Economic Development Subcommittee meeting, March 18, 2014

Review of Tanner Street Urban Renewal Plan by DPD. Extends from Plain Street to Gorham Street. Includes modifications to the Lowell Connector to calm traffic, especially near its end at Gorham Street. Most of the development along Tanner Street would be industrial with some retail. One physical change would be a reconfiguration the Tanner and Plain Street intersection so that Tanner Street connects with Plain opposite the entrance to Target. DPD suggests the subcommittee recommend that a public hearing on the plan be scheduled for April 15, 2014.

Councilor Bill Martin asks about the Silresim site recalling that the EPA said it would be 20-30 years until you could deal with Silresim. That time as passed now so what’s the plan for that site. DPD says one portion is ready for redevelopment but that another still has an active ground water treatment so that’s not ready to be developed.

Councilor Kennedy asks about cost of reconfiguring Tanner Street. DPD estimate says between $1mil and $1.5 mil but there would need to be subsurface engineering work. This also doesn’t include the costs of land acquisition by eminent domain. Kennedy also asks about the elevation of the Lowell Connector, that it’s elevated to clear obstacles like Plain street and the railroad track. DPD says that was part of the original plan but it is now deemed not to be feasible. The more practical alternative is to narrow the width of the lanes and plant some trees to signal to drivers that you’re entering an urban area.

Subcommittee votes to make the public hearing recommendation to the full city council.

City Manager Geary recalls some factors identified by Adam Baacke before he left. It’s a balancing of convenience for customers, a loss of revenue and other factors and that a consultant should be hired to study this issue and report back to the city.

The (new) Parking Director is present (Mr. Troupe?). He says the job posting for two new parking people on a shift that lasted until 6pm was not designed for downtown enforcement but mostly for enforcement of “residents only” parking in the neighborhoods. Residents return home and can’t find a place to park because non-stickered cars are occupying resident-only spots. Councilor Belanger reiterates his opposition to ticketing cars in the downtown up until 6pm. Doing that, he says, would be “devastating” to businesses. (Ed. Note: The parking ordinance says meter parking will be enforced until 6pm but up until now the enforcement clerks go off duty earlier so no one gets tickets after 4pm – no one is talking about changing the ordinance to reflect reality). Mr. Troupe says if there is ticketing going on after 4pm on Middlesex Street, it’s not being done by parking enforcement officers. City Manager Geary recommends a consultant be hired to do a comprehensive study (that would be paid out of the parking fund).

Councilor Kennedy asks about revenue from new meters on Fr Morrissette Blvd. Mr. Troupe says no one is parking there but they are doing a lot of outreach to make it more attractive to use them. Both the University and owners of Wannalancit Mills have approached city about making more use of those spaces. Also says the winter has made these spaces unattractive.

Kennedy then picks up on a comment Troupe made about the parking consultant working with businesses to understand how parking enforcement benefits businesses. Kennedy asks about something like offering 2 hours of free parking. Troupe says the professional organization he belongs to feels strongly that paid curbside parking is most beneficial to business. Kennedy says that part of proper enforcement includes paying attention to the retailers in the area. He cites Eliot’s Hot Dogs as being harmed by people getting parking tickets while buying hot dogs. Asks Troupe what he thinks about that. Troupe says new kiosks only replaced existing coin meters so the kiosks have not created a new situation. Kennedy expressly states that meter enforcement persons should not give tickets to people in violation parked outside of a place like Eliot’s at least the first time they go past because giving them a ticket will keep them from coming back [Ed. Note: Why doesn’t the customer put a quarter in the meter?]. Troupe says giving parking clerks that kind of leeway would create chaos on the streets.

Councilor Martin moves to follow the recommendation that a consultant be hired an make a report and then look at amending the ordinance.

Subcommittee adjourns at 6:41 pm.

9 Responses to Economic Development Subcommittee meeting, March 18, 2014

  1. Gail says:

    First, as always, thank you for your note taking and posting. As someone who works in the downtown, parking is a pet peeve of mine. I tried to be a part of the solution and used to take the bus, but a result of the route changes in 2004, it became too unreliable. I tried it again a couple of times with bridge work and again it was just too unreliable. I feel strongly that it is in the best interest of the city to get cars into the garages and people onto the sidewalks and into businesses. On street parking in the downtown should be for short-term, pick-up, drop off, and ADA. The area needs to be pedestrian friendly. Having cars circle like vultures waiting for street parking because it is less expensive and more convenient than the garages just adds to traffic problems. Free parking for an hour or two is a great idea, but it needs to be garage parking. As far as parking enforcement between 4 and 6 pm being “devastating,” I’m sure coffee shops wished all downtown residents moved their vehicles from on street parking before 7am and that enforcement didn’t start until after 9:30 am.

