Metered spaces still an option for student parking problem

Wednesday, September 12, 2007 | 6:49 p.m. CDT; updated 7:08 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — The problem with student parking on streets near Rock Bridge High School appears to be solving itself, but the Columbia City Council is keeping an eye on the situation and contemplating whether to meter spaces in the area.

New bright-yellow paint lines several streets near Rock Bridge that were declared off-limits to parkers last month after complaints in the spring from area businesses. That, combined with a low number of student drivers early in the school year and the new availability of paid parking at a nearby pizzeria, has quelled the congestion for now.

“I think we can trust the students with the regulations the city has put out there,” said Skip Grossnickle, a broker at the Insurance Group. He said before the city prohibited parking on Executive and Corporate Plaza drives, students would sometimes double-park on both sides of the road, creating a dangerous situation and preventing access by emergency vehicles.

The City Council at its last meeting reviewed a report from the Public Works Department on parking problems and potential solutions at Hickman High School and at Rock Bridge, where streets south of the high school are known as “sophomore alley” because underclassmen aren’t allowed to park in school lots.

Rock Bridge sophomore Morgan Pitchford said that unlike her, a lot of sophomores are not yet 16, so they don’t drive. Others have avoided bringing cars to school, heeding the advice of Principal Kathy Ritter. Still, Pitchford expects that more sophomores will drive to school as the year goes on.

“I think so because it is more convenient,” said Pitchford, adding that there were a lot of cars parked in “sophomore alley” during the first week of school. Tickets, however, have driven most away.

Recognizing an opportunity, Angelo’s Pizza and Steak House now sells parking passes to students for $35 a month. About 10 students have taken manager Pano Skyvalidas’ offer. By comparison, students pay $40 per year to park in school lots.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, who received complaints from area businesses in March, said the parking problem is an issue of safety. She said she noticed during a recent ribbon cutting for Southampton Road that the problem wasn’t so bad, but said the council should continue monitoring the situation. She said prohibiting parking on some streets will simply push the cars farther from campus. She hopes a community dialogue with the school will produce a solution.

The report from Public Works advised no action. “I felt it was going to take care of itself,” transportation manager Ken Koopmans said, citing the pending construction of a third high school that could result in fewer students driving to Rock Bridge.

Nauser noted that the high school project is a long way off. “I don’t know how much it is going to alleviate, and it is not going to happen next year.”

Although it recommended the council do nothing, the Public Works report did offer metered parking as a solution at both high schools. At Rock Bridge, the report said, 30-minute parking could be allowed along the Providence Outer Road, while metered parking could regulate the situation on North Cedar Lake, John Garry and Executive drives.

The report outlined two possibilities: pay-and-display or pay-by-space meters. Either could rely on a solar-powered multi-space meter. “The main difference would be convenience to the customer,” Koopmans said.

The more convenient pay-by-space option allows drivers to park, remember their space numbers and then pay on their walk to school. It’s similar to the method used in city parking garages. The pay-and-display method would require students to pay at the machine, drive to an open parking spot then display a receipt on the front of the car. That method is easier to enforce and matches what MU does in its garages. The estimated cost for the five metered parking units would be $76,525, said William Lewis, supervisor of the city’s parking utility.

The report floated a rate of 35 cents per hour for parking, which would work out to a couple of dollars per day for students.

“I think that any price would be too high,” Rock Bridge senior Grace Rathert said.

Senior Andrew Vincent doesn’t want to see meters, but he understands.

“You usually see metered parking as being downtown, but it makes sense in that it is highly wanted space. ... I think it is a convenience matter because sometimes kids come from the south and don’t want to move to the north.”

Although metered spaces remain a possibility at Rock Bridge, the council has shied away from the idea at Hickman. Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku noted that Hickman is in a residential area, which would require metering spaces in front of people’s homes. He also shared Koopmans’ assessment that the new high school will help.

“Students do need access to get to schools at various times, and unless there is a problem there shouldn’t be a restriction,” Janku said.

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