The clever commuters who realized there were still some free parking spots on the streets of downtown New Orleans may soon be slipping coins, or a credit card, into shiny new meters.
A new parking study commissioned by the city's Department of Public Works and covering the Central Business District recommends doing away with the few on-street spaces that appear to have remained free over the years largely by accident.
In addition, it proposes raising fines for parking violations and charging hotels and other businesses for the use of loading zones that take up valuable parking real estate.
The study comes amid a building boom in areas in and around the CBD that developers have targeted for condos, retail and new office space. And as more people elect to live in what was traditionally a business-only area of the city, the need for parking continues to rise, not only during the workday but also after hours and on weekends.
Parking is tight in the CBD during daytime hours, according to the study, and nearly a third of available curb space in the district between Canal and Poydras Streets, from Claiborne Avenue to the river, is taken up by freight zones, areas used to load and unload passengers or taxi-waiting areas.
Just over half of the potential spaces in the area are pay-to-park, through either individual meters or kiosks. But 8 percent, the study says, are completely free and have no restrictions on their use.
Those spots were “overlooked” in previous metering efforts or became free because of construction or other disruptions in the area, according to the study.
And it appears that many of those spaces are being used by savvy commuters or residents who don't give up the spots very often.
Authors of the study noted that many of those 95 parking spaces were found to be occupied by the same vehicle throughout the day; they recommended adding meters to them.
The study was conducted by the consulting firm AECOM as an update to an earlier 2015 report.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration did not respond to a request to speak with officials about the study’s recommendations.
There are a total of more than 1,150 on-street parking spaces in the CBD, which are 80 percent occupied during peak hours, a level that the report states represents a “partially constrained supply.”
The problems with parking downtown are compounded by issues with many of the zones set aside for loading and unloading trucks serving businesses in the area, according to the report.
Loading zones “are frequently occupied by private cars, illegally, and for long periods of time,” according to the report. “This causes delivery trucks to block travel lanes. Sometimes the truck drivers simply choose to block a travel lane even though the freight zone is unoccupied.”
The report recommends the city do more enforcement of the loading zone rules, which it says are now rarely enforced.
“Enforcement of loading and passenger zones … is the most critically important change that the department can make at this time,” according to the report.
It also recommends that some freight zones be opened up to regular motorists as metered spaces during certain times and that some of those zones, as well as some passenger zones and cab stands, be converted to full-time metered parking.
At the same time, it argues that businesses should be charged for having nearby loading zones. Such a charge could start at $8,237 a year, the average value the space they take up would generate if it was being used for paid parking, according to the report.
The Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents hotels across the city, is still combing through the report, Executive Director Mavis Early said.
Early said any change to parking rules must take into account the needs of the wide variety of businesses, residents, shoppers and workers in the downtown area.
"The retail businesses need parking spots. The hotels need passenger drop-offs. Both retail and hotels need loading zones," said Early, a former city attorney. "We’ve got to think about all those things."
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Several businesses also make the parking situation worse by blocking off nearby spaces for their own use, the report says.
“Any commercial enterprise that seizes control of the public right of way in this manner should be penalized until it is discontinued,” it says.
The study also recommends increasing the fines issued for parking violations. The current fines of $30 or $40, depending on the violation, are not enough to deter violators and cover the costs of enforcement, it says.
The study recommends raising the minimum fine to $45 so that motorists “who obey the rules of parking … should not be burdened, through their parking rate, to cover the costs of enforcing those who violate the rules,” according to the study.
The city is accepting comments on the study by email through Nov. 9 at firstname.lastname@example.org. It will have representatives ready to take comments in person at a parking spot in front of 201 St. Charles Ave. from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 1.