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Drivers who want the best parking spot in Roanoke should be willing to pay for it. Much, though, will need to occur before meters rise again.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
It’ll be a cold day in Roanoke before a plan to install parking meters comes before city council. But that day will arrive, perhaps not this next winter, but the one after it. At any rate, Roanokers who consider free parking the reward for learning how to parallel park ought to consider this: If a spot is that valuable, shouldn’t drivers be willing to pay something to own it, even for just 30 minutes?
Still, there will be foot-stomping and the tired, worn complaint will be trotted out that the city might as well just kill all the businesses now, as everyone will go to the mall, where they can park close and for free. Please! Both the “close” and the “free” are an illusion. And the mall isn’t downtown Roanoke. Each offers different things to different people.
There are 7,100 places for the public to park downtown; 1,290 of those are free and on the street. During the past few months, city staff has been going through different blocks of downtown streets trying to squeeze out a few more spots and bringing order to the confusing pattern that developed over the years. Gone will be the blocks where one space calls for 2 hours of parking and the one right behind it has a 30-minute limit. And we hope the recycling bin will be stuffed with any sign that requires a decoder ring to decipher.
Perhaps the mess that parking has become made sense, once. And perhaps it made sense when all the meters were removed — banned not just from curbs, but from city code — during a time when the downtown was not a preferred destination so that customers could easily reach the remaining businesses. But now the set-up actually works against that goal, especially in the market area. Eventually, a pilot project will test whether drivers can be retrained to pay a premium for the privilege of scoring one of downtown’s premiere on-street spaces.
First, though, a few things have to occur. Planners need to gather information from companies that market the latest techno-gadgets that take electronic payments so that drivers will not need to run out mid-meal to feed the meter.
Installation of the meters will require Roanoke City Council to amend ordinances to allow for parking meters once again. And for the full plan to occur — the adoption of an integrated parking system that merges the city’s garage, lot and on-street systems into one seamless, efficient and marketable operation — the General Assembly will need to allow Roanoke to contract with a private firm to enforce on-street parking. (Only localities of more than 100,000 people currently have this privilege.)
All this takes time. Eventually, though, the meter will expire on the freebies.
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