End of Free Parking Proposed for Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The availability and quality of parking in downtown Youngstown has long been a topic of debate. Where some studies have found a surplus of spaces, others report that there aren’t enough.

On Tuesday, Michael McGiffin, director of downtown events and special projects, and Mark D’Apolito, a city assistant law director, presented a list of changes to on-street parking in the downtown. The proposals are intended to clear up the conflicting perceptions and make more parking available.

Among the proposed changes are the elimination of all free parking in the downtown, changing some two-hour parking spaces to a one-hour or 15-minute limit and improved signage and meters.

Most of the changes would be along Federal Street, where meter parking of one-hour would be installed along with a few 15-minute spots per block on both sides of the street. Off Federal Street, most streets would offer two-hour spaces. No parking spots will be eliminated, McGiffin said.

Pricing for the meters was not announced, but the proposed legislation calls for rates to be less than $1 per hour. The goal of the parking changes, McGiffin said, isn’t a money grab by the city.

“This plan eliminates all of the free parking in downtown, but what it doesn’t do is charge an arm and a leg to park. The purpose isn’t to make people pay us,” he said. “It’s to create more turnover.”

By increasing turnover, the perception of the downtown lacking good parking can be altered, he said.

“We’re trying to reinvent the way they’re used to create turnover,” he explained. “We’ll be offering one-hour parking instead of two-hour, which will give the perception of more parking space because they’re turned over more frequently.”

Enforcement of parking ordinances will also be revised should City Council adopt the changes. With a meter for every spot and better signage, the two parking attendants who enforce parking could monitor cars more closely, D’Apolito said.

“It has two effects. One, it will be clear and easier for the ticket writer because there’s no dispute if someone parks right by it,” he said. “Two, it conditions people to know there’s a sign, that the city is serious about it and what they need to do. It’s about forming habits.”

Mayor John McNally also noted that the current parking ordinance is a “hodgepodge” of codes for different areas of downtown that allow various scenarios. By repealing the codes and installing one master ordinance, both residents and city employees would benefit.

The legislation D’Apolito and McGiffin presented would have meter enforcement between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The time was chosen, D’Apolito said, to give the parking attendants time to clear out cars parked overnight before workers and downtown visitors begin arriving around 8 a.m.

Among the suggestions from the audience of about 25 were clearly identified tow-away zones near street corners, parallel parking along Commerce Street, marked loading and unloading zones, and making some spots available for a maximum of 90 minutes.

All the suggestions, D’Apolito noted, would be considered and discussed before the final legislation is submitted to City Council.

The audience also raised concerns about private parking lots, which aren’t always clearly marked in regard to their hours of operation or prices. Earlier in the year, D’Apolito said, the city began requiring downtown lots to have a license to operate. The license ensures that the parking areas are up to code, clean and safe. This new parking proposal would work alongside that, he added.

“That [licensing] alleviates some of the on-street pain,” he said. “It’s about striking a balance with how long someone is visiting, where the most efficient space for them to park is and where the most cost-effective place for them to park is.”

McGiffin also told the forum about Parkopedia.com, a website where users can submit the cost, location and availability of parking spaces. While little used in Youngstown, McGiffin said the website and its companion mobile app could also alleviate some concerns.

No timetable for the changes has been formally set, McGiffin said, but the McNally Administration’s hope is to present it to City Council this month with any changes made reflecting residents and business owners’ concerns. If passed, he said, it would most likely take year before the changes are fully in place and new meters installed.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.