For Ronnie Johnston, mayor of the city of Covington and chair of the Covington Parking Authority, it’s the best problem he’s had to deal with since he became mayor.
“It’s not a problem that’s just going to go away,” he told the approximately 20 people gathered in the chamber rooms to discuss the parking challenges in Historic Downtown Covington. “In fact, I hope it gets worse.”
Johnston said the escalating struggle to find convenient parking downtown is a “good sign. We’re growing.”
On Wednesday night, the Parking Authority shared some ideas being considered. “Tonight is about sharing that plan with you,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone. The committee [the Authority] is working and will continue meeting.”
Johnston reviewed the four phases recommended in a $43,000 parking study by Kimley Horn – improving directional signs pointing motorists to public parking lots; enforcing parking time limits; adding meters; and building parking decks or garages, which Johnston said, could cost as much as $12,000 per parking space to build. (See “Covington moving forward on downtown parking study” at http://www.covnews.com/section/1/article/200838/.)
Right now, the authority is exploring ways to improve visitor and resident access to free public parking.
“We need better signage to make people aware of parking lots,” Johnston said. “Our signage is terrible. We estimate between 60 and 70 percent of the people coming to the Square don’t live here. A lot of people are making illegal left turns off the square. There are no left turns [allowed] on the Square.”
According to the parking authority, there are 1,215 public parking spaces within 1,200 feet of the square. The spots are free, 24-hours a day, and the walk from the parking area to a storefront is comparable to the walking from a parking space to the entrance of Walmart, the mayor said.
“But what do we do for those who can’t make the walk?” he asked. “Walkability is great, but some people don’t want to walk, some can’t walk. We have to figure out ways to give people options.”
Ideas being considered include:
• Create identification signs for each public parking lot;
• Ask businesses with private parking to allow free parking after the business closes at 5 p.m.;
• Increase lighting in all public parking areas;
• Test out using an eight-person, enclosed golf cart to ferry people from a designated parking area to an area on the square;
• Work with the county and courts to encourage employees to park in the parking garage off of Pace Street; and
• Work with the county and the Geographical Information System on the feasibility of a smart phone application or website that would market public parking lots as well as advertise road closures, detours and traffic patterns.
Before the authority looks at suggestions like operating a trolley on the Square, building another deck at the judiciary parking lot, or closing the streets to all motor vehicles, Johnston said, they wanted to move forward on phase one, using existing spaces more efficiently.
“As we move forward, we’re trying to do things really well to represent the city well,” Johnston said. “We have to come together as a community if we’re truly going to solve the problem. We’re a thriving entertainment district. Stores that have opened recently are doing really well.
“It’s a great problem,” he said. “People are coming here, spending money and helping us all become more successful.”