Parking changes frustrate MNBA firms


A premature rollout of new parking regulations has left Monroe North business owners with a pinching headache.

Last month, signage along Ottawa and Bond avenues was installed transitioning what had previously been free two-hour on-street parking into paid parking zones through the Parkmobile app. However, a miscommunication between the city and the company contracted to make the signs resulted in the signs being posted earlier than intended, and before city officials had a chance to meet and engage with business owners about the changes.

Once notified, the city put a stop to the installations until officials could meet with area businesses and initiate a full deployment strategy. Because the signs were installed prematurely, Mobile GR Manager Josh Naramore said the city will not enforce the spots until after July 4.

Still, the transition to paid parking spots frustrated local business owners, and Naramore, Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly, Planning Director Suzanne Schulz and a handful of other city officials met with Monroe North Business Association members May 31 to clear the air and discuss how those changes could affect those businesses.

The installations are part of a project Mobile GR began in January, which transformed a number of free spaces along Ionia Avenue into Parkmobile zones. Naramore said transitioning those spaces into paid spots was necessary to prevent people who work downtown from taking advantage of free parking in more “transitional” neighborhoods, like Monroe North.

“Largely, the changes here are meant to show how we’re trying to look at where the future of parking is going in the district because it is an industrial area, but there is a lot of development,” Naramore said. “What we’re seeing in a lot of these transitional areas is people who work downtown are always chasing where free parking is available and that is having a negative impact on a lot of different businesses.”

One of the primary concerns for business association members is the removal of free parking options for their employees. John Taylor, president of Metro Engineering, 845 Ottawa Ave. NW, said he has about 15 employees who park on the street for free. Taylor said his employees view the paid parking zones as what essentially amounts to a dollar-per-hour wage cut.

But Naramore said the city will offer the businesses a chance to purchase permits for their employees to continue to park on the street. A rate cost for those permits has not been determined, but Naramore said Mobile GR will work to accommodate any employers who need on-street permit parking.

Another issue raised during the meeting was the potential impracticalities of migrating to a system regulated by the Parkmobile app. Grand Rapids introduced the Parkmobile system in 2010, which allows drivers to use an app on their smartphone to initiate a “parking session” until they leave the space and end the session and are charged for the corresponding amount. A 35-cent usage fee is applied to each Parkmobile transaction, but Naramore said that per-use fee will be lowered to 15 cents in the coming months.

Business owners at the meeting expressed a concern their employees don’t own smartphones, making it difficult to use the system, but Naramore explained drivers can start and stop a Parkmobile session by calling a number listed on the signage. He added Parkmobile zones allow for more cars to park in an area over metered spaces, which take up about 20 to 22 feet of real estate along the curb per space.

“For the average vehicle that’s 10 to 12 feet in length, you can actually fit more cars on the street than if you had metered parking,” Naramore said.

Mobile GR officials will continue to meet with businesses in the affected areas to ensure the transition into paid on-street parking goes as smoothly as possible, or at least smoother than its rocky start. And MNBA members will have an opportunity to further engage the city on the project.

The most popular sentiment among MNBA members expressed near the end of the meeting was the city’s move to solve a problem that has not fully manifested itself is premature.

“It’s almost the reverse of typical business to government interactions, where instead of addressing a current problem, we’re trying to address a future problem, and now we’re here talking about the current ramifications of that solution,” said Mike DeVries of DeVries Companies, 1345 Monroe Ave. NW. “To me, it’s just inverted. I haven’t ever heard anyone in the North Monroe area say this is a current problem we need to change right now. It’s more of the city trying to address a future problem, and we’re reacting. So, it’s backwards.”

Naramore said he and city staff will take the feedback provided by the MNBA members at the meeting and digest it to develop a longer-term solution.

“That’s really the biggest thing we wanted to do is get feedback — which is what we’d planned on doing the first time around,” Naramore said. “But we’re here now, and so we’re going to take all this feedback and respond very quickly about potential changes and what the outreach strategy will be moving forward.”

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