The Police Department is recommending a full conversion to paid parking on the island – a position that the Town Council appears to support.
Police Lieutenant Paul Alber told the council Tuesday that increased traffic on the island, and the associated demand for parking, is a growing problem.
There are about 1,900 on-street parking spaces in the business district between Wells and Gulfstream roads, Alber said. Roughly 60 percent of them are free (usually with a one- or two-hour limit) and the remainder are paid parking, according to Alber. Paid parking rates vary, with the most expensive being $6 per hour near Midtown Beach.
The Police Department recommends the town fully convert to paid parking, using the ParkMobile cell phone parking app already in use, Alber said.
“It would allow us to more efficiently and effectively monitor the parking inventory,” he said.
The parking app is easier to use than kiosks and generates data that gives municipalities the ability to customize parking rules to fit the needs of the community, he said. Rates can be adjusted upward or downward by day and night or for special events.
“It’s just a better management tool,” Alber said.
Municipalities also can provide a discounted rate for residents, he said. “In Miami Beach, residents pay $1 an hour, no matter where they park.”
Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay said she likes the idea of providing a parking discount for residents, and asked Town Attorney John Randolph to research the legality to make sure the town can do that.
Other advantages would include uniform parking signage throughout the business district and a boost in parking revenue, Alber said. As of June, parking revenue had reached at $1.1 million for the budget year that began Oct. 1.
Last year, the council converted the ocean block of Worth Avenue from free to paid parking to discourage Midtown Beach visitors from taking on-street spaces intended for shoppers.
The council also approved the designation of twelve 30-minute free spaces in the 200 (mid) and 300 (west-of-mid) blocks on the avenue for customer convenience.
Traditionally, the 132 spaces on the avenue have been free with a two-hour limit. But that has led to another longstanding problem: many shop employees park in the premium spaces along the store fronts – spaces that were intended for customers.
Still, Worth Avenue merchants have long resisted a full conversion to paid parking, which some have contended will turn some customers away.
Town Manager Kirk Blouin has advocated for a town-wide conversion to paid parking.
“Paid parking will solve our problems,” Blouin told the council Tuesday. He described the town’s current patchwork of paid and free parking as a “piecemeal, complaint-driven strategy. It just doesn’t work.”
Paid parking has been proven to encourage better turnover of parking spaces, according to Blouin and Alber.
Greg Beletsky, president of the Worth Avenue Association, said the organization’s board is torn over the question of paid parking. There is concern among members about how it would affect older customers, he said.
As an avenue businessman, Beletsky said he recognizes the need for consistency. Visitors to the island are often confused by the maze of parking rules.
“The [signage], right now, is quite obnoxious,” he said.
Mayor Danielle Moore asked how elderly people who don’t use cell phone apps would be able to park. The average age of town residents is 68, she said.
They would be able to pay by going online or by calling a phone number that could be included on the parking signs, Alber said. Or they could get a relative, friend or the business where they are shopping to pay for their parking, he said.
Councilman Ted Cooney said parking apps are easier to use than kiosks, and he agreed that uniform paid parking is the way to go.
“It’s a finite resource,” he said of on-street parking spaces. “In almost every area of our lives, we pay for finite resources.”
Lindsay wanted to know if the number of parking signs could be reduced under a uniform ParkMobile system. Alber replied that signs could be reduced by introducing more uniform parking regulations.
Council President Margaret Zeidman said town tax dollars pay for cleaning and maintaining the streets. Visitors drive in town on those same streets. Through paid parking revenue, visitors can help to pay for keeping them up, she said.
The debate over paid parking has been going on for years. Some merchants will continue to oppose it, Zeidman said.
“But you [just] can’t talk about it for 15 years,” she said. “At some point you have to just do it.”
Council members Lindsay and Lew Crampton, who make up the council’s Business and Administrative Committee, both expressed support for town-wide paid parking. The committee, chaired by Crampton, has been recommending ways to incrementally improve parking in the town. The committee’s next meeting is at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
“The time is now,” Lindsay said of the change.