City to make moves on downtown parking problem

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COLUMBIA - At the parking commission advisory board meeting on Wednesday, the city discussed how they would begin collecting data for the consulting firm they hired to explore solutions to the downtown parking problem.

In 2016, the city applied for assistance, but it wasn't until 2018 that the advisory commission hired Walker Consultants to assess the problem. 

Leah Christian, the city’s transit and parking manager, said the reason the city has finally chosen to work on the problem has been because of a growth increase within the city of Columbia.

“We had a lot of building downtown, a lot of student housing was built in the past five years and so you have an increased need for parking, and so when you have increased need, you’re going to start having debates over who gets those resources,” she said.

The main solution they are considering with the consulting firm is to start issuing permits downtown for parking garages and for residents in neighborhoods such as the East Campus neighborhood and the Benton-Stephens neighborhood.  

If implemented, the permits for garages will serve as more of a data collection method for the city to gauge just how many people are parking downtown and what the need is.  

“From there we can decide to expand and change our strategy, and that can be a change in how we price it, it can be a change in how many permits we sell, how many hourly spaces we have, it could say, ‘Do we need to put money aside to build a new garage in five years?'” said Christian.

Christian also said before they start making any changes, they want to get feedback from the neighborhoods as well as businesses that might be located in the neighborhoods and therefore might need parking spots.

For residents that live in Benton-Stephens and East Campus neighborhoods, they will be issued permits, but the city isn't sure if they will be charging them for the program.

Christian said this aspect was determined from neighborhood associations asking for this program, which results in only residents, and “nobody else” being able to park there.

The city is hopeful that the program will be implemented by the end of 2019, but said they expect delays just like with any other big project.