Friday, January 27, 2023

City parking ‘ambassadors’ aim to improve downtown business

Parking enforcement isn’t all about writing tickets in Williamsburg.

As the city expands its parking enforcement program, three officers-in-training are also taking on a new role to help residents; students and tourists alike learn about the city’s parking regulations, according to Williamsburg Police Department Maj. Don Janderup.

Just over two weeks ago, the department hired three part-time parking enforcement officers, to complement the one officer already on the job, police spokesman Maj. Greg Riley said in an email.

Officers will take a dual role as enforcers and “ambassadors” of the city’s parking regulations, according to Janderup.

“At times you’re a magnet for different people asking about parking,” Janderup said about the parking enforcement officers.

The hirings come as the department is set to increase enforcement of parking laws throughout the city.

“One of our reasons for enforcement is to encourage that [parking] turnover, so we want the opportunity for people to come to the Historic Area, the downtown area and all over the city,” Janderup said.

One of the worst things that can happen, according to Janderup, is for people to drive into the city and be unable to find a parking spot.

Another reason is to act on residents’ complaints about illegal parking throughout the city.

“The parking program has been expanded to increase our opportunity to address citizen complaints and proactively encourage better parking compliance,” Police Chief Sean Dunn said.

The increased enforcement comes as the city implements recommendations from a parking study to ease the “perception” of a shortage of parking spots near popular destinations downtown.

A study conducted by Wayne, Pennsylvania based Walker Parking Consultants for the city, found the city’s downtown “does not have a documentable parking shortage.

However, the “perception” of a parking shortage is hurting area businesses, according to the study. The city is implementing a stepped-plan to address the notion of the limited availability of parking spots.

The study found that parking spots closest to Merchants Square are often “100 percent occupied,” while spots one to two blocks away have “excess capacity.”

Currently, motorists looking for a spot must pay to park in some lots and the Prince George Street parking garage. While that’s not expected to change in the first year of the project, changes could come in the next three years if the increased enforcement and other measures aren’t successful.

The first step of the plan is to install sensors on parking spots throughout the downtown area to gain more data on where residents and tourists park and for how long. The sensors would also be able to assist the city’s parking enforcement officers, according to the city.

Before those sensors are installed, enforcement officers will be out in force chalking tires in timed lots and checking for valid resident parking decals in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Officers will be out on city streets Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., but the schedule can change as necessary to accommodate citizen concerns, according to Janderup.

Two members of the Prince George Street parking garage office will be transitioning to a more active role in parking enforcement as well.

Janderup said parking enforcement is not about writing tickets for the officers. It’s about taking a more holistic approach to parking in general citywide.

The “parking ambassador” program is just another piece of the puzzle to help solve parking concerns in the city, according to Janderup.

“As compliance increases, we will be more available to the public to help with parking or general information about our wonderful city,” Dunn said.

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