  2. Brian says:

    I’m struck by how many challenges/problems we are faced with because of cars. I’m sure there could be a great debate about what contributed more to Lowell’s decline, the introduction of cheap labor in the South or the ubiquity of automobiles that caused suburban growth and thus neglect of cities.

    I suppose the Teddy Panos’s of Lowell will be screaming tomorrow about how Fr Morr. Blvd parking meters haven’t brought in much revenue yet. It shouldn’t be surprising since there are HUGE surface parking lots next to Wannalancit, Jeanne Darc, Notinis, and the Post Office all of which I believe are free for employees and visitors. What these boo birds fail to realize is that there has been no discernible increase in congestion on Fr Morr Blvd. since adding bike lanes and meters.

    Having meters there is a bet on the future that the surface parking lots land will become too valuable not to build on and will help deter the cost and need for more garages in that area. Not to mention having one lane reduces traffic speeds and increases pedestrian safety.

    C. Belanger is right that ticketing cars from 4-6pm would be devastating for businesses but not because we should be giving on-street parking away for free. It would be devastating because the city’s parking fee structure is backwards and not equitable. We penalize people for parking in the garages by charging higher rates than on-street metered parking.

    Charging a higher rate for metered parking encourages turn over and increases foot traffic. Lowering the garage rate, even making the first hour free, would induce more visitors to downtown, decrease congestion, and increase new development in downtown Lowell.

    Cities like Ashville NC and Old Pasadena CA offer free parking in their downtown garages and their old, tired downtowns are now thriving.

    I’m at a loss for words with C Kennedy’s comments about the parking situation next to Eliot’s. My hand literally slapped my forehead.

    Looking forward to what the parking consultant has to say.

  3. Brian says:

    It’s important to note Ashville and Old Pasadena offer limited (1hr to 1.5hrs)free parking in the garages. Rates are then set slightly below on-street metered parking.

  4. DickH says:

    Brian – the city’s parking office should just send you a check right now and not bother with the consultant because what you explained above is exactly what the coming report will say. The report will be ignored, however, because it runs contrary to the “government by anecdote” approach that now prevails at City Hall.

    You mention Councilor Kennedy’s proposal re Eliot’s Hot Dogs that people not be ticketed “the first time around.” I’m guessing the back story on that goes something like this: A guy pulls curbside and runs into Eliot’s to grab a hot dog. For whatever reason, he doesn’t put money in the parking machine. When he comes out, he has a parking ticket. Irate, he returns to the store and shouts “I just got a parking ticket and I’m never coming here again” which causes the owner to complain to Councilor Kennedy who, instead of politely asking “why didn’t the guy put a quarter in the meter?” wants to change the parking enforcement policy for the entire city. That’s “government by anecdote” and the problem with it is that it won’t help anyone except for the guy who wasn’t playing by the rules in the first place. This scenario is not just about Eliot’s of course, it’s a downtown-wide situation and it requires some self-discipline on behalf of elected officials to not give in to the complainers until the policy has had sufficient time to work as intended.

  5. Gail says:

    Nashua parking garages are free on Saturdays. I would also suggest looking at Burlington, VT, for a parking successes similar to what Brian outlined. That having been said many of the city councilors do not put a lot of credence in professional expertise in any subject matter.

  6. Brian Leahey says:

    While I respectfully disagree with the gentleman with the great first name on the scourge of the automobile, I wholeheartedly concur on the backwards parking policy. No one in any East Coast city likes ‘garage’ parking and will do anything to avoid it. See Costanza, G. Along similar lines, no one likes to pay for any parking. The goal of the parking policy should be turnover and not revenue because we want everyone to come to the downtown (those from Lowell and those not from Lowell) where they like the experience so much, they come back again and again. Available metered street parking helps get that done. Street parking is the most desirable parking while garage parking is usually met with disdain in response to the question: Where did you park? The way to change that is to give the incentives Brian suggests. We don’t need to have parking attendants act as vultures waiting to strike an expired meter but people do need to feed the meter if they want to street park.

