the study and recommendations to the city. “I don’t see any reduction in permitted spaces, as a matter of fact, I see us expanding them," said Patti Austin, Columbus’ Public Service Department traffic management administrator. Austin said the city is considering pay-to-park zones in areas near the core of busy business districts, like the Short North. “Anybody who would park on those streets would pay," she said. Here’s how it would work: Instead of having some streets with free parking and spotty permitted residential zones with different restrictions on each block, large sections of neighborhoods would be pay-to-park. Visitors would pay an hourly rate and residents who purchase a city permit would be excluded from that hourly rate. “The flexibility it gives the residents is if you’re having a party in the evening or...if you need someone to work on your washer and dryer, they can just pay the hourly rate to park," Austin said. "Now, in some areas, if you don’t have visitor tag nobody can park there except a resident.” The city still has to approve the recommendations. A final proposal is expected in early February. Austin said, initially, there will be a trial in the busiest part of the Short North. “There may be a neighborhood that’s close to the business district that’s so popular that, you know, you can park there, but it’s really going to cost you because we’re going to discourage you from parking in that area.” Peak parking hours would cost more. Streets farther out would cost less. The hope is, price-conscious visitors would not stay as long, creating more turnover of parking spaces. Austin said there’s no simple solution, and there are logistics and considerations before this type of system can be implemented. “If you don’t get the steps right, you’re going to inadvertently hurt somebody," she said. "I will use the example of, if you raise all the prices on High Street at the meters, but you haven’t figured out how to accommodate employee parking yet, you’re going to really hurt those employees who used to park at meters or park on the adjacent metered streets.” Marc Conte said the plan could help, but it won’t eliminate the crunch because neighborhoods like German Village and Short North weren’t built for lots of cars. “It’s not going to be limitless parking. People are going to have to start paying. Or if they want free parking, they’re going to have to start walking further to get to their final destination," he said. Or they could consider Sara Froelich’s strategy. She lives near Lindy’s restaurant in German village, which on most nights is hopping, so she competes with Lindy’s valet parking service. But she devised a plan to ensure parking for her and her friends that seems to work. “I’ve made friends with the valet boys at Lindy’s. So, you know, I can bake some cookies and they hook me up with some spots," she chuckles.