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July 26, 2004 // UPDATED 2:42 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

City to extend parking meter hours in two Downtown-area districts

The Public Works Department is moving on several fronts to boost parking meter revenue -- adding evening and weekend hours to some Warehouse District and East Bank meters, ticketing people who "refeed" the meters and cracking down on those who abuse parking stickers for people with disabilities.

The changes should increase city revenue by at least $800,000, city estimates said.

If you got a red-striped envelope under your windshield wiper in the past year, you are in good company. City meter enforcers wrote more than 115,000 parking meter tickets in the past 11 months, a city memo said. That's nearly 350 a day.

In some cases, the city is enforcing violations it used to ignore, said Mike Sachi, parking and skyway systems engineer.

For instance, the city began ticketing people who stay at short-term parking meters by repeatedly feeding the meter, he said. For instance, someone who parks at a two-hour meter and stays all day by returning every two hours to pay is violating a city ordinance.

"Even though it was on the books, they weren't actively enforcing for the violation," Sachi said. "It was a policy decision several years back to make Downtown seem more friendly. But now the situation has gotten to the point where it was creating problems with turnover of the curb space."

Parking monitors began writing "refeeding" tickets last July and wrote 2,139 in the first year, he said. (They cost $33 each, the Hennepin County Web site said.)

In July 2003, the city also began new time limits on disability parking and cracking down on suspected abuses. The policy has created more turnover at Downtown's 350 parking meters and opened more spaces for paying drivers, city data said.

In a related matter, the Public Works Department announced plans to add evening and weekend meter hours in parts of the Warehouse District and East Bank neighborhood. While some business leaders oppose the plan, it would go into effect in the next two to three months, Sachi said.

Longer meter hours

The Public Works Department will extend meter enforcement in the Warehouse District, bounded by Washington Avenue North, Hennepin Avenue South, North 9th Street and 2nd Avenue North, Sachi said.

(The area includes such places as Block E, the Target Center, First Avenue, the Fine Line, Gluek's and Drink.)

The meters are now enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The proposal would add weekday evening hours (6-10 p.m.) and weekend hours (8 a.m.-10 p.m.).

A Public Works memo said there is too much long-term parking on the street. "The plan would direct the long-term night and weekend parkers into off-street lots and ramps leaving space available for the short-term parker," according to the memo.

The proposal would add an estimated $216,000 a year to city coffers from the Warehouse District, the memo said.

Joanne Kaufman, executive director of the Warehouse District Business Association, wrote Public Works to oppose the extended meter hours because of what she called "the perception issue."

Often, the people who call an establishment for parking information are infrequent Downtown visitors, intimidated by the area and unfamiliar with the ramps and streets, she wrote Public Works.

"Currently, businesses can tell their customers that parking is free in the evenings and on weekends if a meter is available," Kaufman said. "Customers then at least think there is a possibility of getting free parking even if they end up having to park in a ramp because there are no meters available."

Once customers are in the neighborhood and have driven around a few times, they see how close the ramps and lots are and are more comfortable with the parking situation, she said.

Public Works also will extend the hours for meters in the East Bank's Old St. Anthony business district, bounded by Main Street, Central Avenue and 1st Street Northeast. Some meters are now enforced 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; others are enforced 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. The plan would require payment until 10 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

It would increase city revenue by an estimated $76,700, the Public Works memo said. Meter changes in Dinkytown and the Stadium Village would add another $300,000-plus.

Disability parking down

City surveys done in January and August 2002 said that cars with disability stickers and plates used approximately 40 percent of all Downtown parking meters. A year after a new city policy went into effect, that number is now less than 16 percent, a Public Works memo said.

The city estimates the new policy increased annual parking revenue by more than $220,000, after subtracting expenses.

In July 2003, the city limited parking privileges for vehicles showing a disability sticker or plate, Sachi said. Prior to the plan, vehicles with disability permits could park at meters all day for free. The new policy allows free parking at one-, two- and four-hour meters for a maximum of four hours.

Meter enforcers wrote 408 tickets for vehicles with disability stickers exceeding the four-hour time limit. They also used data from the state Criminal Justice Information System to verify information on disability permit holders, writing 22 tickets for fraudulent use of certificates (a $503 ticket, the Hennepin County Web site said.)

Sachi said 22 tickets might not seem like many -- but it is a hard ticket to write.

"My personal sense is that the abuse is higher than what the number of tickets indicates," he said. "But the problem is that it is very difficult to catch these people in the act. You almost have to be standing right there as they are either exiting their vehicle or coming back to their vehicle."

The new policy also encouraged people with disability permits to use off-street parking (and free up meters) by offering permit holders a 50 percent discount on monthly contracts in municipal ramps or lots.