Welcome to the wacky world of vehicular parking in the heart of downtown Flagstaff: two-hour parking limits; drivers moving cars frequently to avoid fines; stores with no parking for employees and customers; visitors who give up and drive away; and residents with no place to park near their homes.
These conditions have been a cause of complaints for frustrated motorists for more than 25 years. Some say they have only grown worse as the modest mountain town has accommodated a growing number of guests, students and settled inhabitants.
Neighborhoods around Northern Arizona University are particularly plagued as college students and downtown employees park in on-street parking spaces south of the tracks for an entire day.
The City of Flagstaff reports that help is on the way.
Flagstaff’s new ParkFlag parking permit system is scheduled to be fully in place by the first week in August, with installation beginning on a rolling start with signs and equipment in mid-July.
“Depending on how you look at it, Flagstaff has been discussing the parking issues downtown for about 25 years,” said Karl Eberhard, City of Flagstaff interim parking manager. “Notably, Mayor Wheeler was discussing downtown parking in 1949! The current effort has been moving forward for about two years.”
The new $1 million permit system is thoroughly described on the parkflag.org website, as well as in the colorful “Downtown Flagstaff Parking Guide,” included as an insert in the Summer 2017 Cityscape magazine.
The City of Flagstaff publication sums up the parking problem: ”There are not enough parking spaces and the parking we do have is not utilized efficiently or in a way that effectively supports a vibrant downtown.”
According to text in the guide, there have been five parking studies commissioned by both downtown and the City of Flagstaff in the last 25 years. “Not surprisingly, all indicate that we don’t have enough parking and we don’t manage what we have,” it concluded. “It is arguable how much parking is missing – some say 400 spaces and others say 600 spaces. But that’s really not relevant, because even a 200-space shortage causes severe problems.”
The design of the system was the result of working with 11 stakeholder groups, including neighborhoods, business districts and government agencies, “as well as just about anyone who would listen,” Eberhard said. “We have actually known the issues and known the answers for a while now – so the design consisted of coming to agreement on how to solve the problem and then identifying the technical stuff that supported that.”
The system was chosen in part based on prior investigations of equipment and software. “From that, we chose more modern versions,” he said.
The new system is a pay-to-park process using kiosks strategically placed around town that use a car’s license plate number instead of a parking spot number. A driver can pay for parking at any kiosk regardless of where the car is parked. The car may also moved to new locations, as long as there is still parking time available.
“All of the kiosks are networked and users can pay at any one of them,” Eberhard said. “They can also use the mobile app – Whoosh! – and get reminders when time is about to expire. “
There will be at least one kiosk on each side of the street on every regulated street. They accept only debit or credit cards.
Motorists who want to pay with cash can visit the Flagstaff Visitors Center, City Hall and the Downtown Business Association office where cash can be accepted for customer parking. Participating businesses, designated by a special sticker in their windows, will also accept ParkFlag cash.
“This is what cities are moving toward – places with pay-by-space and pay-and-display systems are moving toward replacing those with this license-plate-based system,” Eberhard explained.
Thef innovative parking system, which combines Parkeon kiosks and NuPark enforcement software, is in use all over North America and Europe, Eberhard noted. “Click on the map in the Whoosh! App and you can see all the places using the Parkeon kiosks – many are universities,” he added.
The cost to park is a $1 per hour Monday through Saturday. Visitors downtown can park for free on Sundays and city holidays. Handicapped parking is not free.
The new ParkFlag system will cover the core of downtown Flagstaff, from Cherry Avenue to the north, to Franklin Avenue to the south, and from Humphreys Street to the west to Elden Street to the east.
Within the system area, the two-hour parking limit will be eliminated.
Some of the advantages of the new system include ease of use (that it is user-friendly), and also the whole simplicity of operating the ParkFlag system. “But most importantly,” Eberhard said, “it generates income to use to buy or build more parking.”
Some disadvantages are that the system is new and brings “a whole bunch of change, the kiosks don’t take cash and the money will be slow in coming,” he said.
Issues associated with student parking spillover into Southside and downtown continue to plague the entire parking situation.
“The only new development is the Southside issues have gotten worse – the student spillover combined with the revitalization have amplified the issue,” Eberhard concluded. FBN
For the most current information available on the new parking system, visit the ParkFlag site on Facebook at facebook.com/ParkFlag/.
By Betsey Bruner, FBN
The ParkFlag pay-to-park schedule runs seven days a week. Courtesy, City of Flagstaff