    Maybe not now (as we need to get people use to paying the meter) but in the long run, enforcement from 8AM until 6 or 8PM, M-S helps businesses because I see the same cars in the same spots from Friday night through Sunday. That doesn’t help our businesses. Downtown residents should be encouraged to long term park in the garage and not the street. The biggest complaints I hear about the downtown is it’s a pain to get to and parking is terrible, There is not a lot we can do about the former but we can address the latter. To fix the problem, it probably requires a new way of thinking and some trial and error.

  7. Joe S. says:

    Brian, Brian and Gail are on the right track. The “Economic Development” Subcommittee less so.

  8. Brian says:

    Thanks for pointing out Nashua and Burlington. Maybe something closer to home will resonate with the council.

    Burlington offers the first 2 hours free in 4 city garages and parking meter enforcement is 8am-6pm Monday-SATURDAY.

    To do the opposite of these successful cities would not only be stupid but tragic.

  9. Brian says:

    I finally had a chance to watch this meeting on LTC.

    It’s amazing how much misinformation is out there. Many things stuck out to me. There was a disconnect between C Kennedy and Mr Troupe. C Kennedy mentioned Burlington VT offers 2 hours free parking in the central business district. Mr Troupe said he wasn’t aware of such practices and it’s unanimous within parking associations that paid meters helps businesses by creating parking turnover in front of stores/restaurants.

    Why didn’t C Kennedy clarify to Mr Troupe that parking in Burlington VT is ONLY free for 2 hours in the GARAGES? Parking on-street at meters in Burlington VT is enforced Mon-Sat 8am-6pm and is consistent with the parking association Mr Troupe belongs to.

    C Kennedy then says we shouldn’t ticket cars who are there for “short term, in and out” business on the first pass. These are the spots that need THE MOST ENFORCEMENT! If there isn’t turnover at those spots people are going to keep driving until they find an open spot somewhere else, if downtown at all, and probably not want to walk back to the originally intended destination. This would also create a negative impression in the drivers mind and reinforces that parking in downtown sucks thus reducing the chance of a return visit.

    Karen Bell of The Club then took to the podium and had A LOT to say. She said hiring new personnel would cost more than the 30k in revenue the city gets from meters from 4-6pm and weekends because of their salaries, vacation, and benefits. What she isn’t factoring in is most people know not to feed the meters after 4pm so 30k is artificially low. If meter enforcement actually went till 6pm and all day Saturday we’d collect a lot more than 30k AND increase The Clubs membership.

    She spoke to 50 businesses and 300 residents who signed a petition saying they don’t want more enforcement. I’m not surprised by the residents. Who wants to park in a garage all weekend when you can park your car in front of Majors from Friday at 4pm till Monday morning at 9am. I am surprised so many businesses would sign the petition. All you have to do is a little online research and see what other successful cities are doing and try and mimic that. Is it possible they are all wrong and we’re right? Yes, but I doubt it.

    She then said the restaurants have “given up on the lunch crowd anyway” so downtown enforcement is *okay* and that Chantilly place left the city because of parking so you *do need* parking enforcement. So what is it Karen? What is the difference between daytime students, lawyers, defendants, and employees cars and nighttime residents, employees, and visitors cars? Nothing! Why do people get a free ride when restaurants/gyms need those open spots the most?

    Karen said people fight the perception of “am I going to get a ticket if I have to go to Lowell for a meal”. That’s crap. People just know there won’t be any open on-street spots in downtown Lowell on a Thurs, Fri, or Sat night. And people feel like they’re getting ripped off by parking in the garage when “everyone else” is parking for free.

    She then goes on to say we certainly don’t need parking enforcement on Sat when people are going to the malls, Andover, Nashua, or Haverhill where they DON’T HAVE METERS.

    This is FALSE. I’ve paid for metered parking at Andover’s lot in the heart of downtown.
    Nashua has meter enforcement from Mon-Sat 9-7pm at its busiest areas but has free parking in the garages all day Saturday.
    Haverhill enforces metered parking from 3-8pm mon-Friday but does allow free parking on Sat so in that regard they are as misguided as Lowell.
    Lawrence enforces metered parking mon-Sat 9:30-6pm but allows free 2 hour parking in some garages.

    The only way downtown can compete with the malls, route 38’s, and drum hills is to offer FREE parking in the garages for the first 60-90 minutes AND enforce metered parking till at least 8pm(most people go out to eat or work out between 4-8pm) and ALL DAY Saturday. Induce demand by offering limited free parking where people don’t want to park and properly enforce the most sought after spaces.

    The only debate should be how long and/or when to offer free parking in the garages. We need to move the conversation if downtown Lowell is to thrive once again.