Friday, July 15, 2011

Downtown Roanoke Parking Taking a Toll

Pam Berberich: Little choice but to move.
(This is updated Saturday, July 16, to include Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill's comments.)

For Pam Berberich, it finally came down to parking. There were other issues, but as more and more customers circled the block looking for a space, came in angry holding pink parking tickets, mentioned the dread they had at showing up at a pleasant place to do pleasant things, it was obvious the move was coming.

Pam owns Glazed Bisque-It, a happy little business where mostly mothers and children decorate white ceramic pieces with their own creations. During the summer, the building on Campbell Ave., in the heart of Roanoke City Market, sings with children's eagerness. At other times, women hang out in clusters talking and creating. It's the kind of business Pam, a chemist and former academic and drug representative, dreamed out before she bought in four years ago. Glazed Bisque-It had been in operation for 10 years by then and she simply took over and kept the mojo in place.

But recently there has been a problem with the roof, a problem with a lease, a problem with the cost of rent and, finally, that parking situation which has grown to the point of the unbearable the past few months with massive construction projects coalescing to create a worst-case scenario for the businesses. Pam will not be the first to escape the din. Several others have moved or closed.

There's noise and dust to deal with, but mostly it's the almost personal nature of parking that has had most of the impact.

Pam is moving to a small Roanoke County strip mall--Promenade Park on Va. 419--where it is quieter, there's an ice cream shop next door, and there is plenty of parking a short distance away and no threat that a zealous cop will cite customers for being in a spot too long--costing $15. Employees can park for free, too, and won't have to go outside and move every hour or so.

This is a problem Roanoke and other cities have faced forever, but it seems so much more intense these days in downtown Roanoke. I got a parking ticket the other day for parking on the wrong side of one of those confusing signs. The streets are cluttered with fences, trucks, orange cones and yellow tape. Merchants will swear half the parking has evaporated, though it is substantially less than that. The confusion and congestion are obvious.

Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill says, "A parking system designed to meet resident, worker, shopper, and visitor needs is critical to a successful downtown. Part of it is dealing with reality (we need parking that is convenient and affordable) and part is dealing with perception (if I can't park directly in front of where I am going and stay there as long as I want, there is a parking problem).

"We have a parking enforcement program to make sure that there is adequate turnover in spaces. Otherwise, downtown workers would park on street all day taking up the spaces needed for shoppers, diners, and others doing business downtown. We have not added more resources to our parking enforcement efforts so I think it may be more perception that 'intensity of ticketing' has increased.

"Beginning this month we've consolidated all parking operations under one department so we can better manage it as a system. Previously, parking enforcement, parking garages, and parking violation collections were in separate departments. By consolidating, we can better coordinate, plan, and communicate downtown parking."

Pam says she has "absolutely" lost customers because of parking. "My target is mothers with children," she says, and the moms don't want to spend half a day looking for a parking space. "I like the city and I love being where I am," she says, "but this is not conducive to business. If you're navigating the streets holding a small child's hand and pushing a stroller ... We try to be family-oriented, but the parking problem doesn't help."

Pam is paying $15 per square foot for her building (in an area that averages about $11-$13), but will pay "a good bit less" at Promenade Park. She says she looked for another building downtown, but that didn't satisfy the issues. She says Downtown Roanoke Inc. tried to help and so did the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, but nothing came of it. She says she hasn't heard from the City of Roanoke about her move.

Pam would love to see "parking meters back on the street." There's something stable and predictable about meters, she says, even though many resist paying for parking. Fact is, you pay one way or you pay another.

I don't know what the solution is, but somebody needs to find one quickly. I think we all understand that the construction downtown will create a better space eventually, but if everybody's gone before it's finished, what's been gained?

Pam's is one of the types of businesses that makes a downtown special. But it has to stay in order to continue that. It won't do downtown Roanoke any good at all when she's at Promenade Park.

