Parking Changes

// Repeat offenders could get the boot

Downtown Tacoma has a parking problem, with street parking largely “at capacity” around the County-City Building on Yakima and Tacoma avenues and around the Museum District along Pacific Avenue up to Jefferson Avenue.

At issue is that the street parking stalls aren’t “flipping” enough to feed local businesses, concluded Tacoma’s Parking Technical Advisory Group at a meeting of the City Council’s Economic Development Committee. The recommendations are the first proposed changes since paid street parking went into effect in 2010. The last citywide parking plan was conducted two decades ago. The city has slowly seen increases in paid parking since then, from 993,000 in 2011 to a projected 1 million this year. That level of activity will likely jump as State Farm moves into the former Russell Investments building later this year and the economy continues to improve after years of sluggish business activity.

“People who say downtown is dead haven’t been downtown lately,” City Council member Marty Campbell said during the briefing.

Recommendations to fix the issues include changing signs to boost the use of transit alternatives and city-owned parking lots as well as target parking strips for specific uses. Parking spots closer to the courthouse and the main branch of the Tacoma Public Library, for example, could be limited to four hours, while the street parking closer to Bates College on Yakima would be longer.

“We have a lot of multiple users out there,” said Interim Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver.

Parking troubles around UWT, however, might prove more complicated to solve. Recommendations for parking changes there include: reducing the two-hour limit to 90 minutes, extending parking enforcement from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and ending all-day parking on Saturday.

The main issue in that area is that students and local businesses are using the two-hour stalls rather than parking elsewhere and opening those stalls for visitors and restaurant seekers. Students, for example, park in the two-hour stalls when enforcement ends at 6 p.m., taking up street parking stalls during the prime dinner traffic hours.

One fun fact of the city’s street parking system is that there are some 47,000 unpaid parking tickets. Those tickets amount – at least on paper – to more than $42 million, although collecting that money is largely unlikely.

“We have a lot of what we call scofflaws who aren’t paying their citations,” Kingsolver said after tallying the numbers. “It was somewhat shocking.”

A data dive into the report shows that the 75,000 parking citations on the city’s ledger total $42 million dating back more than 10 years. The average license plate in the system had three citations, owing $560. Some 27,000 drivers, a third of the whole roster of citations, had more than $300 in parking fines. More than 1,300 drivers had more than $5,000 in tickets. The report stated that 48 “habitual offenders” tallied $24,373 in tickets, and one in every 18 cars parked on the streets of downtown had unpaid parking tickets.

“The majority of these vehicles owed approximately five violations, confirming that many motorists accumulate multiple tickets, choosing to wait before paying, or to not pay at all,” the street-parking analysis states.

One plan to boost that collection rate is to use License Plate Recognition cameras in parking enforcement cars that could gather parking data more efficiently than through observations and questionnaires as well as potentially target repeat offenders with “boots” that lock cars in place until fines are paid, according to a field report on parking violations conducted by Paylock, a national parking company tasked with gathering parking information last fall. Unpaid parking tickets were found every 1.7 minutes during a six-hour scan of license plates.

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