As you may recall, a bit more than a year ago Council approved a plan to create a “parking benefit district” for the Washington Avenue corridor, which is a fancy way of saying they approved the installation of parking meters whose revenue would then be used to help pay for infrastructure improvements in the area, which could certainly use them. The first parking meters were installed last May, with the idea being that after 18 months Council would rewiew how it’s going and possibly make changes or even scrap the whole thing. So how is it going? Like the title says, there’s good news and bad news.
Defying doomsday scenarios, paid parking doesn’t seem to have dented sales along Washington, which is set to welcome new shops, restaurants and bars this year. The wait at restaurants is as long as ever, and revelers dash across the street at all hours of the night while the clubs are open.
But parking revenue is below expectations, potentially delaying improvements like wider sidewalks and trees.
Residents worked with the city to form the parking district and start metered parking along Washington last May, in the hope of curbing the problem of people swarming the neighborhoods and flooding the streets with cars late into the night.
Businesses worried the new rules would drive business elsewhere, saying parking hassles might threaten the economic growth that made the corridor desirable in the first place.
Parking problems seem to be reduced after nearly nine months of paid parking, and taxable sales at businesses have not slumped.
“Nobody’s office phones are getting lit up anymore” with parking complaints, said Christopher Newport, spokesman for Houston’s regulatory affairs department.
Most visitors are parking farther away, either to avoid paying a meter or because no spots on Washington are available at peak times, Newport said. Where parking used to be a headache two or three blocks off Washington, diners and drinkers now are dispersing six and seven blocks away. Even so, residents haven’t rushed to file paperwork to restrict parking along their streets, Newport said.
“They either do not think people parking in front of their house is a big deal or they don’t want to go through the program,” he said.
The city’s agreement with the local board requires total revenue of $250,000 before any sidewalks, landscaping or other improvements can begin. Based on current rates, the district won’t reach that amount until 2021.
If the city lowers the threshold to $100,000, reduces the staff patrolling the district and shares some of the citation revenue with the local district, some small projects could be considered later this year.
See here and here for some more background, and here for the Washington Avenue PBD page. I always like having actual numbers with stories like these, so I sent an email to Christopher Newport for more details. He sent me the original presentation with the initial revenue projections, and this updated presentation that shows where things are now. Let me summarize the main points because it’s a little confusing.
- The city did a survey over several weeks of how many cars were parked on a nightly basis in the affected area prior to the creation of the PBD. The count was usually right around 270-280 cars, so the projections were based on that.
- In practice, about 170 cars per night have been parking at the meters. The total number of cars parking was the same as before, but now some drivers were going farther into the surrounding neighborhoods to avoid paying to park. This is the reason why meter revenue has fallen short of projections.
- There is another source of revenue related to the PBD, however, and that’s revenue from parking citations, particularly for expired meters. That revenue all goes to the city, not to the PBD. One of the changes that will be made going forward is that a portion of this money, from citations that are a direct result of the creation of the PBD and the installation of the meters – i.e., citations for expired meters, not citations for things like parking too close to a stop sign or blocking a driveway – will be used to help pay for the overhead costs of the PBD. These revenues can’t be used to pay for infrastructure improvements in the PBD, but by using some of this revenue to pay for the overhead of the PBD, it will allow enough money to be collected and used for the hoped-for improvements.
- The change described above is administrative, so it can be done with a stroke of the pen. The other change, to lower the threshold of revenue needed to begin doing improvements from $250K to $100K, will require Council approval. Assuming it is granted, that threshold should be reached in a couple of months.
- Finally, the city will continue to talk with the surrounding neighborhoods about residential parking permits, which would serve to send those wayward parkers back to the meter zone. If the neighborhoods are okay with how things are, that’s fine, too.
So the bad news isn’t really bad, and with a couple of tweaks improvement projects can be proposed and approved this year. There will be another review of the program around the end of the year, eighteen months after the ordinance was passed, as specified in the ordinance. If things continue on this course, I would expect the PBD to be renewed.