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In our opinion: Planning for parking

Published: Friday, Feb. 28 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Parking in downtown Salt Lake City.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News Archives

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Salt Lake City officials are facing a decrease in revenues from the fees associated with curbside parking, largely in the downtown area. A second year of unexpected shortfalls raises the question of whether the city is using best practices in managing transportation.

By that, we mean best fiscal practices, best public relations practices, best planning practices and best practices for economic development and vitality.

First, the fiscal question. The city projects that it will receive $11.3 million, $1.5 million less than an expected $12.8 million, in parking fees, traffic tickets and justice court collections. Although the city is anticipating that it will hit its $3 million budget for parking payment revenue, it expects to fall short in parking citation revenue by $900,000, and by $600,000 in justice court collections, said Salt Lake Deputy Director of Communications Art Raymond.

Last year, projections were missed by a similar amount. Using this information, budgeters should re-examine the manner in which they base projections, reviewing data inputs used to come up with those estimates.

As for community relations, has the city adequately sampled public opinion regarding the two-year-old system of electronic kiosks? There is plenty of anecdotal comment that people find them awkward, inconvenient and overpriced. Raymond said that three-quarters of transactions using the kiosks are with a credit or debit card, and that 7 percent make use of smartphone orders. It’s important to ensure that citizens enjoy using the kiosks, so as to make Salt Lake an inviting place to visit or do business.

The impact on the downtown economy presents a similar quandary. A little more than a year ago, the city raised curbside parking fees, limited the hours a person could stay in the same spot, and extended the hours in which fees would be charged. Some businesses, particularly restaurants, liked the change because they believed it would create more turnover in open spaces near their eateries during dinner hours and allow more patronage. But other businesses have wondered if eliminating free parking during evening hours has actually deterred people from dropping by for a bit of shopping or dining.

The larger question is how parking policy fits into the city’s overall vision for transportation management. If the city is hoping to encourage more pedestrian, bicycle and public transit use, then making curbside parking more expensive makes sense. But what if, instead of changing their mode of transportation, people are simply choosing to stay away?

Going forward, we encourage the city to view parking and ticketing in the context of the practices it needs to best achieve the larger vision of a workable transportation environment in Salt Lake City, and to budget accordingly.

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