Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Saturday, December 7, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 39° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Getting There: Questions and answers with the soothsayers of Spokane’s parking future

Consultants hired by the city to develop a new parking plan say the city needs to update its parking meters, and parkers need to manage their expectations when visiting downtown. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Consultants hired by the city to develop a new parking plan say the city needs to update its parking meters, and parkers need to manage their expectations when visiting downtown. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Julie Dixon and Kenzie Coulson are here to help.

Every time you circle the block looking for that one last parking spot, every time you curse the cost of parking in a lot versus on the curb and every time you approach the meter with your credit card in hand only to find a coin slot, think about Dixon and Coulson.

They are part of Dixon Resources Unlimited, which was recently hired on a two-year contract to make downtown parking “easy, accessible and convenient” and implement the suggestions of an exhaustive study done by transportation consultant company Nelson/Nygaard that examined – and criticized – Spokane’s parking situation.

It’s early days yet for their mission, and Dixon and Coulson’s first duties include the dreary work of modifying the municipal code. If things go well, however, the parkers of Spokane will begin to see changes in coming months.

That means new parking meters, which Dixon and Coulson refer to as “hardware.” Instead of a mix of meters, from coin-operated to one kiosk ruling a block of spaces, they’ll all be the same. No more needing a bag of coins, credit card and smartphone app at the ready for one parking stall.

Dixon and Coulson also plan to relaunch the mobile payment system, Passport, which has gone gangbusters in Spokane. According to information provided by the city, the Passport app averaged 37,610 mobile parking transactions a month over the past year. Other cities of Spokane’s size average just 4,379 transactions a month. Much like how Spokanites took to Lime scooters, we love the parking app. Call us what you want, but we are not afraid to try out the newest transportation gadgets.

Finally, Dixon and Coulson anticipate more parking enforcement downtown. The city hasn’t had as many enforcers downtown as of late because they’ve been responding to abandoned vehicle reports in neighborhoods outside of the core.

That will change, scofflaws.

When all’s said and done, Dixon and Coulson said, parking downtown will be a much better experience. It will take some doing, but there are plenty of spaces. In fact, 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. During the busiest times of day, weekdays between 10 a.m. and noon, most parking spots are open. Occupancy peaks at 56%.

Dixon owns and operates her namesake company. She began her career as the first parking enforcement officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department while completing her bachelor’s degree at the 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.

Coulson is the Spokane project lead. She grew up in Spokane and is an alum of Lewis and Clark High School. Before joining Dixon, Coulson was the parking and fleet administrative supervisor with Park City Municipal Corporation in Utah, where she overhauled the entire parking department with a program similar to what Spokane is considering.

Dixon and Coulson were in town Friday to talk parking, and spoke to Getting There in the lobby of City Hall.

Getting There: Can you see why people are frustrated when they come downtown to park?

Dixon: I definitely can see why people are frustrated. The equipment has aged. The infrastructure has become dated. Also, the enforcement resources have been delegated out to the neighborhoods, so we’ve seen folks taking advantage of the on-street parking regulations while the enforcement resources have been purposed in other locations. They’re not downtown in the frequency they used to be. We don’t have high visibility or presence because they’ve been dealing with the vehicle abatement issues.

GT: Something I hear from readers is, “Why would I come downtown to shop, when I can park for free at the mall?”

Dixon: I hear that question all the time. What folks don’t understand is that they are paying for parking at the mall or megaplex, they’re just paying for it in a different way. You’re paying for it in the prices of the products you’re acquiring. What we’re trying to accomplish downtown is affordable parking prices, but the intention is you can come park and shop and be able to frequent all the amenities downtown.

GT: Does Spokane have an uncommon amount of surface parking lots?

Dixon: I would say, from my perspective, you do have more surface lots. What I’ve seen around the country is cities that had those surface lots have been developed upon. I anticipate that, with property value going up and once we find the balance for the parking situation, those surface lots are prime targets for development and opportunity.

Coulson: Balance is the key word. What we’re seeing here, and data has demonstrated, is there’s not an occupancy issue in Spokane. There is adequate parking to support the vitality of this area. The question is, how do we balance it out with best practice tactics? And how do we make it as easy as possible? That’s exactly what our team will be focused on, in coordination with city staff. Making a difference in the perception of how easy it is to come downtown.

Dixon: And don’t forget. You can’t always park right outside the door you want to go to. You might need to walk a block or two. Going back to your question about the mall, why do I think it’s so easy for me to park in the north forty and walk to the mall, but when I come downtown and have to walk a block, that’s a conflict for me? The issue is of congestion and people circulating around the block to get that one parking space, where if I go one block over there’s parking available. That’s what the Nelson/Nygaard study demonstrated. There is ample parking within a block or two of where you want to go to. It’s just that folks don’t know.

GT: People don’t mind walking a half-mile when they go to Costco, but don’t make them walk a block downtown.

Dixon: Exactly. And when you do go to Costco, doesn’t it drive you crazy when you still see those folks circulating around the closest spaces? When you go into Costco, you’re still going to walk a half-mile up and down all those aisles to find your goods. But that one primo parking space, they want to be within 10 feet of the door. That baffles me. When you have to walk a block or two, you never know what you’re going to see. You might come across a shop or undiscovered gem you never knew existed downtown.

GT: How do other modes of transportation fit into downtown parking?

Coulson: We’re talking about mobility here. So often we focus on the word “parking” inappropriately. We are looking at this ecosystem and how people get downtown. We’ve been meeting with transit teams, we’ve been meeting with the shared mobility folks who handle Lime scooters, and we’ve been talking about commuter programs and how we embrace ideas like carpooling and access to service workers who may need some additional options. This dialogue is just starting and it’s exciting to see a lot of interest.

Dixon: This is a multimodal solution. I think it’s important for people to understand that the times are changing. Rideshare didn’t exist a decade ago. Now with all the food delivery services, with Postmates and Uber Eats, micromobility scooters. None of these things existed. Now when we talk about curb management, we need to consider all of these factors. I use Uber. I use Lyft. But they are impacting downtown congestion. Where are they supposed to stop? They’re double parking in the street. We need to take that into consideration, as well as the opportunity and convenience of transit so that people do ride the bus, people do carpool. These are all factors, and parking is just one piece of that process.

GT: What’s the future of Spokane parking?

Dixon: My hope is that by next summer we have new hardware in place, new paid parking infrastructure in place that ties in with the mobile solution (with the Passport app). Five to 10 years, that’s one of those crystal-ball moments. What is going to be the next Uber? What is going to be the next Lime scooter? By trying to future-proof the municipal code, we’re trying to prepare the city for that. We want it to be adaptive for that evolving community and that evolving city that Spokane is. I would anticipate that a good chunk of the parking lots downtown will be developed upon. We need to make sure that we are setting the city up and preparing it for the future.

GT: What will we see first?

Coulson: We are working on a proposal for a draft municipal code update. After that, there will be some solicitations for citation-permit management, which will create a lot of customer ease for permitting and allow most folks to go online and have a clean and easy interaction for permitting and mobile payment. Interestingly, we’re seeing that mobile payment is very attractive to Spokanites. The trends here for utilization of pay-by-phone mobile payment is higher here than other similar cities.

GT: We get emotional about parking in Spokane. We get territorial. How can you put us at ease that everything’s going to be OK?

Dixon: Parking is emotional. It does evoke that reaction. We are territorial about our cars and where we park them. But we really want to make parking in Spokane a positive experience. We want to make it easy, accessible and convenient. We hope to gain the confidence of Spokane that we are truly trying to improve the downtown parking experience and make it easier.

Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com