Topeka, Kan., Moves Toward Smartphone Parking Solution

Under a new plan, seldom-used parking meters in the downtown area will be removed to make way for a smartphone application that allows parkers to pay for their spots, add time and find other parking.

by Sherman Smith, The Topeka Capital-Journal / July 15, 2019
Shutterstock

(TNS) — The city is bringing sweeping changes to parking options in downtown Topeka, including the launch of a smartphone application, removal of seldom-used meters and the addition of signage pointing the way to available spaces.

Officials expected to select a vendor by the end of June to provide technology support for hundreds of new meters equipped to accept credit cards.

Anyone short a quarter and armed with a phone should welcome new technology that allows them to feed a meter with the swipe of their phone, or possibly add time or find an open space.

The advancement is part of a list of improvements inspired by a 2017 study that looked at the downtown parking situation.

"We are excited to provide our customers with payment options to better improve the convenience of our services," said Brenda Hayes, the city's parking division director.

The new meters will be placed in high-demand areas, including the lot between city hall and the county courthouse.

As patrons of businesses and restaurants increasingly spring up in the revitalized downtown, the city is trying to make the landscape less cumbersome. The study showed there is ample parking space, but many people struggle to find it — or are unwilling to walk a couple of blocks.

"As downtown grows and needs change, we will explore ways to provide parking services in an efficient and convenient manner," said Hannah Uhlrig, a deputy director in the city's public works department.

In the past year, the city has evaluated underused meters near downtown and removed 390 of them to create free parking.

Meters were removed from a stretch of S.E. Madison between 4th and 10th streets, the 800 and 900 blocks of S.E. Monroe, the 1000 block of S.E. Quincy, the 1100 block of S. Kansas, and two blocks of S.W. 5th.

By taking them away, less staff time is needed to check and maintain meters that weren't producing significant revenue anyway.

Later this year, the city plans to introduce an array of signs designed to guide visitors to available parking throughout the downtown. The signs on S. Kansas and key cross streets are intended to more effectively direct people to parking garages.

The city also is trying to free up more space in the garages, in part by clearing old wait lists. Plans include installation of new gates and a credit card system that will improve the accuracy of garage occupancy.

To make the changes financially viable for a self-sustaining parking operation, the city strategy includes altering the meter rates for high-demand areas. The new technology allows flexibility depending on the location or time of day. With council approval, the city also may try to stiffen the penalty for parking tickets.

Additionally, the city is partnering with departments of motor vehicles in other states to track down individuals who fail to pay parking tickets acquired while passing through Topeka. The city now can look up licenses of parking offenders in Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Georgia and Iowa.

The parking penalties remain a sore subject for some in the downtown business community who want to make the district as friendly as possible to potential patrons.

Vince Frye, president of Downtown Topeka Inc., wanted the city to keep parking meters covered to encourage people to come downtown.

"This is the only place in Topeka where you have to pay to park and risk the chance of getting a ticket when your only intent is to come down here and spend your money at a business," Frye said. "It's an area of commerce, and we need to invite people and make it as positive experience as possible."

©2019 The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs