Bloomington’s parking commission counts new neighborhood permit rules as initial success, mulls more policy tweaks

Policies on the temporary storage of vehicles inside Bloomington’s city limits, aka “parking,” are key to retaining residents and businesses downtown, as well as the success of cultural events downtown, like this past weekend’s Lotus Festival. Parking as a policy issue reaches into the leafy neighborhoods, outside of downtown.

Late last year and earlier this spring, business owners raised the specter of relocating out of downtown, if their employee parking would be contingent on a quarterly engineering inspection of a repaired 4th Street structure. That led to the reversal of the city council’s initial decision to repair, not rebuild, the 4th Street parking garage. Demolition of the structure started in earnest his past week.

Part of what makes Lotus Festival possible is the reservation of hundreds of parking spaces with bright orange signs marking each space, indicating when motorists are not allowed to park there. They cost $20 apiece plus $10 for administration.

Street parking in the area north of downtown roughly bounded by Walnut and Woodlawn and by 17th and 13th has, since Aug. 15, required a residential neighborhood parking permit. The newly defined Zone 6, has round-the-clock enforcement from Thursday through Sunday.

It’s the city’s parking commission that has purview over these kinds of parking issues. The commission’s meetings are open to the public, like those of all boards and commissions.

The bright orange reserved parking signs got some brief discussion at last Thursday’s meeting, as did the early feedback on Zone 6 and other neighborhood parking permit areas that had their rules tweaked starting Aug. 15. Commissioners heard enough positive feedback that the changes are considered a success.

Its meeting last Thursday was the first one  for the parking commission since June, after its regular sessions in July and August were cancelled due to lack of a quorum.

Difficulty in achieving a quorum is related to one of the topics for future discussion identified by parking commissioners on Thursday. Scott Robinson, who’s assistant director for the city’s transportation and planning department, suggested the combination of three transportation-related commissions: parking, traffic, and bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Here’s a round-up of parking commission meeting topics, other issues commissioners might be tackling, and some other parking-related talk The Beacon has heard at other public meetings.

Parking Commission: Recommendations approved

The parking commission approved two recommendations on Thursday, which will need city council action to be enacted as ordinances.

One was to establish a loading zone along 13th Street, between Fess and Woodlawn avenues.

The second one was to make permanent what the the city has already implemented through a temporary traffic control order: Establishing no parking restrictions along one side of Washington, Grant, and 13th streets for some blocks in the new Zone 6 neighborhood parking permit area.

The loading zone conversion came at the request of Indiana University. The area of the loading zone is located in the newly established Zone 6 neighborhood parking permit area. The request is based on the need for users of the Fine Arts Studio Annex, located on the south side of the requested loading zone, to unload large, bulky materials for the building. Amanda Turnipseed, who’s director of IU’s parking operations, attended the parking commission’s Thursday meeting to answer questions.

The no-parking restrictions came at the request of city staff. The request is based on the fact that if cars are parked on both sides of the street, emergency vehicles won’t have enough room to access the street.

The no-parking restricted areas are:

  • N Washington St. (west side) from E 14th St. to E 16th St.
  • N Grant St. (west side)from E 15th St. to E 16th St.
  • N Grant St. (east side)from E 16th St. to E 17th St.
  • E 13th St. (north side) from N Dunn St. to N Indiana Ave.

At Thursday’s meeting, Michelle Wahl, the city’s parking services director, said that no-parking signs have already been posted there based on the city’s authority to issue a temporary traffic control order  effective for 180 days.

Parking Commission: Feedback on new Regulations

Feedback on the new neighborhood parking permit regulations, which were effective Aug. 15, came from two sources: residents who attended the commission’s meeting and a report relayed from the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) about the effect of the new regulations on its employees.

One of the issues that the new Zone 6 residential permit zone was supposed to address was the use of the area by football fans for parking on home game days. A couple residents of the New Zone 6 told commissioners that this year they have not experienced “game day insanity” as they did in the past. They said it’s been “wonderful.”

Based on an initial interpretation of the city code, MCPL was initially told that the new regulations would mean a reduction from 50 total permits to 16 for MCPL employees. A subsequent interpretation allowed the same 50 permits that library employees have been able to purchase in the past. Another new requirement, that even permit holders have to pay the meter for any of the metered spaces inside the zone near the library, did not change.

MCPL confirmed to The Beacon the figures that Steve Volan, the city council’s representative to the parking commission, gave at Thursday’s meeting on the library staff’s use of options:

MCPL Employee Use of Transportation Options

Option 2018–19 2019–2020
Lot 5 (6th) 28 28
Walnut Garage 34 22
Zone 4 (neighborhood parking permit) 50 38
Bus Passes 18 22
Walk/Bike/Share 29 37
Ellettsville Staff 3 6
NAPA Lot 0 1
4th Street Garage 2 0
No response to survey 0 11

The reduction in the number of Walnut Street garage permits or Zone 4 residential zone permits could be due to a lack of survey responses. But the numbers show at least 12 additional employees who are using a bus pass or walking/biking/car-pooling to work at the library.

