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Changes Proposed for Highlands Parking Program

by on March 09, 2020 1:46 PM

A year after the implementation of an overnight parking permit system pilot in State College's Highlands neighborhood, the borough is looking to make a change.

Parking manager Rick Ward said last week that after a review of the first year and recommendations from the Highlands Civic Association, his department is recommending reducing the number of dates for a which a paid special event permit is required for 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. street parking in the neighborhood.

At other times designated as special events, residents would still be required to use one of their free parking permits available for themselves or guests. HCA had recommended removing or reducing the $10 special event permit fee across the board for neighborhood residents, but Ward said the volume of vehicles on certain dates necessitates continued charges during some event times.

"The reason for this charge is the number of vehicles parking on the street," Ward said. "Demand dictates that if we made this free we would see that number skyrocket and it would become more difficult for our staff to manage."

If approved next week by borough council, residents would be required to purchase one of their 20 allotted $10 permits for 2 a.m.-6 a.m. parking during Penn State commencement weekend, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, and Penn State home football weekends. Other times that would be designated special events, during which the 2 a.m.-6 a.m. restriction is lifted in the rest of the borough, include Memorial Day weekend, July 4, the week prior to the start of Penn State's fall semester, Thanksgiving weekend and Dec. 23-Jan. 2.

State College historically has lifted the 2 a.m.-6 a.m. street parking restriction throughout the borough during holidays and busy times because of the demand for parking and the large number of residents requesting overnight parking permission.

In 2017, the HCA approached the borough about enforcing the 2 a.m.-6 a.m. restriction in the neighborhood during football weekends as residents noticed an ongoing increase in the number of vehicles year after year. Following data collection and discussion, borough council instead decided in 2018 on a permit pilot program for the Highlands, which was initially met with the only veto of Mayor Don Hahn's term after he said it needed further consideration by the transportation commission.

After the transportation commission's review, the pilot passed again in fall of 2018 and was implemented in 2019. The vote codified the practice of lifting parking restrictions during certain times, requiring borough council to approve a list of dates each year, and established the Highands permit system for a two-year pilot.

Highlands residents register with the borough and, using an online system through vendor ParkMobile, can get up to 36 free overnight permits per year and 20 special event permits.

Ward said that in the first year, 123 residents registered. They purchased 239 special event permits and obtained 622 free permits for non-event times. The permit revenue was $2,390 and cost of the ParkMobile registration system was $862.

The online system had successes and challenges, Ward said.

"This is a pilot program and it was also started within five months so there wasn’t really time to build any kind of strong software backend for this," Ward said.

Borough parking enforcement uses license plate recognition, with a vehicle scanning each plate and checking it against the borough's database. But there were issues with integration of ParkMobile's system and the borough database.

"So we wrote some bad citations. We reached out to those people who got citations and had permits and they were all voided," Ward said. "But that happened a couple different times so that was definitely a challenge during year one."

Ward said that if the program is adopted long-term, the borough will need to evaluate a new registration system, either built out by ParkMobile or through another vendor.

A simplified registration system was another recommendation by HCA. The association also asked to further restrict the number of special event permits available to be able to reduce or eliminate the cost, and suggested special event fees only apply to football weekends. It also recommended denying or charging a higher fee for Airbnbs and other short-term rentals.

Ward said that in general when someone has requested overnight permission for a short-term rental, the borough has denied it. But it's not always possible to identify if a property is being used as a short-term rental.

"How that is addressed in the program is something we can examine when the pilot's continued through the second year," Ward said.

HCA additionally recommended increasing the fine for lawn parking. In the past the borough had lifted the lawn parking restriction on event weekends but in 2018 began enforcing it full-time. Ward said that in 2019, the first year of the Highlands pilot, his department saw an uptick in lawn parking violations.

"People were choosing to take a $25 citation, park on their lawn and have a parking space for the entire weekend… versus complying with the ordinance," he said.

In the first year of the pilot, parking enforcement issued 1,891 citations for 2 a.m.-6 a.m. violations in the Highlands, collecting $33,600 in fine money.

"This is not done as a method of revenue, but this is all done so people comply with the permitting system and the pilot program," he said.

Overnight parking in the Highlands on football weekends decreased overall between 2017 and 2019. While less data is available from 2017 than the subsequent two years, the number of vehicles on three comparative football weekends declined from 2,537 in 2017 to 1,863 in 2019. Over a period of six game weekends in 2018 and 2019, the number dropped from 4,690 to 3,866.

Total overnight parking in all borough neighborhoods during those six weekends was mostly unchanged, with 10,594 in 2018 and 10,842 in 2019. Other borough neighborhoods saw an increase of about 1,000 vehicles, though it was noted one of the home games in 2019 was against Pitt while the non-conference schedule in 2018 did not have as popular a draw.

Ward added that every parking department staff member spent time on the program — whether through communications efforts, data collection or ticket writing. He estimated administration spent 160 hours, parking enforcement 360 hours and parking clerks 500 hours on operations, not including implementation.

"We do expect that number to go down year over year, by how much we don’t know," Ward said.

Borough council is expected to vote on the 2020 special event parking dates and permit charges at its next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 16 in council chambers of the State College Municipal Building.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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