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City Talk: Evening parking easy to find as new parking rules take effect

If you routinely park north of Liberty Street, you probably know that regulations, hours of enforcement and hourly rates changed at the beginning of 2018.

Almost all the on-street spaces north of Liberty Street are now part of Zone 1, where parking will cost $2 per hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, or part of Zone 2, where parking will cost $1 per hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

City employees have not started ticketing violators, but they have been putting information on some cars parked in those two zones.

On Jan. 22, the city will begin issuing warnings for violators. Citations will be written beginning on Monday, Jan. 29. Mark that date on your calendar.

Zone 1 is bounded by River Street, Habersham Street, Oglethorpe Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Zone 2 extends south to Liberty Street with the exception of Crawford Square, east to East Broad Street and west to include various blocks bounded by Warner, Fahm and Boundary streets.

The good

There will no longer be time limits in either Zone 1 or Zone 2, so drivers will not have their trips downtown arbitrarily cut short by having to move their cars.

The elimination of time limits is one of the positive changes included in the sweeping overhaul, which you can read about at the city’s Parking Matters website (http://www.savannahga.gov/parkingmatters).

The newish ParkSavannah app, which allows for remote payment for on-street parking, has garnered some glowing reviews in Apple’s App Store. In my very limited use of the app, I have found it easy and intuitive.

I am already aware that many readers disagree, but I am glad to see meter enforcement extended to Saturdays, which are often busier than weekdays. I also agree with the general principle, which is reflected in the Parking Matters overhaul, of charging more for parking that is more desirable.

These are common sense measures that reflect basic principles of supply and demand, will encourage alternative transportation and raise revenues. And there will be no more free parking on Broughton Street – another logical move.

Those free two-hour spots made sense in the early years of the century when we struggled to get consumers to the historic commercial corridor, but Broughton now has very high demand for parking at least as far east as Lincoln Street.

The bad

Despite my support for some elements of the parking overhaul, I have objected strongly over the past year to the extension of enforcement to 8 p.m., especially on weekdays. City officials have effectively placed a high price tag on spaces for which demand is generally very low.

Service industry workers who have been accustomed to free parking on the street after 5 p.m. will be especially hard hit by the new rates and times.

The present

So how are the new systems working out so far, in this brief period before ticketing begins?

I’m lucky to be able to walk or bike in the Historic District, but for the purposes of this column I drove downtown last Wednesday evening just after 6:30 p.m.

Many Savannahians have bought into the idea that parking is always hard to find, but folks who regularly patronize downtown businesses often have no trouble finding on-street parking.

I turned off Drayton Street onto eastbound Oglethorpe Avenue and was met with almost an entire block of empty spaces. In fact, nearly every block on the south side of Oglethorpe from Montgomery Street to East Broad Street had more empty spaces than taken ones.

Sure, that was an evening in January, but SCAD is in session, tourism remains brisk year-round and the weather was lovely.

I saw higher rates of on-street utilization on the north side of Oglethorpe Avenue, but spaces were still easy to find. Once evening enforcement begins in earnest, there will be even more spaces available as local residents adjust their shopping and dining habits to avoid paying the new rates.

Predictably, on Wednesday evening there were virtually no on-street spaces available on streets adjacent to City Market, Ellis Square or Franklin Square. Ditto for Broughton between Lincoln and MLK. If you’re looking for downtown parking, you should probably avoid those areas entirely since you’re so likely to be frustrated.

But Broughton was lined with empty spaces east of Habersham, and there were dozens of on-street spaces available east of Lincoln Street, just a short block or two off Bay Street. I’m sure residents of those quiet blocks appreciate the low parking demand on most evenings – and they’ll like the new policies even better.

The future

I’ll wrap up today’s column with a couple of predictions.

When enforcement ramps up at the end of the month, fewer local residents will patronize downtown businesses in the evening. Meanwhile, employees who work in those businesses will be impacted by the lost sales even as they themselves have to pay more for parking or park south of Liberty Street.

And when the next recession inevitably hits, downtown businesses will feel the pinch.

Some owners and managers will realize just how many parking spaces are available on any given evening, and they’ll start applying political pressure to roll back rates and enforcements hours.

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City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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