Parking meters will start being installed downtown today, with system testing expected to be complete by the end of the month.
Fifteen digital meters, similar to the ones already in the city’s two parking garages, will be placed on each block in the downtown area.
City manager Rod Swope said they will go from the Marine Park garage to the Capitol building, from Main Street to Franklin Street.
“When you pull in and park you must go up to the meter on that block and enter your license plate number,” he said. “You put in how long you intend to park there.”
The first two hours of parking will be free, and each hour after is $2.
“The other thing that’s critical is you cannot park in a block, use two hours of free parking and then move on up to another block and use another free two hours of parking,” Swope said. “Parking enforcement people can tell. That’s why it’s important, even if you don’t intend to pay, to register your license plate.”
Most of the parking meters will be on the corner of a block, on the outer edge of the sidewalk. Swope said some of them aren’t going to be placed that way due to lighting and pedestrian flow concerns.
“All of them that we will be installing on the streets will run on solar power,” Swope said. “Even with the limited amount of sunshine and light we get in summer and winter they will still function. Their batteries will operate them for up to eight months without any charge at all.”
Swope isn’t concerned with the placement of the meters for heavy winter snows.
“They’ll just have to be careful,” he said. “I’m told the things are bomb proof, basically, and that they’re really tough.”
He said that short of the plow hitting them and ripping them off their base, the meters will be fine.
Swope said they are also coated in special paint that makes them essentially graffiti-proof.
He’s sure that will eventually be tested here, but the spray paint is supposed to wipe right off.
The total cost of the meters — including installation, software and support — is about $400,000. Installation will take place throughout this week. The city expects to have the meters “live” on May 23, with testing taking place in between.
Swope said there will be a kind of grace period for drivers once the system is launched.
“It’s new and it’s going to take people time to get used to it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to go out and start immediately issuing citations. It’s been a long time coming. I think once people get used to it and get accustomed to using these, it will be a much more efficient and cost effective system.”
The machines also will have the ability to allow customers to phone into a call center and purchase an extension to their parking time. Swope said it will cost 35 cents to use that feature and whatever amount a person would like to extend parking for. More information on how that system will work will be available later.
The parking meters are part of a larger plan to make downtown parking more efficient. The other part was the new Downtown Transportation Center.
Swope said the new garage and use of meters in both garages has been going well.
“It seems to be well used,” he said. “The Legislature was very pleased with being able to use the parking garage. It turned out to be a nice facility.”
Swope said it’s too early to tell if the pricing is right for both garages.
“Right now we’re going into a completely different dynamic downtown,” he said. “Use of the two garages is going to change. We’re likely to see a lot more use of the old downtown garage. We’re not quite sure yet how that’s going to affect the use of the new garage. We need to let that happen and at least let it play out for a month or two.”
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.