Shocking Parking Policy Reversal hailed by downtown Merchants

December 7, 2006 5 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

For the past 8 months, has been advocating the complete revisitation of the ill fated Downtown Customer Liquidation program known as The Jacksonville Parking Commission.

Arising from the Landmark study, Downtown Frankenstein, (which correlated the demise of downtown's historical retail area downtown with the expansion of Parking Ordinances penalizing the potential customer base) a growing conversation emerged that it was time to rethink the way retail and entertainment consumers were treated in their downtown experiences.

Multiple committee meetings were held.

The most germane of which was created by Suzanne Jenkins, the Downtown Action Committee, during which the Parking conundrum was fully fleshed out and its seemingly random components were laid out to scrutiny.

MetroJacksonville recommended radical departure from 60 years of established tradition by RELAXING, if not outright abolishing, the penalty powers and discretion of the all powerful Parking Commission.  During the research process, draconian rules of engagement were discovered that many people involved at policy setting level were surprised by.

Regulations which required downtown customers to run back to their cars after 55 minutes, and re-park four blocks away before returning to their business were among the more controversial measures which the Parking Commission was actually enforcing. Further research found many egregiously fussy parking regulations that placed Parking Meter Enforcement Agents with tape measures out measuring the distance to and from the actual meters by car bumpers.

Many solutions were proposed during the discussions, but MetroJacksonville decided on three main policy changes to advocate:

1.  Abolition of the fussy, nitpicky ordinances.

2.  Extension of the time limits imposed on customers to three hours in order to allow time for shopping and entertainment.

3.  Retraining of the Parking Commission agents to act as public servants rather than simply penalty enforcers.

At a joint meeting with Councilwoman Jenkins and former Council President Elaine Brown, the concept of Smart Meters was fleshed out.  It was determined that Jacksonville would benefit from a meter program which allowed flexible methods of payment, so that people weren't caught without quarters and immediately penalized.  As Council President, Elaine Brown had already pursued the idea for the Super Bowl and as such was well acquainted with the benefits of the technology.

More meetings were held, culminating in a Meeting with Ron Barton the Director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission and representatives from downtown's spectrum of institutions.

At that meeting, merchants, museums and gov't organizations alike communicated with Mr. Barton the negative effects of Downtown's draconian parking enforcement policies.

Barton agreed to consider the situation within the context of his Parking Committee meetings.

In the meantime, pursuant to the Action Council findings, Councilwoman Suzanne Jenkins sponsored a bill extending the meter time limits to two hours and began their way through committee and sub committee process at Council.

This past Tuesday, The JEDC, in a surprise maneuver offered a substitution amendment which not only extended the parking times to three hours, but also abolished the petty nitpicky regulations targeted during committee.   The substitute amendment did away with the 4 block radius requirements, and measuring tape rules as well as decriminalized feeding a two hour meter to extend the total stay to three hours.

There was discussion of also creating non enforcement times to accommodate suburban lunchers within the downtown, but the bill dropping the stentorian regulations and extending the meter times was passed enthusiastically in committee.

In addition Barton and Jenkins are drafting an administration backed bill to replace the antiquated mechanical meters with Smart Meters, allowing people to pay with credit or debit card as well as cash.

Finally, the entire department, long an independent fiefdom, will be transferred under JEDC, making the parking commissioner report to an agency whose mission is to spur market growth.

Needless to say, these are all the points which MetroJacksonville and the merchants have advocated for nearly a year.

The updated policy is probably the actual and true beginning of sustainable downtown redevelopment, and Ron Barton and Suzanne Jenkins have done something to be proud of.

You heard it here first.