Even with six garages and over 2,000 parking spaces, downtown Columbia is still unable to meet motorists’ needs.
It appears to be difficult to satisfy everyone who parks in the downtown area: employees, college students, churches, residents and visitors.
In the beginning of June, a new task force was established by the Columbia City Council, hoping to find solutions to parking and traffic troubles. Now the task force is struggling to reach an agreement.
Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp, also the co-chair of the new Parking and Traffic Management Task Force, said that he didn’t agree that there is a shortage of parking spaces downtown.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to build a new garage,” Trapp said. “I can always find a parking space downtown.”
As a councilman, Trapp works at City Hall in the center of downtown. He said the Fifth and Walnut Street Garage is never full.
“All we have to do is a walk to our destination,” Trapp said.
Instead of the parking shortage, building new spaces for new residents is Trapp’s top concern.
“There will be several new apartments in downtown soon,” Trapp said. “I think our first task should be deciding how many new spaces will be needed for new residents in downtown.”
The decision is based on a rule that downtown should add 25 spaces for each 100 bedrooms constructed in the city.
Another member of the task force, Amy Wasowicz, an MU student, agrees with Trapp that there is no parking shortage, but is concerning about meter parking.
“The problem comes from the meters,” Wasowicz said. “I’ve seen people waiting 20 to 30 minutes for an available meter parking space.”
Parking meters have been confusing people for a long time. All of the meters are marked with color codes to indicate how long people can park in a space. However, people don’t recognize the differences between the codes, which adds confusion in parking.
In addition, different meters have different shut-off times. Most meters in downtown are monitored from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Saturday, but some meters on Hitt Street are shut down at 5 p.m., which could be another parking confusion for motorists.
The call for more parking spaces
However, other members of the task force say that there is a parking shortage in downtown. Task force member Greg Cecil, also the representative of a church within the Downtown Community Improvement District, said the shortage of parking spaces downtown has been challenging churches in recent years.
“Although our church owns a parking lot, it is very small,” Cecil said.
Cecil is a member of Missouri United Methodist Church, which serves over 300 members every Sunday.
“We have to rely on the public parking,” Cecil said. “Many members have to walk several blocks on Sundays, but elderly members may not be comfortable to walk such a long distance.”
However, public parking is crowded at nights and on Sundays, which adds difficulty to parking around churches for church attendees.
“Students and other residents park their cars for free overnight and on Sundays, both in meter parking spaces and garages,” Cecil said.
Although weekdays aren’t busy hours, churches still find themselves troubled by parking when they hold daily activities for members and people needing help.
“To help find the solution, I have been collecting data on downtown church daily activities for the task force,” Cecil said.
Downtown parking is affecting not only the downtown area, but also neighborhoods nearby, especially the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood, which is close to east downtown and Stephens College.
Although most neighborhoods experience over-crowded parking issue, Benton-Stephens is the only neighborhood that has been consistently over parked on some of the streets.
“If the streets could hold up to 100 percent of cars, there were 110 percent of cars actually parked there,” said Peter Norgard, president of the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association.
The over-crowded parking trouble is associated with a shortage of parking spaces downtown and nearby colleges. Free neighborhood parking seems to be a good choice for both visitors to downtown and students of MU and Stephens College. However, this over-crowded parking issue has influenced residents’ lives in the neighborhood.
The city has come up with several ideas for solutions for this parking shortage problem, but none of them is practical for the Benton-Stephens residents.
“The city would like to install parking meters in certain areas of the neighborhood,” Norgard said. “This is obviously not an attractive solution for those who will have meters in front of their houses.”
For now, there are multiple perspectives on the parking issue among community members. The new task force is gathering various opinions and ideas for solutions. The first formal meeting will be held on Jul. 15, 2016.
“I think the meeting is a good opportunity for people who concern about parking issue to discuss practical solutions,” Trapp said.
Benton-Stephens Neighborhood is struggling with parking
Living on Windsor Street, Columbia, Ken Germond finds it difficult to park his car every day. The south side of the street has no parking spaces, while the north side is crowded with cars.
“And those cars parked near my house are mostly non-residents’,” Germond said.
Windsor Street is one of the main streets in the Benton-Stephens neighborhood, which is close to downtown Columbia. Streets in the neighborhood are filled with downtown visitors and residents of downtown apartment buildings like Brookside, as well as students from MU and Stephens College.
“If the streets could hold up to 100 percent of cars, there were 110 percent actually parked there,” said Peter Norgard, Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association President,.
The over-parking issue is also adding traffic and danger for drivers in the neighborhood.
“Parking is not the only issue as the people driving around looking for parking significantly increases the traffic in our area,” Germond said.
Sarah Klaassen, another resident of Benton-Stephens, finds it dangerous to drive in her neighborhood every day.
“Cars would just park close to the intersections,” Klaassen said. “I could barely see whether cars are coming in front of the stop sign.”
To deal with parking troubles in Columbia neighborhoods, the city came up with a program called “Residential Parking by Permit Only” in 2013. The program would make a major portion of the neighborhood a "parking by permit only" zone, which would prevent non-residents from parking in the neighborhood.
However, there is no such program in Benton-Stephens now.
“My neighbors in the North District tell me the permit program has reduced the overcrowded parking and traffic,” Germond said. “I believe this should be enacted in Benton-Stephens.”
This June, the city established a new task force for finding solutions to parking and traffic in downtown, as a way to address the parking issue in Benton-Stephens.
“I would hope that they would examine options like meters, permits and other mechanisms to limit non-resident traffic in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown,” Germond said.