Free parking in downtown Durham before 7 p.m. on weekdays will become a scarceif not extinctcommodity by winter.

The word on the street since February has been that the city will do away with free on-street parking by year’s end, as the INDY has previously reported (“We Have No Parking,” May 11). Thursday it came one step closer to doing just that.

The plan, included in a new draft ordinance, is to roll out the new meters along with a rate increase for all paid parking. Parking in city-owned decks (or lots, in the case of the Ninth Street), will go up a quarter to $1.25 per hour. On-street parking will cost $1.50 per hour.

The on-street meters will allow parkers to pay with coins, credit cards, or smart devices (the latter will cost you an extra five cents). Parkers will also have the option of paying for a $125 reloadable card to cover one hundred hours of parking. There are no changes to monthly parking fees.

The city says its primary goal is not to raise money but to alleviate a parking crunch downtown. Already the city is slated to build a new deck on Morgan Street, and Durham County will soon open up its lots after hours.

By installing metered parking, the city hopes to create more turnover, thus allowing visitors easier access. The meters, if approved, would encompass nearly one thousand parking spaces around major business hubs, including inside the Loop, around the Durham Performing Arts Center, at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham Central Park, and Brightleaf. The meters will also extend on Main Street toward Elizabeth Street.

The city council has, in general, been supportive of the move to paid on-street parking, but council member Jillian Johnson expressed concerns about what this change could mean for low-income drivers and whether the city is doing enough to further public transportation downtown.

“How are we supporting and promoting those alternatives [to driving], and what other ideas or programs might we be able to implement to mitigate any negative impacts this might have on low-income residents?” she asked parking systems manager Thomas Leathers at a work session last week.

“We have begun conversations with GoTriangle as a department to explore some alternative transportation strategies, including park-and-rides and some other measures in that regard,” Leathers responded.

Leathers added that the department will look for ways to best serve low-income communities.

“My concern is more that we need to make sure that the residents of the city know that there are low-cost, alternative ways to get downtown,” Johnson said. “We want downtown to be accessible for everybody.”

“A lot of this is on us,” added council member Steve Schewel. “It’s the bus system we fund. It’s the sidewalks we build, and the bike infrastructure we support. A lot of how well we do in terms of making downtown accessible is through decisions that we make.”

Schewel noted that the parking fees are on the higher end compared to peer cities. Raleigh, for instance, charges $1 for every thirty minutes of off-street parking, and on Fayetteville Street, it’s $1.25 for an hour of parking. Elsewhere in the Oak City is just $1. (On January 1, over the objections of downtown businesses, Raleigh began charging people to park at night in city-owned decks. On-street parking after 7 p.m. is still free.)

In Durham, paid parking downtown will be enforced between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays. After 7 p.m. and on the weekend, it’s all fair game, except for special-event parking, which will be $5.

Once the new fees are adopted, the city anticipates generating an additional $1,156,835 in parking revenue this fiscal year. That extra money will go into the city’s parking enterprise fund, which helps improve the parking systemincluding funding the new deck on Morgan Street.

The new parking ordinance is set for a September 6 vote by the council, and paid parking could be coming to a street near you as early as November.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Metered Outlook”