Pilot Parking Program Considered For Salisbury

SALISBURY — During a broader discussion on parking issues on Monday, Salisbury officials proposed a potential pilot program that would eliminate some parking meters in the interest of jumpstarting a stagnant retail sector in the downtown area.

The Salisbury Council on Monday had an informal discussion on parking issues in the city that included safety issues for employees forced to park far from their workplaces. Out of that discussion was borne an idea to relax the amount of paid parking including meters in the downtown area in the interest of spurring business for struggling retailers.

Among the concerns raised was the issue of parking meters throughout the city and their impact on the private sector businesses. Councilwoman Shanie Shields said several business owners have voiced concern the two-hour parking meters that line the streets have deterred visitors to the retail and restaurant districts.

“The restaurants and retailers are telling us the paid parking is an impediment to business,” she said. “Maybe we need to take a closer look at this. If they’re telling us business has suffered because of the parking meters, then we need to see if that statement is true.”

Councilwoman Debbie Campbell said the city should take a closer look at just how much revenue is derived from the downtown meters compared to lost business for the retailers and lost tax revenue for the city. Campbell said the city should ask the restaurants and retail stores how many parking spaces they realistically need or want and then look at how much revenue those spaces actually generate.

“The time has come to have some out-of-the-box thinking on this,” she said. “If we’re not charging for the parking, maybe we make it up through an expanded tax base because of the increased business downtown.”

City officials agreed to explore a pilot program that would remove some meters in retail areas or change their hours of operation to better accommodate the business sector. Campbell said the program would have to treat everybody fairly and businesses could opt in or opt out of the program.

“We need to change the way we think,” she said. “We need to look at not what the paid parking makes in terms of revenue, but what it costs us in terms of lost business.”

Also discussed was changing the two-hour time limit for downtown meters. Shields said the two-hour limit often makes it difficult for people who come into town for meetings, appointments, court dates and shopping.

“We have people running out to feed the meters every two hours for downtown street parking,” she said. “People who come to this building for meetings are often here for more than two hours. Next door at the courthouse, people are appearing for cases that could go on all day, or they’re waiting all day for their case to be called.”

Shields also raised concerns about employee safety in terms of parking areas, which was the catalyst for the overall discussion.

“One of my concerns is when it gets dark, we have female employees walking way across the street to poorly lit parking areas when we have well-lit, safe spaces in our parking garage,” she said.

Campbell shared Shields’ concern about employee parking safety and suggested a closer look at the use of the parking garage, which often has numerous empty spaces available.

“If we know how many spaces we have empty on average in our parking garage, it’s possible we could move some employee parking there without losing any revenue,” she said. “It would appear to me from this that it would not be difficult, nor would it cost any revenue, to allow employees to park in a safe, lighted space.”