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November 13, 2013

Burlington Telling Drivers: There's Plenty of Parking Spaces Downtown

 Can't find a parking space in downtown Burlington?

You probably haven't looked in the right places.

About 35 percent of the nearly 8500 public and private parking spots in the Queen City are empty even at peak times, attendees at a "parking summit" were told on Wednesday.

BlogWith improved signage, technological innovations and enhanced public-private partnerships, it should be possible to hook up many more motorists with available parking slots, city officials said at the meeting.

Kelly Devine, director of the Burlington Business Association, noted that one downtown garage with room for 100 cars is almost entirely unused after business hours. That facility is located underneath the Main Street Landing building on the waterfront and is accessible by turning right off King Street just before reaching the bike path, Devine explained.

Burlington aims to introduce some major changes in its parking system in the coming years, Devine said in an interview following the event held at the Hilton Hotel on Battery Street.

The city recently installed automated lanes that allow payments for parking in public garages to be made with credit or debit cards. Next up, Devine revealed, will be enabling payment via smartphone before drivers even leave home. She's also looking toward a future when driverless cars "may drop you off, go and park somewhere else and come back to pick you up."

The business association that Devine directs and that sponsored the summit favors eliminating city requirements stipulating that new buildings include a set number of parking spaces, Devine noted.

San Francisco-based transportation planner Jeffrey Tumlin (pictured above) had warned in a speech at the meeting that requiring a minimum number of parking spaces has the effect of making housing less affordable. Builders pass on the costs of garages and other parking accommodations to buyers or renters in multiunit houses, Tumlin noted. That arrangement is especially unfair to residents who don't own cars, he added.

Much to the amazement of many San Francisco drivers, Tumlin added, changes in that city's parking system and fee structure have made it possible to find spaces downtown at almost any time.

Burlington's parking system is antiquated in some respects and includes "ugly" garages, the planner added. By threatening to fine a motorist who doesn't have coins to buy time on a meter, the city "has just said, 'We don't want you as a customer,'" Tumlin told his roughly 150-member audience. Burlington should modernize meters to accept plastic and electronic payments, he advised.

Making parking a positive experience is essential, Devine noted in her comments to the gathering, because it's "the first and last thing you experience when you come downtown."

Issues involving parking often prompt emotional responses, both Tumlin and Devine observed. "We all love our cars," declared Tumlin, who grew up in Los Angeles.

Burlington will soon need to invest $1 million to repair its aging garages, Devine said. It's essential to provide funds to extend the lifespan of the nearly 40-year-old Marketplace garage by 20 years, she added, noting that construction of a new garage at a cost of up to $40,000 per space would consume far more money.

The city brings in about $4.5 million in parking-related revenues annually, Burlington public works director Chapin Spencer said in a Power Point presentation to the summit. Three streams flow into city coffers: $1.8 million from municipal garages, $1.5 million from parking meters and $1.2 million from tickets.

In addition, businesses belonging to a Downtown Improvement District provide $300,000 a year to offset the costs of providing two hours of free parking in city-owned garages, Spencer said. Many drivers take advantage of that opportunity. About 70 percent of parkers use the downtown garages for less than two hours.


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