More from Chris Morrill:
We have a cross-departmental task force focusing on parking system improvements. Here are some of the tasks they are undertaking. Trying to increase the number of on street parking spaces by reviewing every loading zone and no parking zone to see if we can add spaces. Just yesterday we walked several blocks of Campbell and Salem, identifying the potential for up to 20 additional spaces.
"While we have plenty of capacity in our garages, we know that most people find it more convenient to park on the street. The task force is reviewing the parking time zones to be sure that they meet the current customer demands on that block. For example, there may be a block with 15 minute time zones because the previous use was a bank where people just needed to run in and deposit a check, etc. The bank may now be replaced with a sit down restaurant so a 1 hour time zone may be more appropriate. We'll do this review block by block (with input from the merchants) to align the time zones with the uses and customer needs. We also believe this efforts will allow us to consolidate some time zones and reduce the number of signs downtown -- easing the visual clutter.
"The task force is working on the public education, marketing and perception issue. We really don't have a parking supply problem. I've attached a visual of downtown that blacks out all the public and private parking garages and lots. You can see that a major portion of downtown is already dedicated to parking. We are looking for effective ways to get information out about the many parking options downtown--including private lots. We are partnering with DRI on these efforts. You may have noticed that new banner on Market Street promoting free parking the garages on weekends. DRI also has new parking information on its Web site.


  1. I hate paying for parking downtown. It's a pain and not easy for out-of-towners to figure out either. And the kiosks are weird. After all that was done to revitalize the area, too bad the parking situation was ignored. See ya on 419 Pam!!
    (too bad about your landlord)

  2. Here's a great idea, Mark the spaces! no really, I'm seriously if you don't understand why I say that just drive on over to downtown salem.

    Enforcement is a bit off downtown, commercial vehicles have received enormous leeway in the past. In several instances I've seen Cox Cable vehicles parked unticketed for over 4 hours in the same spot. (sorry but utility work generally isn't done but a pair of guys in an econoline van)

    I'm at a loss on where the free downtown weekend parking is. There's the lot next to firestone that's free after 5 and all day saturday and sunday, but free parking on saturday doesn't start at anywhere I have check (read near the market) until 9pm. The lot at kirk and williamson changed from free after 6 to free after 9 not so long ago.

    The street signs are hard to read. In particular the spaces on campbell in front of Graphics Etc. and Beads Indeed. Actually I strongly suspect the parking enforcers run over there just after 4 write a couple fat tickets and go home feeling good about their numbers.
    The parking times are weird, everything is till 6pm, downtown is fairly empty from 4pm to 6pm, from 4 til 8pm honestly and the bar crawlers rarely show up in any force until 9pm.
    Although, I do have to say some kinda of adjust needs to be made for the morning delivery trucks. Currently they end up everywhere, The Blue Ridge Beverage guy trys to use one loading zone or another but occasionally ends up hovering in the lot between MMC&T and 202. Probably from people using the loading zone on kirk to grab a cup and a bagel. Either way almost all the vendor trucks are out of downtown by 11am (the restaurants need their stuff before then.)

    Specific Suggestions.

    I'd suggest that the spots on campbell at the sidewalk chains be deliveries only until 11am, probably the areas in front of cornerstone and AA's as well.
    Change the end of timed parking from 6pm to 4pm.

    I really like the idea of marked spots. It'll reduce vehicle damage and help the drivers know when there actually is a spot open. As funny as it is watching somebody struggle to fit daddy's old lincoln in a spot only big enough for a kia it holds traffic up.

    On a side note if you want to see a really cool example of a city amphitheater take a trip down to Raleigh.

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  4. Corrected: Parking is a problem! Confusing signs are one issue, the construction another but hopefully temporary. The biggest issue for me is that the choices in downtown are either 2 hours or all day. There are no options for people who want or need to spend all morning or all afternoon (4 hrs)in downtown. I hope Chris will fix that!!

  5. I was towed from a Premier Parking lot courtesy of Fat Boys to the tune of $285 for a distance of a mile or less. You'll also notice the lot jacking thier parking fees up to $10 from the normal $5 for "event parking" situations (for example: the Micro-Fest). As mentioned in this article, a solution option is to incorporate more private lots...sure. Let's being on more gouging greedy services. I don't see anyone in those lots providing security. I came out one other time to find a half-full beer can setting dead center on the hood of my brand new car. That's exactly what I want to experience in reward for paying a ridiculous fee to park in such a lot.