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Consultants present parking study results

Photo by Claudio Schwarz Purzibaum via Unsplash

HOUGHTON — Shared parking arrangements with private owners. Better signage and online information. More uniform on-street parking times.

Consultants who performed a parking study of downtown Houghton presented their recommendations and findings in a Zoom meeting Wednesday.

More than 30 people virtually attended the meeting, led by project manager Andrew Baglini and project consultant Eric Haggett of Walker Consultants. The study was commissioned by the city and The Veridea Group of Marquette, with which the city is negotiating for the potential sale and development of the parking deck site on Lakeshore Drive.

The group prepared a study after visiting the downtown in February, conducting an online survey and holding focus group meetings with residents and downtown business owners in May.

Haggett said shared parking arrangements between the city and private owners could enable it to meet parking demands without having to add more capacity, which could cost $20,000 per space.

“The biggest opportunity here is to make better use of some of the, for instance, Michigan Tech spaces that are down close to the waterfront, as those spaces are available later in the evenings or on the weekend, sometimes, but not available during the day, on weekdays,” he said.

Although the city has well-marked public parking spaces, it could do more to indicate parking facilities as drivers approach the downtown, Haggett said. The study recommended working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to allow signage on state roads leading to downtown. If that isn’t allowed, the city should place additional signage on city streets downtown, Haggett said.

“Particularly with the larger off-street facilities, people can’t always find those,” he said. “They’re not always easiest to spot particularly from Shelden or Montezuma avenues.”

Haggett suggested updating the city’s website to include a map of parking in the downtown, along with things like the duration of the spots. He brought up examples from cities such as Petoskey and Harrisonburg, Virginia. These maps can also tie in with the city’s wayfinding signage, Baglini said.

They also recommended creating uniformity for downtown parking, which is one hour on Shelden Avenue and two hours on other streets. The difference can be confusing for occasional visitors, while one-hour parking can also be tougher to enforce, Baglini said. Fifteen-minute loading spaces should also be added on the north side of Shelden, he said.

To make sure street parking is available, Haggett said, the city should have strong parking enforcement to make sure longer-term parking stays on off-street lots. He suggested adding technology such as vehicle-mounted license plate readers, which could make the rounds of downtown.

The study also recommends designating space near the Portage Lake Lift Bridge for oversized vehicle parking, or working with Michigan Tech or the big box stores on M-26 to create designate spaces during non-peak times of the year.

In the event the large parking deck on Lakeshore Drive is replaced as part of a commercial development, the study suggests grouping spaces for residential users of a mixed-use development there. It also recommended restricting access via gate and requiring either a permit or a ticket to enter.

“While paid parking in the proposed deck may not be desirable, gating the facility would allow for more accurate tracking of parking utilization and increase availability of spaces through turnover, as well as the potential to collect revenue in the future,” the report said. “Alternatively, the first two hours of parking could be free to transient parkers, similar to the other public parking decks in downtown, but any stay longer than that would require a small fee.”

City Manager Eric Waara said he appreciated getting a fresh set of eyes on the downtown parking issue.

“One thing that we really appreciated about it is there’s a lot of implementable ideas in here and a couple of things we’ve actually done already,” he said.

Waara said over the next couple of months, he would be starting discussions with the police and public works departments about improving the parking system.

The full report is available at https://bit.ly/2DB1QoV.

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