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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Parking Letter To Meadville City Council

My name is Viki Allin, I am a Co-Owner of the Creative Crust Bakery.

Parking is a topic that can bring on very heated debates. The use of meters themselves have been debated.

People compare Meadville to Franklin and ask why can't we do what Franklin does. They don't have meters. But Franklin was designed differently. All the buildings on its Main Street have parking in the back. Parking, for the employees, with meters!

In Meadville there are many reasons why the meters are here to stay. Meadville is the County Seat. It's full of professional buildings, that do not have their own parking. There are Lawyers, Doctors, Insurance companies and many, many more. Businesses where people go to work and stay at work, all day long.

The meter system was enacted decades ago to promote commerce. To make sure that the retail businesses thrived and to discourage the employees of all those professional buildings from using the downtown as their parking lot.

As more professional institutions moved into the downtown, the city built parking ramps for the employees that worked at those businesses.

The principle is simple: provide ample parking, limit use to encourage a steady turnover of available spaces. Yet in spite of abundant parking, the weak laws governing limits on use of parking spaces, combined with sporadic enforcement of limits, have caused the parking system to fail at fulfilling its intended purpose.

Today, we, the retail sector, are still suffering financial losses, due to employees parking where our customers should be parking.

On January 2nd, I came before council and presented you with a proposal to create a zone in downtown Meadville where employees were not allowed to park.

I proposed this zone to run the length of Chestnut Street, from the Diamond to Water Street. That the zone extent one block, off of all arteries of Chestnut Street, from Main to Water Street. And this zone would include the parking spaces around the Market House.

I presented council with several examples of cities that have enacted this policy and told of the success these cities had with this policy. I also presented council with an example of the city codes, for one of these cities.

During that meeting, Nancy Mangelo-Bitner and Bob Langley agreed to chair a sub-committee to look into, this issue.

Their first step was to send out surveys to all the businesses in the downtown. After receiving the initial response from the business owners, Nancy Mangelo-Bitner and Bob Langley reported that 100% of the business owners in the downtown felt that, employees parking in the downtown were a detriment to their businesses.

Once all the surveys were collected and the information compiled, Nancy Mangelo-Bitner and Bob Langley presented 4 key elements of the results of those surveys.

1.   Reducing the price of tickets
2.  Changing the hours of parking enforcement
3.  Finding parking spaces for employees at downtown parking meters
4.  Meters with longer hours.

I believe all these issues are important and need to be a part of any changes made to the parking code.

But, they will have little impact, on the employee parking problem if the employee free zone is not a part of their final recommendation tonight. I am hoping it is.

We at the Creative Crust have 8 years experience with the employee parking problem.  The Market House Parking Ramp is located right next to the parking spaces around the Market House.

 Inside the ramp, there are 5 hour metered spaces, on the 4 level, and 3, 5 and 12 hour meters on the 6th level. On a clear day, with no snow as an excuse, employees will 'feed the meters' around the Market House and 'Will Not' use the multi million dollar parking ramp that the city built just for them.

It is unlikely there are any incentives powerful enough to change current employee parking behavior. Effective changes to the parking system must at the very least include a strengthening of laws restricting parking space use, to close the loopholes that allow car shuffling and meter feeding. And equally important, the consistent enforcement of the law.

Every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Chamber of Commerce puts in a request to the city,  to offer the citizens of Meadville, free parking along Chestnut and around the Market House. This year, the business owners asked that that request be denied.

The business owners ask the city to deny the Chamber of Commerce request for free parking because it wasn't being used by customers! All those spaces were being filled up with employees.

It is my hope that this year, when the Chamber of Commerce requests free parking for the citizens of Meadville, to shop in their own home town, that we, the businesses owners, will be able to say Thank You instead of No Thanks.

There is a famous idiom that says: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

In Meadville it would go: You can build a multi-million dollar parking ramp for employees, but you can't make them use it.

I think we can. We can by creating, an employee free zone.

By implementing the recommendations that Nancy Mangle-Bitner and Bob Langley present to council, and by enforcing the parking regulation.

I personally want to thank Nancy and Bob for all the hard work and perseverance on this, not so popular, issue.