CASPER, Wyo. — Downtown parking meters have been suggested as a way to address congestion in Casper.
The city council resumed their discussion of how to address parking congestion downtown during their Tuesday, Oct. 22 work session.
Community Development Director Liz Becher reiterated that the city thinks there is sufficient parking downtown, but turnover is the biggest issue to address.
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She said that parking meters might help increase such turnover. Asking downtown business owners to discourage their employees from overstaying the two-hour parking limits could help as well as additional enforcement of parking rules by the police.
Becher explained that it is the areas with peak occupancy which would be targeted for parking meters should the council decide to go that direction.
Police Chief Keith McPheeters said that said council’s direction on the parking meters would guide other efforts to address parking downtown regardless of what they decide.
He said that finding ways to step up enforcement would be a part of the plan either way.
“We have an issue with the business owners and employees parking in the customer spots,” Councilman Steve Cathey said.
He asked whether it would be possible to add additional penalties for such business owners and employees above and beyond the normal fines for violating rules.
McPheeters said he thought this wouldn’t really be possible for legal and ethical reasons.
Councilman Bob Hopkins said many downtown business owners he’s heard from don’t like the idea of parking meters.
He suggested council could provide additional support to the police as a first step to allow them to try to better enforce the rules before implementing the meters.
Cathey said he agreed.
Councilwoman Khrystyn Lutz said that “not a single one” of the business owners she has heard from have been in support of the meters.
Mayor Charlie Powell said that the meters would be something council would need to educate the public on should they choose to go that route.
Councilman Steve Freel said that he met with some business owners Tuesday morning. Some ideas grew out of that meeting.
He suggested making downtown parking garage passes available to downtown employees to bypass paying the fees there might help alleviate the congestion.
Cathey said that people could still game a parking meter system by jumping back and forth between different spots.
McPheeters said he thinks the intent of Casper’s downtown parking rules were to limit people to two hours of downtown parking. But enforcing rules should a motorist move from spot to spot would be very difficult.
Cathey asked about utilizing new technology to ease the difficulty of such enforcement.
McPheeters said that while there is technology that could assist in enforcement, he said that expense and long-term reliability of the technology made him cautious about requesting council fund that.
Powell pointed out that should technology improve in the next few years to make enforcement simple, spending money on parking meters now might turn out to be a waste.
Councilman Ken Bates said he was against adding parking meters.
He asked whether food trucks would need to pay parking meter rates if they were added to the downtown area, saying that if so, it might further push these away.
Powell said the intent of adding parking meters was to create a perception in community members that they stand a good chance of finding a space if they want to head downtown, thus encouraging them to do so.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve this 100% with any of this,” Vice Mayor Shawn Johnson said.
He suggested asking people to self-police might be the best option.
Councilman Mike Huber asked whether the city had data to show concretely that business owners and employees are the main reason behind the problem.
McPheeters said that anecdotal evidence is all the city has to support that.
“I’ve seen meters come and seen meters go,” Huber said. “I just hate seeing that history repeat itself.”
Powell suggested creating some kind of reward system for downtown employees who utilize the garage might get them to do that more frequently. He suggested they could get stickers for their cars and the city could randomly select vehicles parked in the garage and give the owner some type of prize.
Cathey suggested modifying parking garage rules to make four hours of parking free rather than the current two hours would be another means to incentivize use of that structure.
Rather than immediately commit to parking meters, council decided to look further into some of the ideas that came up in the work session.
City staff will explore what the financial impact of upping the number of free hours in the parking garage and reducing the monthly cost for downtown employees might look like.
They’ll also look at adding signage and other ways to educate and encourage the public to utilize off-street spots.
“Let’s get the data,” Powell said.