Politics & Government

More meters and higher prices are in the works for downtown Wichita parking scene

Almost all parking would become paid parking in the Douglas Avenue and Delano business districts downtown — and that parking would cost more than three times as much as you currently pay to feed a meter.

Those recommendations are contained in a report recently presented to two city committees by Jeremiah Simpson of the Walker Consultants office in Denver.

Simpson also recommends that Wichita get rid of its traditional coin-drop parking meters in favor of “smart meters,” or kiosk systems that would allow parking patrons to pay by credit card and/or through a mobile phone app.

And he suggested that the city consider enacting a residents-only parking permit system in neighborhoods west of the new baseball stadium being built at the northwest corner of Maple and McLean.

The recommendations are being considered by the Parking and Multi-Modal Plan Steering Committee and the Technical Advisory Committee.

Those committees — made up of residents, business owners and city officials — are working to craft a comprehensive master plan for parking and transit covering the downtown, Old Town and Delano areas.

The consultant is proposing paid parking for the Douglas Avenue corridor from Seneca on the west to Washington on the east.

Downtown, the paid parking zone would include two blocks north and one south of Douglas. In Delano, metered parking would cover one block north and south of Douglas.

Areas around City Hall and the county courthouse, most of which are already on meters, would probably get new ones equipped to accommodate credit cards and maybe electronic payments.

And the prices would go up.

How we compare

A survey of similar-size cities in the region showed Wichita has by far the cheapest parking.

The median price for metered on-street parking in Wichita is 20 cents an hour.

The next cheapest parking is in Des Moines and Omaha at 75 cents an hour. Tulsa and Topeka average a dollar an hour and Oklahoma City tops the list, charging $2 an hour.

The consultant proposed 75 cents to $2 an hour for Wichita parking, but members of the committee appear to be leaning toward setting 75 cents as the standard to avoid giving local motorists sticker shock.

Seventy-five cents an hour is the minimum it would take to justify and pay for operation of smart meters, Simpson said.

Additional paid parking would boost the city’s parking revenue by about $500,000 a year, the consultant estimated.

Right now, the city about breaks even on its parking income versus the cost of maintaining its surface lots and structures, said Scott Wadle, senior management analyst for Wichita Transit.

Wadle said additional revenue would be needed to pay for the installation, maintenance, operation and enforcement of the new technology that would allow people to pay their parking charges without having to carry change.

But the primary motivation for instituting paid parking is to try to improve the business climate downtown by encouraging more movement and churn, he said.

“The purpose of meters is to ensure that there’s turnover and that there’s open spaces available,” Wadle said.

Ideally, the price of parking would be enough to maintain a minimum parking vacancy rate of about 15 percent – roughly one to two open spaces available per block.

It’s also to encourage people who work downtown to find off-street alternatives so they don’t take up the more valuable spaces right in front of businesses, Wadle said.

“You don’t want the dishwasher parking in front of the restaurant,” he said.

Residents only

Simpson recommended that the committee adopt residents-only parking restrictions for streets west of the new baseball stadium being built at the former site of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

The new Triple-A minor league team that will play there next year – now the New Orleans Baby Cakes – is expected to draw at least twice the attendance that the independent-league Wichita Wingnuts did in the last years of Lawrence-Dumont.

But the new ballpark is being planned with about half as much parking as Lawrence-Dumont had, as the city seeks to encourage more walking, biking and use of public transit.

To prevent baseball fans from overwhelming the residential parking on game days, Simpson proposes a permit system that would reserve the streets for residents’ use.

The area in the “Ballpark Management Zone” is bounded by Seneca on the west, Sycamore on the east, Kellogg on the south and Texas on the north.

The one significant commercial zone downtown that is spared from paid parking in the proposal is Old Town.

“We’ve recommended no change for Old Town management zone except for the enforcement of time-limited parking for on-street and the higher-use public lot, to encourage long-term use of the garages,” Simpson said. “There is already a strategy in place to collect fees from the business owners and those fees are meant to pay for the parking.”

However, Simpson said Old Town merchants might want to consider going to meters once they see how it works to keep close-in spots clear for shopping traffic in the Douglas corridor.

“Businesses in Old Town may see this being very effective in other neighborhoods and say ‘Hey, we’d like to see that same turnover happening,” Simpson said. “The two-hour time limits, you can enforce, but the meters are a more elegant solution because it allows your customer to buy what time they need.”

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.