PITTSFIELD -- A downtown parking strategy that includes fees based on demand is a key component of a draft report from a consultant group overseeing a study for the city.
Ralph DeNisco and Lisa Jacobson of Nelson/Nygaard, who gave a two-hour presentation on the proposal Wednesday at the Berkshire Athenaeum, said they are seeking further public input before making a final recommendation to city officials.
Defining the central North-South street corridor as the site of the most desirable on-street parking, the consultants suggested charging 50 cents per hour for those spaces, at least during the daytime, while allowing the first 30 minutes of parking free.
"This is the most valuable area, but it is not treated as such," DeNisco said.
He added that eliminating or extending a time limit of up to 90 minutes on parking is another recommendation, as it would allow people to shop, go to a restaurant, film or the theater while parked in the same spot.
Eighty percent of the available public parking spaces have a time restriction, DeNisco said.
Jacobson said the city should consider installing metered parking with new technology, such as kiosks where people could pay for parking time with a credit card. Some units also allow a driver worried about the metered time running out to text to the machine to extend the time, she said.
Using a multi-slide presentation, the consultants suggested eliminating time limits on most parking spaces or extending them to three hours, and charging less per hour or offering free parking on side streets or in lots away from the North-South street area.
Different regulations, such as free parking after 4 p.m. for off-street parking, might be considered, they said, along with a comprehensive plan for parking during the evening theater and restaurant hours.
With the two downtown parking garages, at McKay Street and Columbus Avenue, the consultants recommended encouraging people who work for the city, state government or businesses downtown to park there. They said that might be done through metering in off-street lots that now see heavy usage or other methods.
They also recommended uniform, easy-to-follow signage directing visitors to the garages or off-street lots and clearly lettered signs indicating which have public spaces and where to enter and exit.
During an online survey conducted by the consultants over the winter and feedback from a public session in January, many people said they were unsure who could use the parking garages and whether some of the spots were free.
Along those lines, the consultants recommended creating a downtown parking map for city websites and one that businesses could link to on their sites.
Other preliminary recommendations included:
♦ Explore options for leasing privately owned parking lot spaces for public uses, from banks, churches or other entities. There are nearly 4,000 privately owned spaces among the 6,332 downtown spaces.
♦ Consider creating a parking authority to oversee that aspect of city government, and/or create a parking fund to use some of the parking revenue for parking-related improvements.
♦ Create connections through alleyways in the downtown for pedestrians, adding lighting, signage or other improvements.
♦ Consider creating new parking spots on West Street or other streets off the main corridor. Up to 200 spots are conceivable, the consultants said.
♦ Consider options used in other cities the consultants have worked with to improve parking, including charging fees only during the busiest hours and adding metering to the downtown streets and making parking garages free or low cost.
♦ Actively encourage through enhancements people using public transportation or riding bicycles or walking to the downtown.
In the online survey, which drew 1,000 responses, Jacobson noted half said they stay downtown more than 90 minutes when they visit, and nearly half said they would visit more often if parking was more convenient.
The next step, while additional public input is received, will be preparation of a draft report to the city, she said.
The current draft will be posted soon on the city's website, www.cityofpittsfield.org.