Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 | 1:43 p.m.
- Las Vegas seeks to improve downtown parking (Sept. 12, 2011)
The Las Vegas City Council today approved a new parking plan that it hopes will make driving downtown a better experience.
The new plan is expected to make it easier to find a parking spot — including during special events that can draw thousands of people downtown at night or on weekends.
The three-phase plan includes upgrades to parking meters to make it easier to pay for parking, using either coins, credit cards or bank cards.
And, eventually, the council wants to employ new technology to make it easier for drivers to find an open spot in “real time” before they arrive, by using a map accessible on a computer through the Internet or via a smart phone app.
"Hopefully, they’ll tell us, too, one day, where the empty space is at this moment," said Mayor Carolyn Goodman. "Your map will show there’s a space available on Fourth and Bridger."
The council, on a unanimous vote, approved the new parking asset management plan, which was explained to them by Brandy Stanley, who was appointed the city’s new parking manager about seven months ago to improve downtown parking.
"The goal is to make it easy and predictable to know where to park and to facilitate the transaction," Stanley told reporters after her presentation.
Because most people who park downtown use meters, the main change they’ll notice will be in July or August when the city starts upgrading all the meters with new technology so they can use coins, credit cards or bank cards, Stanley said.
A lot of changes are behind the scenes and involve staffing and reshuffling of parking-related functions of the city, which are now scattered throughout five different agencies, she said.
Those will all be consolidated into a “one-stop shop” parking office under the city’s department of economic and urban development and will be designed to deal with such matters as buying permits, paying fines and dealing with towing and booting. Locations are still being considered for the single office, which will have one phone number for people to use for all their parking needs.
During her presentation, Stanley, who has been called the city’s “parking czar,” said her staff began going out in September and counted the spots throughout downtown east of the Union Pacific railway tracks. They found there were 47,500 spaces in that area.
Of the 47,500 spaces, 19,500 are public parking spaces. The city controls 4,200 spaces, including about 1,200 meters, she said. The average monthly parking rate is $66 and the cost for transient parking averages $2.30 an hour, she said.
“As it turns out, when you separate nighttime and daytime demand, we’re about 38 percent oversupplied on parking,” she said. She said the peak demand on nights and weekends is not quite 30,000 parking spaces.
“This has some actual positive development implications because a developer could, depending on where they go, come downtown and actually forgo the cost of developing a significant number of parking spaces by using some of the additional inventory that already exists,” she said.
Because they found the city had enough parking, they decided to come up with a plan that concentrated on the ease of use — making it easier to pay for space and easier to find spaces, she said.
“And we need to make sure that our parking policies and our enforcements and our presence downtown actually corresponds with the demand,” she said.
She said one of the goals is to extend excellent customer service across the system for people who are trying to pay for parking, those trying to dispute a parking ticket, people who want to buy a permit and for those dealing with enforcement on the street, such as setting parking meter rates, hours and time zones.
“We want to make parking easy to use,” she said. “We want easily accessible parking. We need to answer the question, ‘Where is it? How do I get there? What is it going to cost? And how do I pay?’ Those questions are not very well answered at this point and we need to work on that.”
Stanley said officials also want to improve the financial performance of the parking functions to remove some of the burden from the city’s general fund. The parking program is considered an “enterprise fund” in that revenues generated by fines, permits and metered parking are supposed to pay for it. However, there are some general fund expenses, including bonds that were approved to pay off the city’s Stewart Street garage across from City Hall and the underground parking structure at Neonopolis.
“We want to support our existing businesses by making sure that we have parking solutions and parking options tailored for each one of the groups’ needs, and that’s typically customers, employees and residents,” she said.
They also have to accommodate parking for businesses that are already there and those that will come in. Because parking needs are always changing, they wanted to make sure the organization is flexible to meet those changing demands, she said.
Mayor Goodman asked whether the plan would incorporate private parking spaces, so that special events parking could be accommodated better than it is now.
Stanley said one of the goals will be to communicate and coordinate with private parking owners on handling such events.
The plan will be be implemented in three main phases:
• The first phase, from March to June 2012, will create the parking service “one-stop shop” office. It will focus on interacting better with the public and establishing a customer-service attitude. The staff will also review current processes relating to appeals and hearings, permits, enforcement, towing and booting.
• The second phase, which will begin in July and take place over the next 18 months, would involve parking meter upgrades throughout the city. There will also be plans made to make it easier for drivers to park on nights and weekends during special events, using the city’s parking spaces and coordinating with private businesses that own parking spaces. Signs would be developed to make it easier to find parking during those events. Parking rates and hours would be reviewed in relationship to how the spaces are to businesses and to accommodate long-term parking needs. Parking permits would also be established for certain areas.
• The third phase, which would be competed in January 2014, would review and revise fines, implement technology to provide "real time" occupancy information about on-street and off-street parking and also facility parking space reservations.