Big Parking Changes Coming Downtown

A new parking meter.

New Meters To be Tested / Bullitt Avenue Closing

A new parking meter.
A new parking meter.

As the Elmwood Park renovation project moves forward, Bullitt Avenue will close permanently on March 11 as it transforms into a pedestrian artwalk. On the same day Roanoke’s Main Library will close for three days as water service is disrupted.

While the 27  existing parking spaces on Bullitt Avenue will be eliminated, the city is creating 36 new permanent on-street parking spaces. The city believes that with these additions, access to businesses on Jefferson Street and to the park will be greatly improved for residents and visitors.

There will  be 17 two-hour parking spaces on the south side of Day Avenue, between Jefferson Street and 1st Street, ten one-hour parking spaces on the south side of Bullitt Avenue between Jefferson Street and 1st Street and nine one-hour parking spaces on the east side of Jefferson Street between Bullitt Avenue and Luck Avenue.

This is not the only parking change downtown citizens and visitors can expect. Parking signs are changing and will become less confusing. Gone will be signs limiting parking for 10 or 15  or 30 minute limits all clustered together on the same block. Look for more uniform parking times and limits.

The sign adjustments and the Bullitt Avenue closure will not be the end of downtown parking changes. Roanokers can expect a parking meter trial sometime this summer, said Assistant City Manager Brian Townsend. He said they were looking for a vendor who would offer free meters for the trial. They expect to have a study completed on signage adjustments and placement for high tech meters by May or June .

“The only area where we see there is enough demand for spaces where paying to park makes sense is in the core block area between Market Street down to Church Street and Williamson Road to Jefferson Street,” said Townsend. The purpose is to facilitate turnover.

The whole idea of providing on-street meters is to offer options to either pay on-street or use the parking garage. “We have to make sure whatever on-street system we have makes sense with the garage system . . . On-street being more convenient will cost more,” said Townsend.

Townsend said they are evaluating the kind of parking meter that would work best. Solar powered meters would work as a powering mechanism. “The real key is to find one that people can understand – the biggest thing we are hearing from people is that we want something we can swipe.”

The new technologically enhanced parking meters don’t come cheap depending on the options selected. They can be solar powered, accommodate money, credit, debit, prepaid cards and even payment through a Smartphone.

Townsend assured council that the meters would not take traditional money only. A trial will determine the public’s acceptance of the meters. He feels that the core Central Business District would support meters but the study will determine whether going beyond that would be justified.

In December 2012 a team lead by Thomas Brown, Senior Associate with the New York transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard  came to Roanoke for two days and took a look at the parking situation in downtown. They conducted a workshop with Roanoke City staff and downtown businesses and property owners.

Brown’s December presentation to council suggested the improvements for downtown Roanoke’s parking inconsistencies and recommended the new high tech parking meters. The cost for the meters depends on the options and how many are purchased. At a minimum they would start at a couple hundred dollars each not counting a network system that would accommodate card swiping and Smartphone communications.

In other business:

The Market Square pedestrian plaza is on hold until the Fall. The one bid submitted to transform Market Square exceeded the $650,000 that was expected to be cash funded. Contractors feared the tight timeline in the RFP. The objective was to complete Market Square so it would coincide with the opening of Center in the Square in June. Morrill hopes that with additional time to complete the project over the winter more reasonable bids can be produced.

The second reading for the sale of the Huff Lane property to NDRA II, LLC produced no change in the 4-3 vote from the prior council meeting. Dorchester and Grandview Court residents spoke prior to council’s second vote to no avail. Mayor Bowers and council members Sherman Lea and Anita Price were in the minority voting against the sale for the second time. City Manager Morrill promised improvements in 2014 to the south end of what will remain of a park. Originally promised were a pavilion with restrooms, basketball courts and tennis court.

– Valerie Garner