JOLIET – The city needs to radically overhaul its antiquated, inefficient and confusing downtown parking system, a consultant told the City Council on Monday.
David Burr of Rich & Associates offered a wide range of recommendations to make the city’s downtown parking meters and garages more user-friendly and better revenue sources.
Signage is a huge problem, he said.
“My associate and I spent two days downtown before we even noticed the parking signs,” Burr said, noting that signage was not standardized and placement often was chaotic.
Joliet has about 3,000 parking spaces downtown, about 44 percent of them open to the public, Burr said. Of that number, 590 spaces are street meters – primarily with two-hour time limits but some of longer or shorter duration – that cost either $1 or 50 cents an hour for parking. The rest of the spaces are in the city’s two parking garages, which charge 50 cents an hour, and the commuter lot at Union Station, which runs $1 a day.
The entire system netted about $38,000 in 2013, not enough to cover upkeep or maintenance of equipment and capital, Burr said.
Burr recommended increasing meter costs from $1 to $1.25, which he said he is in line with parking prices in Mokena, Lockport and New Lenox.
He also said the city needed to update its ticket citation software. The newer technology would increase the city’s citation collection rate from less than 40 percent to 60 to 80 percent, and generate $70,000 to $140,000 in revenue annually, Burr said.
One recurring downtown problem is the “feeding” of meters, Burr said. Street meters are designed to allow for mostly two-hour access, while longer-term parking is supposed to be relegated to the city’s two parking garages. But enforcement officers currently have no efficient way to tell if someone’s been using the meter for extended periods. The new software would resolve that problem, Burr said.
Burr also recommended utilizing “smarter” parking meters that would allow patrons to use credit and debit cards or phone apps for parking. Joliet’s current meter system operates only on quarters. Upgrading all downtown meters would cost about $15,000, he said.
Burr also recommended keeping parking attendants at the city’s garages until 11 p.m. weekdays. Attendants currently leave at 7 p.m., allowing anyone leaving the lot after that time to essentially park for free. Other options would include adopting card readers at the garage entrance and exits for about $12,000 each, or adopting a dedicated automatic pay exit, which could run as much as $300,000, he said.
Finally, Burr noted that 75 percent of commuters do not feel safe when parking in Joliet, though most business owners, downtown employees and visitors do. He recommended adding security patrols to garages and the downtown commuter lots starting at 4:30 a.m. to resolve security concerns.
Not all of Burr’s suggestions involved higher rates and more aggressive collections. He also recommended doing away with charging for parking on Saturdays, which he noted brings in little revenue.