You spoke, we listened: Parking plan ready to move in a new direction

With a lot of guidance from a variety of stakeholders, our downtown parking management plan has begun to gel after more than two years of discussion, research and evaluation.

Four public meetings provided the Downtown Development Authority with a lot of feedback and food for thought. Our decision to take parking meters off the table signals our responsiveness to our downtown Augusta merchants, residents, workers and visitors. You spoke, and we heard you loud and clear.

But our discussions have confirmed our assessment that widespread disregard for the current parking regulations in the Broad Street corridor discourages potential customers for downtown merchants and exasperates many more.

CURRENT CITY ordinances place responsibility for parking enforcement on the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, which must juggle that with a large number of other important public safety duties. To make matters worse, the ordinances offer no judicial remedies to aid the department in collecting fines or resolving disputed tickets.

Parking is a valuable resource, and this lack of a strategic management plan affects everybody. We want to change that in a way that will benefit all the stakeholders.

So, the DDA is planning to ask the commission to lift that burden from the sheriff's department and allow the DDA to assume the parking enforcement role for downtown. We are working on a comprehensive plan that will provide regular enforcement of parking limits during business hours on weekdays, a system of fine collection that will ensure payment and deter repeat offenders, and a clear, fair process for resolution of disputed tickets.

We are crafting this program with clear goals in mind:

- Lifting the burden for parking enforcement from the sheriff's department, which will free its personnel for other important public-safety responsibilities.

- Creating turnover that will offer more convenient parking opportunities for downtown shoppers and patrons.

- Providing more reliable, orderly procedures for collecting parking fines and resolving disputed parking tickets.

- Helping to locate safe, convenient off-street parking for commuters, residents and those with regular long-term parking needs.

- Collecting data on downtown traffic and parking that will guide future decisions about managing downtown in ways that will promote revitalization of the urban core.

IN CONSULTATION with the sheriff's office, the mayor's office, city administration and elected officials, the DDA will draft ordinances on downtown parking that will spell out the DDA's responsibilities and provide the authority necessary to carry them out. These revisions will be presented to the commission for consideration through their committee process, and must be approved by the full panel before taking effect.

For downtown workers, residents and those with long-term parking needs, we have compiled a map of parking lots in the downtown area and are working to amass a catalog of information about hours, pricing and other features. When complete, the map and information will be available on our Web site, www.myaugustadowntown.com.

Before the new parking enforcement plan takes effect, the DDA will conduct a thorough public awareness campaign to help Augustans citywide understand the limits and the enforcement process.

Once our efforts begin, the parking management program will provide more than just orderly turnover or spaces. We will also be collecting real-time information about use of parking spaces in the Broad Street corridor that will yield such valuable information as peak hours, average length of stay and most popular locations. This data will be available to the public and helpful not only to the DDA and city officials, but also to merchants and property managers who can devise marketing strategies around it.

COLLECTING DATA will help us to chart the growth of downtown as construction begins on such important projects as the TEE center, a proposed baseball stadium and the Hyatt Place Hotel. And should additional measures for effective parking management become necessary, we will have the necessary information to make effective decisions and provide the public with the facts supporting those decisions.

The Augusta DDA remains firmly committed to managing downtown growth; balancing the needs of our merchants, residents, workers and visitors; and promoting a safe, convenient and vibrant environment in our urban core. We are grateful to all those who have offered us their thoughts, opinions and suggestions during this discussion over parking. Our plan has benefitted from their interest and insight.

We hope they will continue their dialogue with us as we craft this parking program and provide us with their cooperation on future initiatives as we move forward together toward a unique and inclusive central city.

(The writers are, respectively, executive director and parking committee chairman of the Downtown Development Authority.)

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