All over downtown Durham on Monday afternoon, small groups of people were huddled on sidewalks around tall black machines, puzzled looks on their faces.
It was the first day the city's new metered parking system was in effect.
"Hate it," David Negrotto said. "I've lived here twenty-seven years, and I've never had to do this." After swiping his credit card to pay for a two-hour spot near City Hall, Negrotto was left staring at a blank screen, when two of the city's parking ambassadors deployed throughout downtown this week came to his aid.
Negrotto warmed to the new system after learning more about how it works and how the revenue from the meters—about $1.7 million per year, the city projects—will go toward increasing, maintaining, and providing security for parking downtown. But the process still seemed overly complicated.
"I think I'll start riding my bike more," he said.
Since the city decided last year to abandon free downtown parking and move forward with the meters—something virtually every fast-growing city eventually decides to do—the stated goal hasn't been to raise money but rather to increase turnover of in-demand on-street parking spaces downtown. To that end, the city has converted about one thousand free parking spots to metered parking. From eight a.m. to seven p.m. Monday through Friday, it will cost you $1.50 per hour to park in the metered spots, except on holidays. (Also this week, the price of parking in one of seven city decks or lots—where there is no time limit—will increase from $1 per hour to $1.25 per hour, which is still cheaper than on-street parking.)
Sounds simple enough—if, that is, the machines worked like parking meters you'd find in most other cities, where drivers enter a spot number and pay for however much time they need, up to a maximum, and then refill the meter as needed. But Durham's don't. Most on-street spots will continue to have time limits, so motorists who reach the limit but aren't ready to leave will need to move their cars rather than refilling the meter. (If you purchase less than the time limit and need to extend your parking duration, you can do that via the free Passport Parking app.)
The parking ambassadors, wearing neon green vests and holding stacks of printed instructions, were busy on Monday explaining the difference between single-space meters—which are exactly what they sound like—and multispace meters, which take payment for a block or "parking zone." A parking ambassador who helped Negrotto advises not to pull out your credit card quickly, "like at the gas station." She said most questions she fielded on Monday were about the time limits.
One hundred and fifteen single-space and 155 multispace meters were installed, costing the city more than $2 million. For multispace meters, you'll need to enter your license plate number.
Nicole J. Thompson, president and CEO of Downtown Durham Inc., says paid on-street parking in Durham was necessary to accommodate Durham's growth.
"I would say that parking is an issue, and it has been, and in order to deal with it in a fair and equitable manner, you have to look at all the options, and paying to park is one way to address that," she says. Although there will be a learning curve, she doesn't see the new system harming businesses. If anything, the meter system will ensure more parking availability and encourage people to use alternate means of getting around downtown.
The meters will be located from Buchanan Boulevard to Fayetteville Street and from Lakewood Avenue to Geer Street, although most are concentrated within the downtown loop.
Revenue from the meters will be put toward parking-related expenses, like operating the city's parking program, building a new mixed-use parking garage downtown, making $1.8 million in elevator upgrades, resurfacing parking lots, upgrading security and surveillance in the parking decks, expanding off-street parking, and keeping the metered parking system up to date, the city says.
Delivery, installation, and maintenance of the 270 meters will cost nearly $2.3 million, per contracts approved by the city council. Three additional full-time staff positions were created to monitor and maintain the new meters. Those positions, as well as maintenance supplies, will cost $288,764 annually, according to the city.
Drivers can pay with coins, cash, or a card, as well as the free Passport Parking App.
Word on the street—literally—is that there will be a grace period this week for motorists who hog a spot too long. If you're willing to chance it, the fee for parking citations will remain $20.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Parked and Wrecked."