This article was published in May, 2017.
Savannah’s parking system is about to get all kinds of improvements. Credit card-friendly meters, removal of time limits for on-street parking spaces, as well as a new smartphone app for parking are on the horizon. As to are possible buffer lanes for bicyclists and reordering parking inside of garages. It’s a project two years coming. Now that parking in Savannah will get improvements, it will reduce frustration in the Historic District of Savannah.
Removing Time Limits & Creating Price Zones
“The current system of price and time-limit combinations is highly complex and not intuitive to users,” the study by Atlanta-based consultants Nelson/Nygaard states. “Parking Matters recommends replacing this system with a streamlined system of zones corresponding to a different prices.”
Instead of having 30-minute, two-hour and five-hour meter options, the City is looking into increase prices of sought after parking spaces. Some of these areas are those around Johnson Square and Ellis Square—from $1 per hour to $2 per hour.
“When you have a lot of people trying to get to a few number of spaces at one time, you need to create some level of turnover of your most sought after spaces. If spaces are no longer based on time, they will be based on price,” said Sean Brandon. Brandon is the current director of Mobility & Parking Services for the City of Savannah.
Based on their study of the 12,626 on-street parking spaces, Atlanta-based consultants Nelson/Nygaard created a parking plan for the City of Savannah that recommends creating two primary zones with priced on-street parking, with a third zone that is free but has time limits set to generate appropriate turnover. This study clarifies that the “fees charged for parking are not simply to raise revenue, they are a tool to distribute and balance parking demand.”
Because demand is so high on Saturdays, they are also looking into extending paid parking. Currently, paid parking offered Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The study’s recommends changing this to Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Upgrading Parking Meters
But before this happens, the city is hoping to remove all 2,000 single head, coin-only meters. These will be upgraded to multi-space digital meters. The meters will accept mobile payment. In the Historic District, the City of Savannah still uses a variety of discontinued and unsupported equipment. The new meters will provide convenience to users and give additional data needed to continually improve the parking in Savannah.
“We will get much better tracking of the system with those meters in terms of occupancy rates.. A lot of what we do in the future is going to be driven by data,” Brandon said. “So if we get to a block and we implement change and that block is only 30 percent filled regularly, that probably means we’re charging too much and we need to consider dropping the rates.”
Along with these new meters comes a new Passport parking app for smartphones and tablets. This will allow individuals to pay for and monitor meter time from their phone.
“The goal, overall, to reduce those frustrations and thereby also reduce the number of tickets that we’re writing. I know that seems counter-intuitive in terms of revenue generation, but that’s not really why we’re in the business doing what we’re doing,” Brandon explains. “Ultimately, we want to write less tickets. Having a system where we’re not nit-picking on time should lead us to a system issuing less citations.”
This was another point of frustration for those unfamiliar with the parking in downtown Savannah. Many cars were ticketed where the driver didn’t even realize they were in the wrong. To help solve this, the study recommends establishing a warning policy for first-time citations. The hope is that this would reduce the approximately 150,000 annual parking tickets, for which only 65 percent are paid.
Other frustrations they want to ease include that of full parking garages. Sectioning off levels for long-term parking and daily visitors could remedy this. The study also encourages revising street sweeping schedule. This would allow permits for those living downtown and exempt them from time limits and such.
Improving the Shuttle System
The bigger goal is not just to ease parking, but promote alternative transportation options and improve those so they are the most attractive ones.
“The third thing that people will see the latter part of this year is hopefully a more efficient and faster shuttle system,” Brandon said. “We also hope, in the next few months, to present initial designs for bike facilities leading into and in downtown. That’s something that we’ve committed to do. There are customers living within two miles of downtown who would consider biking before driving, if they had good routes. We want to encourage that.”
As of the spring of 2017, there is a parking commuter shuttle that runs six hours a day and a tourist shuttle that runs every 20 minutes. The study proposes a simplified shuttle system. This system merges the two lines to increase efficiency, so both groups only have a 10 to 12-minute wait time.
Implementing Bicycle Buffer Lanes
Also in the works are plans to improve biking in Savannah. The study suggests installing high-quality bicycle parking, and adding buffer protection to bicycle lanes. This is specifically on Price and Lincoln streets, and perhaps on Montgomery Street, south of Gaston Street.
None of these things are going to be implemented overnight, Brandon said. There will be a step-by-step implementation of these things over many months. What’s likely to happen, he said, is that, first, the old meters will be replaced. Then, the Passport app will make its debut. Then the hope is that the shuttle system will be improved and biking enhancements will be proposed. It won’t be until 2018 that any new pricing would go into effect.