Common council study finds no downtown parking shortage

The Huntington Common Council listened to the findings of a recently completed downtown parking study at its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13.
Walker Consultants, a parking consulting firm in Indianapolis, conducted the study. Anthony Goodnight, the city’s director of public works and engineering services, noted that the city commissioned the study to determine if downtown Huntington had enough parking spaces to withstand the loss of the municipal parking lot on Cherry Street where the new Huntington Police Department headquarters is being built, as well as service the forthcoming tenants of the new apartments built within the renovated UB Block on East Franklin Street.

David Garza, an urban planner with Walker Consultants, presented a report on the study to council. Ultimately, said Garza, the study found that downtown Huntington did not have a parking shortage. The study counted 749 parking spaces across 17 blocks downtown, he noted. Of those spaces, more than 400 remained unoccupied when the demand for downtown parking was at its peak, which Walker Consultants determined to be 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. during a field study conducted on Tuesday, April 23.

Since Walker Consultants observed a surplus of parking spaces, Garza said the firm was not recommending the city add more spaces, such as through the construction of a parking garage.

Despite the good news about downtown Huntington’s parking situation, Garza did specify areas for improvement. One of those areas, he said, was conditioning drivers to not use short-term spaces for long-term parking. Garza cited on-street parking spaces, such as the ones on Jefferson Street, as an example of short-term spots, noting that they had a posted time limit of two hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Drivers needing to park for longer than two hours should utilize parking lots, he stated.

“Really, short-term spaces need to be turning over more frequently than off-street lots,” said Garza.

To achieve this, Garza recommended that the city install signage at its parking lots designating them as long-term parking locations. Additionally, he suggested that on-street spaces on side streets that cross Jefferson be switched from two-hour spaces to four-hour spots, in an effort to make them more attractive to long-term parkers.

On the topic of signs, Garza said that the city’s parking signage needed to be improved throughout downtown.

“About 67 percent of survey respondents said they don’t know where to park downtown, that the signing is inadequate,” shared Garza, referencing an online survey on downtown parking that Walker Consultants had conducted in the spring.

In addition to installing more signs, Garza recommended the creation of a parking map, which could be posted on the city’s website, as well as distributed to downtown merchants for their customers.

Other recommendations in the report included:

– Forming a parking advisory committee. This group, said Garza, would be comprised of volunteers from the community and be charged with delivering periodic reports to council on downtown parking.

“It’s really to keep the stakeholders active on the topic,” explained Garza, “to exchange information and best practices and to really kind of ensure that the parking system is working for all different types of users, not just one type of user.”

– Creating a fund to maintain parking infrastructure. This fund, said Garza, would be the destination for revenue from parking fines and permit fees.

– Hiring a full-time parking enforcement officer.

Garza also encouraged drivers to, if possible, be more amenable to walking a longer distance from their parking spot to their destination.

“Generally, we have a low walking tolerance here,” he observed. “People don’t want to walk more than one or two blocks.”
With Walker Consultants having established that downtown Huntington has a surplus of parking spaces, even during the busiest period of time downtown, Garza stated that residents shouldn’t get discouraged if a parking spot near their destination isn’t available, as there are many other spaces downtown.

The study will now be reviewed by the city’s Board of Public Works and Safety, which will make determinations on which recommendations to implement and when.

In other business, the board approved an ordinance that appropriated money from the general fund surplus for purchases for the police and fire departments. The ordinance also appropriated money from the park fund for park purchases.

The police department purchases will total $315,000. That money will be spent on items for the new police department headquarters. Items will include workstations, office furniture, printers, etc.

The fire department purchases will total $40,000. The majority of that sum, $32,000, will be spent on new extrication tools – battery-operated cutters, spreaders and a ram. These tools will replace 11-year-old items.

The other purchases will be a copier for $4,500 and ice-rescue suits for $3,500.

The park department purchases will total $320,300. Of that sum, $225,000 will go toward sports court lighting and restrooms at Memorial Park.

The remainder of the total will be spent on vehicles. A Ford one-ton dump truck with upfit will be bought for $65,100 and a Ford F-150 truck will be purchased for $30,200.

The meeting also saw Mayor Brooks Fetters announce that Goodnight would be resigning from his position on Sept. 3. Fetters noted that Goodnight had worked for the city for 14 years, the last eight in his current position.

“There are about a handful of citizens in our community who know the extent of all that you have done to save them resources or to secure their future in order to say an appropriate ‘thank you,’ so I will,” said Fetters to Goodnight. “On behalf of all of us who call Huntington home, thank you for being a public servant and for serving Huntington so well.”