Charlottesville City Council Works to Alleviate Stressed Downtown Parking

By: Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern

 

            On a snowy Monday evening, only one item went to vote in the Council Chambers of City Hall as the inclement weather hastened the pace of the meeting. That item, a resolution based on recommendations in the Downtown Parking Study, passed 5-0 with a few minor alterations.

           

Downtown Parking Study

 

As many who come to Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall for business, recreation, and shopping may know, parking in the district can be quite the adventure. Special events, busy weekend nights, and the “2 hour shuffle”, an idiom used to describe the parking patterns of those working in the downtown district that move their car from 2 hour spot to 2 hour spot throughout the workday, are all culprits in the struggle to lay claim to one of downtowns 6,000 available parking spots. In the spring of 2008 city staff began a study of the situation culminating in the recommendations it set before City Council on Monday.

           

The study isolated on-street parking around the mall as the most problematic area for the city, as for the moment off street parking is in most instances widely available. In an effort to free up some of these, “core zone” spaces city staff recommended restrictions on tractor trailer deliveries in the Market, Water, 2nd, and 4th street mall crossing areas, a requirement for all businesses to purchase $10 temporary delivery placards allowing for parking for loading purposes in designated spots, and most controversially the conversion of the existing 15, 30 minute and 2 hour parking spots in the core zone to 1 hour spaces. The final measure was intended to provide the downtown area relief from the “2 hour shufflers” by making their parking practice impractical. However, Major Dave Norris and Councilor Satyendra Huja, voiced substantial concern that this alteration would not be in the best interests of patrons or businesses of the downtown area, as it may very well not provide visitors ample time to complete their activities on the mall. Major Norris also recognized that this measure would not provide the shufflers with a parking alternative; it would simply push them out of the spaces they currently use. The councils concern over the altered time limits resulted in that item being stricken from the resolution.

A significant change that did pass is the reconfiguration of Garrett Street between 1st and Gleason Streets, into a one-way street headed westbound with back-in, angled parking spots, a modification which Councilor David Brown touted as a “great idea” and creative solution. The idea was not a complete hit, still, as Councilor Huja expressed concern about its traffic impact, which was eventually tempered by city staffs assurances that it could be done on a trial basis and reversed at any time as the only costs incurred by the change would be markings and signage, a relatively minor expense. 

The final significant item discussed in relation to the parking study was a “park and ride” system. The idea, first approached by resident and president of the North Downtown Residents Association Colette Hall, would be some sort of a shuttle system which would transport long term parkers from an offsite location to the downtown mall. The idea was supported in theory by the council which asked that staff do a feasibility study on the park and ride idea along with the staff recommended expense and location evaluation for a new parking garage, which council agreed would be necessary at some point in the future.

Discussion on the Parking Study came to a close with Councilor Brown moving to approve the amended resolution, which passed 5-0.  

As the snow rolled in Council quickly addressed the next item on its agenda, which was the appropriation of Grant Funds from VDOT for the construction of Hillsdale Drive extended and the Route 250 Bypass interchange at McIntire. The funds to be appropriated, totaling some $10,353,702 in state and federal money, $8,008,034 of which going to the controversial 250-McIntire interchange were publicly scorned by Mayor Norris as not a “smart, appropriate use of public money” as Council chose to move the item to a later date for decision.   

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