Parking Pilot Halfway Complete

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COLUMBIA- With new housing units rising from the ground in downtown Columbia, parking issues for residents are increasing rapidly. For those residents in the North Village area, a parking pilot program is lowering parking stress significantly.

"We've gotten some positive feedback from the neighborhood residents," Traffic Engineering Supervisor Richard Stone said. "Early on, we got some feedback and concerns about the loss of free parking."

Polly Sweitzer owns Yoga Sol on St. James Street, which is included in the parking pilot area.

"We encountered a lot of people that used the street as long term parking, overnight parking, vacation parking," Sweitzer said about the street before the pilot began.

The North Village Parking Pilot started in mid-February after local residents and businesses stressed the need for a solution to traffic and parking concerns in the neighborhood. The project allows residents to apply for a parking permit to park in a specified area reserved for permit only. This area includes parts of St. James, St. Joseph, East Ash, East Walnut and Hubbell streets and Park Avenue.

Those qualified were able to apply and receive a parking pass for free. The passes allow street parking along the streets involved in the program. Police started enforcing the new parking regulations at the end of February, meaning a fine for anyone who parked without a pass. Also, new meters were installed on St. Joseph Street and St. James Street to accommodate parking for local businesses and to help defer the costs of the pilot program.

"My classes are generally an hour and a half long and I know the other businesses in the area have clients that come and go, so we need a constant rotation of people," Sweitzer said about parking spots. "The two-hour meters have been very effective for us."

The pilot will be reevaluated in August to take into consideration any complaints or positive feedback and to see if the program will continue. If the parking passes are continued, residents will be able to apply for a one-year permit or shorter, depending on their lease.

"It's going to be a decision made by the council based on the numbers we present to them," Stone said. "Our recommendations would weigh into the decision, but it will be totally a council decision."

If the pilot is a success and other residents are interested in the program, the city council could develop more residential permit parking only locations.

"If there are areas that are interested in something like this and council is wanting us to pursue it, we'll give them information on what the costs are, what the benefits that we see are and what the detractors are," Stone said. "Whatever the citizens want, we're trying to get there."

With the construction of more student housing, Sweitzer said she believes parking needs to be addressed as well.

"I love all the people coming down and I think it's great for Columbia," Sweitzer said. "I just think it should be responsibily developed and there should be parking in part of their developmental plan."