Improving Parking Downtown

Dear Council:

I've heard that the City is considering raising parking fees/fines in the next budget. That is a terrible idea for so many reasons.

East Lansing already has very high parking fines relative to other cities. And the enforcement is very zealous, or one could even say, not customer friendly. This, along with the limits of the current parking system, discourage residents and visitors from visiting and shopping downtown. This hurts businesses, and in turn, hurts the downtown and the whole city.

Many municipalities offer free parking for a period of time to encourage shoppers to patronize the merchants in an area. The City of Jackson, MI, for example. Recently, I was able to find a parking meter at the Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles, California, for about $1.25, and to stroll the pier at an American landmark for a reasonable time without worry of getting a ticket. If LA can do this, we should be able to also!

More recently, I discovered that the City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has technology which I think is the next step for East Lansing to adopt if it is sincere about improving parking and revitalizing the downtown area. The parking system is described in this internet article from a few years ago:


The company that offers this system can be found here: HERE

Another article mentioning other companies and some privacy concerns: HERE

The City Council should assign the task of selecting a suitable and affordable vendor to the various commissions that may have an interest in downtown parking. A pro-privacy ordinance should be drafted that mandates the information collected and stored is only for payment purposes and not accessible to law enforcement, PACE, etc., and should have built in privacy protections. The idea is to improve the parking situation, not figure out how to ticket people better. Perhaps the City could even develop its own system instead of paying to use an already developed one. Maybe the City, instead of subsidizing all the TIC tenants without any apparent leverage or investment, could have some of those smart folks develop a system as a form of thanking the rest of us taxpayers? We should have the human capital in this community of hipsters and techies to build such a system.

This system is far superior to what we have in East Lansing. For one, it is convenient for the consumer of parking services. The efficiencies are amazing. No cash or credit needed. No need to waste time at a machine with only pre-selected time available (like the CVS lot or others). What if you only want or need 17 minutes of parking? At CVS, you can only choose 1/2 hour, 1 hour, or 1.5 hours. What about 10 minutes? With this system, a user would never receive a parking ticket either, they would simply be billed for the time used. This would save a lot of frustration and encourage people to park downtown. This system could even be improved upon with RFID cards or something similar that could be purchased at City Hall.

Adoption of a system like this fits in with the idea of a "cool city" that adopts modern technology that is consumer friendly, and economically smart. Theoretically, it could reduce the need for PACE and the costs associated with parking enforcement and administration. It could provide great data for the city to use in analyzing parking trends. Let's be honest, PACE, while sometimes necessary, is generally disdained by many residents as simple ticket-writing farming for the city by just waiting for those meters to run out so that exorbitant tickets are issued (or in some cases not waiting.....this would end the corrupt practice of issuing a ticket with time still on the meter, which many including myself have experienced in the city or on campus).

I would like to see something like this adopted. This customer friendly technology could do as much to attract people to downtown as the developments taking place (and with the developments there should be more people downtown utilizing parking). Parking could be billed to a credit or debit card, or maybe attached to a resident's water bill, for example. I don't want to think the City is raising parking fees to cover handouts to developers.....that's bad policy. Merchants need the traffic, and the Council should be doing whatever is in its power to stimulate commerce, instead of putting up barriers to it.

Lastly, on a similar note, the City should change its overnight parking policies to encourage people to leave their cars downtown without acquiring multiple tickets. This would encourage patronage of downtown merchants late at night, prevent drunk driving thereby improving public safety, and might encourage shopping again in the morning when people return to get their cars.

Again, the idea is making the city "customer-friendly", and a welcoming place people enjoy living and visiting. That is the key to success. Not writing tickets and fining people with entrepreneurial zeal as a back-door non-Headlee Amendment compliant way to raise tax money.