Other Topics for Parking Commission

Towards the end of the Thursday meeting, parking commissioners identified some topics for future consideration.

  • Neighborhood benefit zones: Steve Volan floated the idea of eventually transforming neighborhood parking permit zones into a revenue source for the neighborhoods where they’re located. The idea would be to sell a limited number of permits at a much higher price than residents of the neighborhood pay. The difference would be used on infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood. Parking services director Michelle Wahl wanted at least a year of data on the new parking permit zones before introducing the idea of a neighborhood benefit zone.
  • Temporary parking space reservations: Resident Tom Gallagher attended the Thursday meeting to talk to commissioners about an issue with the parking space reservation system. Recently, on the Friday before a home football game, organizers of an event had reserved all the spaces south of the courthouse square to accommodate three food trucks planned for their activity. The food trucks weren’t able to come, which meant the spaces sat empty with their orange reservation signs—which was a waste of the parking resource.

    Parking commissioners agreed it was a topic that they should take up.

    Glitches in the orange-sign reservation system are not new this year. Here’s a note from a uReport complaint last year:

#166593 Parking Meters and Tickets
501 N Morton St, Bloomington, Indiana, 47404
Case Date: 11/20/2018
Many orange “no parking” signs that have been placed downtown are expired but are still up days after the event is over and the last day of no parking is over. This is causing a problem because it limits parking (especially handicap parking spaces). Please remove signs that are expired!

  • Reorganization of parking commission: Scott Robinson, who’s assistant director for the city’s transportation and planning department, suggested the combination of three transportation-related commissions: parking, traffic, and bicycle and pedestrian safety.

    By way of some additional background, the city council recently relaxed the membership requirements for parking commissioners, out of concern that the commission was having difficulty achieving a quorum. The creation of the parking commission, in 2016, required an override of Mayor Hamilton’s veto, which was done on a 9–0 vote.

  • Motorcycles parked at bicycle hoops: Parking of motorcycles with an engine bigger than 40cc at  bicycle hoops is apparently a problem that might require legislation.
  • Resale of permits prohibited: Parking services director Michelle Wahl said at Thursday’s meeting she’d like to see an ordinance that prohibits the re-sale of residential parking permits. She’s seem them for sale on eBay, Wahl said. They’re supposed to be non-transferable, but it’s not in the code anywhere, Wahl said.
  • 2017 annual parking report: The commission is still working on the annual report from 2017.

Parking Mentioned Elsewhere: Cashout, Volunteers

At the first reading of the city’s 2020 budget in front of the city council last week, parking got at least a couple of mentions.

Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith expressed disappointment that the administration had not yet acted on a “parking cashout” idea that her colleague Steve Volan had pitched a while back. It was not a part of the 2020 budget proposal. Here’s Volan’s question and the administration’s answer.

Volan: Several months ago I asked you for the administrative costs of normalizing the City Hall parking lots so that all employees paid the market rate, then giving those same employees a raise equal to that increase, a plan otherwise known as “parking cashout.” I’m still waiting for an answer to a question that could be implemented with the 2020 budget. How would employees’ tax statuses be affected if at all? What do you have to do to make cashout happen this year?

Administration: There is a tax implication for employees that will vary based on their income. The administration does not think this change should be considered for the 2020 budget. We are not opposed to looking at a “parking cashout,” or other incentives for those who would choose to not park in the Showers Common surface lot, but we would like more time to analyze options.

Volan said at the first reading of the budget that he’d like to see parking revenues  support additional mass transit.

At a recent city council candidate forum, Volan mentioned an idea that he said did not make it into the the parking ordinance revisions approved last year—to set aside $20,000 to pay for parking of volunteers for people who volunteer for service to non-profits or who are low-income. That provision did not make it into the legislation because it was not clear who would administer the program, Volan said. It’s still an idea he thinks is achievable, Volan said at the candidate forum.

cropped 09-27-2019 no parking looking south washington 15th-16th IMG_4825
Looking south, a sign on Washington Street between 14th and 15th streets prohibits parking on the west side of the street. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
cropped 09-27-2019 neigborhood parking permit IMG_4823
Looking north, a sign on Washington Street between 14th and 15th streets designating the area as a part of residential neighborhood parking Zone 6. (Dave Askins/Beacon)


One thought on “Bloomington’s parking commission counts new neighborhood permit rules as initial success, mulls more policy tweaks

  1. I think the ppl who work downtown should get a break in parking we have to make a living or do you want all business to close an let iu take over all of downtown
    This parking is BS for ppl trying to make a living

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