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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Consultant hired to improve downtown parking, recommends more flexibility, consistency

Good news: You probably won’t circle the block so long looking for an open parking spot in downtown Spokane. Bad news: It’ll probably cost you more.

Four months after the city received an exhaustive study examining – and criticizing – Spokane’s parking situation, the Spokane City Council hired a California-based company to implement its suggestions over the next two years, at a cost of almost $240,000.

If the city and the company, Dixon Resources Unlimited, follow the study’s road map, downtown parkers should have an easier time finding a spot on the street or in a lot, they’ll probably pay with their phone and it will likely cost more – especially if you’re parking in a prime location.

Until then, the confusing and frustrating way it is downtown will remain the way it is.

The city core – which includes the downtown core, Spokane County government campus, Spokane Arena and South Hill hospitals – has more than 37,000 parking spaces. About 85% of them are off-street and privately-owned. The rates in these lots are more than two times the cost of the remaining 15% of spaces, which are on-street and owned by the city.

On average, off-street parking in the core costs $2.65 an hour and on-street $1.19 an hour. The disparity in cost, the study said, prompts people to circle the block looking for an open meter and increases congestion. It also encourages people to pump meters and stay parked in the most convenient spaces for long hours.

Some other choice findings of the study:

    During the busiest times of day, most parking spots are open. On weekdays between 10 a.m. and noon, occupancy peaks at 56%.

    The study found that 7% of parkers overstayed their time limits in front of River Park Square, the “most convenient on-street spaces” in the core.

    In 2018, the city collected $3.17 million in meter revenue and $1.25 million in citation revenue. The study predicted the city would collect $5.2 million in meter revenue in 2024.

    The owner of the most parking is Diamond Parking, with 16%, followed by the city, with 15%.

The study, which was prepared by transportation consultant company Nelson\Nygaard, criticized the city’s pricing and payment systems, as well as the “wayfinding” directions to lots, as “confusing and uncoordinated.” This leads unhappy drivers to ignore most parking options and concentrate their parking efforts in specific, limited areas of downtown.

Dixon, which helped prepare Spokane’s report, has reviewed and assessed parking systems in more than 50 cities, including Seattle and Boise, and has implemented parking studies similar to Spokane’s in Park City, Utah, San Leandro, California, and Princeton, New Jersey.

The company is owned and operated by Julie Dixon, who began her career as the first parking enforcement officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department while completing her bachelor’s degree at University of California, Santa Barbara. For 28 years, she worked in various aspects of municipal parking, including on Los Angeles’ red light camera program and San Francisco’s parking meter management system. She founded her company in 2012.

In a letter to the city, Dixon’s company said it would base the project’s lead, Kenzie Coulson, in Spokane “throughout the initial project launch when we anticipate the most demanding coordination needs.” The company’s Seattle-based “senior associate,” Emily Kwatinetz, also will be involved in the project.

The original study identified “six quick wins” the city could implement “to build momentum in 2019.” Those recommendations resonated with council members, leading them to approve the Dixon Resources Unlimited contract Monday.

The study’s six suggestions vary from the complex to the seemingly obvious.

First, the study said the city had to define formal goals and objectives, and adopt them as official city policy. The objectives of the parking system, the study urged, should be convenient, collaborative with private entities and users, equitable, flexible and multimodal.

Second, it recommended expanding the existing pay-for-parking meter district and creating a “premium” zone between the Spokane River and the BNSF Railway viaduct with higher, variable rates. Farther flung zones would have cheaper “value” rates. The “premium” zone should be complemented by creating a “performance-based parking” program that would increase rates when demand is high and more people are looking for a parking spot, with the goal of having one to two spots open per block at all times. Rates could vary between 50 cents and $5 an hour, depending on demand, which would be measured through annual data collection and new monitoring technology.

Third, the study suggested creating a “progressive-tiered” system that allows for longer stays but also encourages regular turnover of spaces. A similar system in Sacramento charges parkers $1.75 per hour for the first two hours, but the third and fourth hour rates jump to $3 and $3.75, respectively.

Fourth, the study suggested the city should design and adopt a single, unified parking “brand” to replace the current “variety of signage,” which “dilutes the overall look and feel of downtown, while confusing the motorist about where and when it is OK to park. This often creates ticket anxiety and negative perceptions about the system.”

Fifth, the study urged the city to create a shared parking system by piloting a program with willing private operators of lots. The current mix of public and private parking spaces “creates a mismatch between on- and off-street pricing and regulations and results in a wide variety of signage, wayfinding and payment systems” that leads to a “confusing, fragmented and frustrating experience.”

Lastly, the study suggested the city invest in better parking management technology, such as license plate recognition equipment, better mobile payment options and one, consistent meter type of on-street parking that allows for different types of payment.

In its proposal letter to the city, the San Diego-based company said it was “uniquely qualified to support the implementation of recommendations contained within the report. We intend to bridge our intimate knowledge of the city’s parking operation with excellent customer service in order to deliver a cost-effective and sustainable solution for the city.”

According to the city contract, Dixon also will provide support in procuring the necessary technology. The city will pay Dixon a flat monthly fee not to exceed $239,050 over two years. The contract begins Aug. 1 and ends July 31, 2021.