Garage security a priority for city parking program
The city is continuing efforts to improve security in its parking garages to include new lighting, security gates, surveillance systems and pigeon netting.
Craig Raymond, planning director, told the Parking Advisory Commission on Thursday that he has reached out to local businesses to get estimates for those projects and the city is working with McKinstry to improve energy efficiency in city buildings and to use those energy savings to make improvements.
McKinstry is focused on lighting in the garages and did walk-throughs over the last few weeks, Raymond said.
“Lighting is huge,” Raymond said, and could also improve overall security in the garages.
Tim Peterson with L’Heureux Page Werner Architecture is working on options and estimates for securing the garages and pigeon screening.
An estimate presented to the PAC last year was a$1.2 million, which also included new pay stations, and the city parking fund doesn’t have those resources currently available, so Raymond said scaling back the projects might make financing the most pressing needs more manageable.
Raymond said some of those projects could likely be funded with the energy savings generated with the McKinstry projects.
Other potential funding sources for the improvements include tax increment financing funds and loans through the state or commercial banks, Raymond said.
Parking staffers have reached out to local security companies to find those that offers nighttime patrolling in the garages to provide a presence in the hopes of deterring some criminal or otherwise problematic activity.
Tena Grigsby, with SP+, said most of those companies said they don’t provide patrols and that she hasn’t heard back from the one company that said they offer the service.
There has been some vandalism in the garages and the current surveillance systems aren’t sufficient, Raymond said. The Montana Department of Revenue parked their vehicles in a city garage and after having gasoline siphoned from those vehicles, the agency installed locking gas caps. The thieves then resorted to cutting the gas lines to siphon the gas, causing significantly more damage to government vehicles, Raymond said.
Grigsby’s staff walks through the garages during the day, but garages are largely unattended at night. The Great Falls Police Department responds to issues in the garages and has been working with the planning department to address issues where parking and public safety intersect.
One of those issues involved parking meters on 2nd Avenue South between 2nd and 6th Streets.
Those meters were removed in fall 2016 as part of a yearlong test, along with meters on 1st Avenue North between Park Drive and 2nd Street; 2nd Street North between 1st and 2nd Avenues North; 2nd Avenue North between 2nd and 3rd Streets; 8th Street North between 2nd Avenue North and 1st Avenue South; and 9th Street North between 2nd Avenue North and 1st Avenue South. Enforcement in those areas was also suspended.
Adam Hunt, GFPD’s downtown officer, came to the parking board last summer with a request to reinstall the meters on 2nd Avenue South, which includes the area in front of the Great Falls Rescue Mission. Since the meters were removed, Hunt said the area had become littered with junk and abandoned vehicles and an autobody shop was using the street for vehicle storage, which is a violation of city code.
The city code and state law has provisions for removing abandoned vehicles, but without the regular enforcement, it significantly slowed the process, Hunt said.
Last fall, the PAC voted to recommend that the meters be reinstalled on 2nd Avenue South between 2nd and 6th Streets. As of Jan. 16, the meters were back, with the exception of some in front of the Rescue Mission where new sidewalks were poured and the holes for the meters hadn’t been made.
The PAC also voted to recommend that enforcement be added along 3rd Avenue South between 2nd and 6th Streets. That hasn’t started yet and it’s an area where enforcement has never existed, Raymond said.
Raymond said that the process of removing and restoring those meters highlighted the inefficiency of the process and that he’ll be proposing a code change so that staff and the PAC can remove and replace meters with the city’s parking boundary without needed ordinances or resolutions from the commission.
The issue highlighted the importance of meters, said PAC member Katie Hanning. She was appointed to the PAC and was initially in favor of removing meters, but said the problems on 2nd Avenue South after the meters were removed made her see the need for meters.
Jeff Patterson, the newest PAC member, said “I don’t think meters is the choice, if we want turnover,” and suggested they follow Bozeman’s model of free two-hour parking.
Bozeman is often cited as the golden standard for free downtown parking, but the city conducted a parking study in 2016 that included recommendations to transition to paid parking.
Bozeman does have free two-hour parking for much of the downtown core, but fines are steep and enforcement is strict. It’s also a violation of Bozeman city code to move your vehicle within the same block to avoid time violations. The city has been discussing options to generate revenue for the parking program, or it may be facing a deficit in the near future. Those options include potentially restoring meters to their downtown, according to local media reports and parking commission minutes.
Bill Mintsiveris, PAC chair, said he used to think people could police themselves when it comes to downtown parking and that employees wouldn’t clog the street parking. But, in recent months, employees from a new business near his 5th Street Diner have been taking up spots for hours, pushing his customers to find parking further out.
The PAC began a strategic planning effort last fall and meetings for that project are scheduled through March. The PAC set a goal to bring recommendations and proposals for the parking program to the City Commission by June.
During the Jan. 18 PAC meeting, the group again discussed their desire to look at how other cities handle parking issues. They’re looking at Helena and how it splits blocks in some areas and Bozeman with its currently free downtown parking. The PAC again discussed their interest in looking at colored zones for parking rates. Currently, all city meters have the same rate, 50 cents per hour.
It’s often said that free parking downtown will draw more people to the downtown. In looking to the experiences of other cities, that doesn’t appear to always be the case.
Helena had free two-hour parking, but business owners asked it to be reduced to one hour parking since employees at downtown businesses were shuffling their cars every two hours. When it was reduced to an hour, that hurt those trying to grab lunch or shop downtown without working about getting a ticket if they went beyond an hour, according to Helena media reports.
Helena has been working through its own downtown parking master plan and last year, the parking commission recommended increasing meter rates to $1 per hour to help pay for new meters that allow for varied rates and multiple payment options.
In case you were wondering what’s happening in other Montana cities related to parking or for background on Great Falls parking, here’s a list that is by no means comprehensive but indicates that all of the state’s major cities are facing challenges related to parking.