Parking panel approves pilot program for Ionia Avenue


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A heavily congested parking stretch along Ionia Avenue will be “in the zone” by the end of this year.

During its regular meeting Oct. 8, the Grand Rapids Parking Commission unanimously voted to move forward with implementing a meter-less ParkMobile pilot program based on both zone location and license plates along Ionia Avenue between Michigan and Fairbanks streets.

ParkMobile allows users to pay for their parking with a mobile device. Users start and stop their parking transaction with an electronic app. Telephone service is also an option.

The ParkMobile pilot program will convert the currently free parking spaces along a two-block stretch on Ionia Avenue to paid parking zones with a rate of 50 cents per hour with a 10-hour limit, which is equivalent to the time and rate used for the existing 28 metered spots on the west side of the street.

Barbara Singleton, parking meter operations supervisor for the city of Grand Rapids, said during the meeting the ParkMobile pilot program was in response to a request by the Parking Commission to see if there could be paid parking in that area.

Singleton indicated with approximately 110 free on-street parking spaces between Michigan and Mason streets, the time might be right to test phasing spaces into the paid-meter operation as the city grows and parking demands increase, according to an Oct. 5 memo.

“We are recommending we use a form of ParkMobile,” said Singleton. “We would post signs with a zone of them and then we would use the license plate to enforce, and this then eliminates the need for us to install parking meters.”

Single-space meters are estimated to cost approximately $50,000 for installation, maintenance and enforcement, according to Singleton.

The use of ParkMobile zones would reduce the cost of maintenance and eliminate collections that are required with traditional parking meters.

“We estimated about $500 to install one meter, and we have to maintain it, we have to enforce it, we have to go see it every day to make sure there is nothing wrong with it,” said Singleton.

“With the pilot program we would maintain (the metered) spaces. We would add zones on the east side as well as on the west where the meters end.”

Although the signs are still in the design and pricing process, Singleton said the  cost of installing the new sign posts and signs would be no more than $400, and enforcement would “be no different than what we do every day in other zones,” since the current ParkMobile method uses the individual meter number.

Depending on the success of the pilot program, it may be used in other locations in the city where there is “increased traffic congestion, parking demand is high, and cost of the space is currently free to the parker,” according to the memo.

Pamela Ritsema, managing director of enterprise services for the city of Grand Rapids, said one of the questions that was raised when the city implemented ParkMobile in the past involved what happens if users didn’t have a ParkMobile account.

“In this instance, one side of the street will be ParkMobile app, but there will be parking meters, as well,” said Ritsema.

Parking Services Commissioner Andy Guy suggested a ParkMobile application could be exclusionary to individuals who may not have access to a smartphone or a bank card.

Individuals can also dial the (800) 280-4146 number to pay for parking instead of accessing the mobile application.

Ritsema said the Parking Commission’s vote to move forward with the program means the department can proceed in installing the ParkMobile signage on Ionia, which is expected to be completed by the end of November.

“It will most likely mean there will always be space available in the first two blocks of Ionia, so for people who are willing to pay, they should easily be able to find parking space area,” said Ritsema. “It will reduce traffic congestion in those two blocks.”

The Parking Commission also discussed transition tactics for the displaced Arena South parking customers due to the closure of two parking lots south of the Van Andel Arena for mixed-use redevelopment. During the transition, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. is partnering with the city and working with representatives from nearby businesses to create a plan for potential displacement, according to the memo.

To address concerns of convenience, cost, safety and predictability, city staff developed a number of economic incentives, as well as supply-and-demand solutions.

The preliminary coordinated transition tactics are a three-year strategy involving a staged rate increase for more expensive parking structures, a parking cash-out program, an on-street permit for specialized business use, conversion of visitor spaces, and collaboration with The Rapid, Parking Services, DGRI and employers to pilot a downtown employee transit pass program.

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