Friday, March 30, 2012

Update on Dover Parking Meters

I figured it was time to do another update on my post from last year regarding the parking meters in downtown Dover.  (to see the original post Click Here) I created a Google Map of the meter locations last year.  It is now updated with new meters and locations.  The city did put together a map (caution PDF) which is what I used to place the markers.  It is however, hard to figure out specifics, especially if you are not a resident.  I figured a better map was in order.
(this map can be used as is or click below for a larger version in a new window.)
View Dover, NH Parking Meter Locations in a larger map

First, charging for parking is a great idea.  This is the public space (not the motorists space) and if you are using it for the storage of your private vehicle than the space is limited for other uses, and thus a price should be payed for that use.  One could argue that bicycles should pay too, however the amount of space a bicycle takes up vs the amount of space a car takes up makes that sound ridiculous.  A typical bike coral placed in a car parking spot can hold 12-16 bikes, that is 12-16 people (yes cyclists are people too!) vs the average of 1.8 people per car. (ok when was the last time you saw a 12 passenger van parked full of people?).  I understand the point and in The Netherlands a number of long term facilities charge for parking, but these are usually guarded and have bike shops on site.  Some places in the US charge for parking in bike lockers to recoup the high cost of installation, this makes sense.

None the less there are proper ways to charge for parking, ways that get community support and positive engagement.  Dover did not do it properly, and instead have dedicated revenue after meter infrastructure payments toward the building of a parking facility in the downtown.  This is to be fair, the most idiotic idea ever.  At $10,000-$20,000 per space (give or take) a parking structure is a colossal waste of money.  A good bike rack costs $120 and parks 2 people (bikes).  If you want to go crazy and install covered secured parking, the costs very but the Bike Hanger model from the Netherlands runs $5,000 and holds 5 bikes.   Even at $1,000 per space we are not coming anywhere close to the $10,000/space of an auto parking facility.

Due to the lack of proper engagement and proper revenue dedication, there has been some noisy push-back from some area residents.  Threats to never shop downtown again, to the downtown is a ghost town, to the city councilors being godless communists (ok ok they were not called that as far as I know).  That culminated on Wednesday night with a proposal from the youngest councilor on the removal of the meters.  He had "promised his constituents that he would bring it up for a vote."  Thankfully it was killed 8-1, but I doubt we will hear the end of it at least for a little while longer.

How could Dover have avoided this or partially avoided this?  I will take from Donald Shoup the renowned parking expert and professor at UCLA (speaking of godless communists...).  His idea is that in many places the market can handle a price for parking, but that the funds raised should not go toward general budget things or revenue for other projects.  It should instead go back to the neighborhood or district being tolled.  Ideally separated out by street.  It could go towards beautification projects like trees, benches, trash/recycling.  It could go toward street or sidewalk repairs and infrastructure improvements like lighting.  It could go toward small grants for business or home improvements that benefit the streetscape, like a new porch or new business awning.  It could also be used toward paying interest on or subsidizing low/no interest loans for business or home upgrades. For a video of Dr. Shoup talking about his ideas with the great folks at Streetfilms Click Here.  For another great video on parking from Streetfilms Click Here
Image from

A number of communities have gone this route and if a town or city wanted to, I am sure with a bit of research they could figure out the legal requirements needed to be able to do that.

It makes more sense too.  When you use the revenue and invest back in that street or block you get support.  You get support because individuals can see the benefit and know that it is going right back into where they work or live.  When something is far off or nebulous you start to encourage the naysayers.  Once people start seeing the benefits (and it can be small at first, new flower pots or benches) they will support the project even more, that gives it a broad base of support within the community which allows it to expand to new areas and allows other residents to successfully counter the naysayers, instead of the city or planning department having to defend the initiative.

It is not too late for Dover, the council can shift where the funding will go (revenue is still being used to pay infrastructure installation and purchase costs).  It can work with the planning board and planning department to develop street zones for dispersal of revenue.  It can work with the Chamber of Commerce and local credit unions/banks to set up a loan or grant structure for businesses and residents.

This is seen as a negative by a number of vocal opponents, however it does not have to be.  I encourage Dover to do research and find some mechanisms that will work to the benefit of everybody, I don't know what that would look like but I can tell you a parking structure is not it.

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