Featured, Greeley, Sherrie Peif, Weld County

Greeley officials say downtown parking fixes are an ongoing conversation

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories following issues with a new downtown parking system in Greeley. Complete Colorado is meeting with downtown business owners, employees and the city to detail the system. The first installment is available here

GREELEY — The deputy director of public works for the City of Greeley admits parking enforcement in downtown has gotten more aggressive since a new system began in April.

However, Will Jones said it’s designed to increase the turnover of spaces in the heart of downtown throughout the day. He says the changes came after more than a year of studying how to deal with a growing population in the most economical fashion.

“Parking is nothing more than a resource,” Jones said. “Just like every other city, we have to manage it. Everybody’s go-to solution is a parking garage, but it’s (not cost-effective).”

Seven months after the implementation of a new parking system in downtown Greeley, parking citations (including warnings) are up nearly twice that of the same time period (April 1 – Nov. 11) last year, from 5,946 tickets issue to 10,129.

The revenue from those citations is down about $16,500 over last year, as is the average fine from $18.35 to $9.16. However, those figures include the warnings (which were not given under the previous system). If warnings are not figured in, the number of citations carrying fines are down, from 5,946 in 2018 to 3,250 in 2019, but the average cost of the fine is up from $18.35 to $28.55, partially because of a graduated rating system that increases with each additional ticket issued per license number over a calendar year.

The first ticket is a warning, the second results in a $15 fine, the third a $30 fine. The fourth occurrence and beyond results in a $45 fine. Previously, there were no warnings.

Critics of the system admit parking in downtown Greeley has never been easy, but since the city went to using license plate recognition software and classifying the area into different “zones,” it’s gotten even more complicated, with no all-day free spots in the heart of the business district and aggressive ticketing.

The software automatically registers a license plate number in the system, along with parking location as the ticketing agent drives by in a vehicle. As the day goes on, the computer program will point out cars that may be parked too long in one location or in permit parking without a permit.

The situation frustrated one downtown resident so much, he started a petition on Change.org to ask the city to rework its 7-month-old plan.

The petition says in part that the new policies, which went into effect earlier this year, “stunt overall growth potential downtown, make downtown less accessible and desirable to visit, and severely alienates the residents and workforce.  The policy currently only serves the purpose of generating massive amounts of revenue for an out of touch City Council.”

As of Monday morning, it had 547 signatures.

For the most part, Greeley’s downtown area has had free two-hour parking for as long as many can remember, but when the clock was up, those who moved their vehicles only had to move them to any new location, even if that was the next spot over. Now, however, the rules have changed, and they have resulted in numerous parking tickets totaling hundreds of dollars for some people.

According to the City of Greeley website, the city offers 2,000 free two-hour spots between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Parking is free after 5 p.m. and on weekends and holidays. All-day parking is free on two select lots, but they are lots that are further away from the hub of the area.

The issue, they say, is with a “zone” system put in place that only allows you to park for free for two hours. You can pay $2 an hour up to $10 to park longer, but it must be done on a smartphone application or by calling a 1-800 number.

Jones said for more than a year the city worked closely with the Downtown Business Association and the Chamber of Commerce connecting with business owners about how to fix parking issues, that many complained kept consumers from shopping downtown.

Much of the problem, Jones said, are employees who park right in front of their place of employment, leaving customers to park blocks away to get where they wanted to go. Many times, Jones said, two employees would leave to move their cars together and just swap spots next to each other.

He understands the frustrations of those who live above businesses, but added, he can’t start making concessions for one group without making concessions for others.

Jones modeled the parking plan after the system used in Fort Collins because the cost of a parking garage is out of the question at this time, adding parking garages are not the one-stop answer to solving the problem, as multiple costly garages would be needed to solve downtown Greeley’s problem.

“It will help the problem (in one area),” he said. “But it won’t help the problem (in a different area). Everyone thinks it’s a solution, and it is, but it doesn’t fix it everywhere.”

Jones said the cost of building a garage is between $20-30,000 per space, plus another $250-300,000 per year.

“Many folks who are building parking garages right now are building them to turn them into apartment complexes,” Jones said. “Because who knows what’s going to happen with technology.”

Jones was referring to the idea that sometime soon, smart cars will take over transportation in Colorado. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), calling it the “Internet of the roads,” is working with communities across the state to broaden their fiber optic networks in order to “build the first transportation system in the country capable of communicating with connected vehicles at a significant scale.”

Smart cars (or connected vehicles as the CDOT calls them) are vehicles that can talk to each other, roadway infrastructure and traffic operators.

“By sharing information in real-time, vehicles can send customized, just-in-time notifications to drivers to avoid incidents such as crashes, poor roadway conditions, work zones, back up’s and many more incidents that can plague our roadways,” the CDOT website says.

However, critics say the system works in Fort Collins because it has a parking garage.

Jones is also trying to figure out how to work in Greeley’s bus system to help with the issue.

“Not that it’s a silver bullet, nothing is, but if I can get five people to (take the bus) then that is five spots,” he said, citing a Cincinnati program that allows employees to ride the bus to work for free. “We’re not Cincinnati, and I’m not saying we are, but we got to try to start thinking differently. I’m not trying to be like everybody else. I’m trying to be mindful of who we are, but why go try and recreate this whole thing, if I can go and steal it from somebody else.”

Jones said the city plans to look at the plan every year to “tweak it.” He said there are no plans to stop issuing warning tickets, and that the tickets are based on a per-type issuance that reset on Jan. 1 every year.

For example, if you get a ticket for parking in the same spot past the two-hour allotment without buying extra time, the first time it’s a warning, then the fines start. But if a month or so later, you get a ticket for parking in a permit-only area, the first time it’s still just a warning, and then the fines start. Everything resets on Jan. 1 of the next year. So a new ticket after Jan. 1 would be a warning.

Cars may get ticketed a maximum of twice for the same offense in a 24-hour period. Jones said the reason for that is too many people who may be downtown for court or some other issue realized they would only get a warning the first time, so they just left their car parked there for the day.

“For repeat offenders, it’s an accountability system,” he said. “Our top 20 offenders had over $26,000 in parking tickets.”

By household, Jones said. The top-20 offenders accounted for more than $47,000 of the total fines assessed by the city, which means people were just sitting there all day, taking away the availability of spots.

“If you don’t have the availability, you don’t have the turnover and people don’t want to come downtown,” Jones said.

Additionally, if someone parks their car at 3 p.m. but doesn’t return to get it until 9 a.m. the next morning, they are OK. The free two-hour parking is per 7 a.m.-5 p.m. cycle.

The city has announced it is hosting an open house to consider changes for the first of the year. That meeting is scheduled for 4-6:30 p.m., Dec. 4 at the Greeley Ice Haus, 900 8th Ave.

“My goal for next year is to try to find a way to incentivize or to get people to take the bus,” Jones said.

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