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State College Plans to Suspend Highlands Overnight Parking Pilot Program

by on July 27, 2020 2:39 PM

The once-controversial overnight permit system pilot for street parking in State College's Highlands neighborhood appears to be coming to an end, for now at least. 

Parking Manager Rick Ward recommended to borough council last week that the Highlands Residential Parking Pilot Program not be renewed, with a planned end date of Aug. 15.

"The reason for this is due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic and the abrupt change in demand," Ward said.

The pilot had been in effect since 2019, following two years of data collection on parking in the neighborhood, with a focus on Penn State football weekends and other special event times.

With Penn State football expected to have a shortened season and limited attendance — if it in fact plays this fall — Ward said he anticipates a lack of or limited demand for special event parking.

"If we collected data over this next year, which is a really big time lift for our staff, it’s really not going to match the data we’ve collected over the three years, so it wouldn’t be a good comparison," he said. 

"The other thing that’s going to happen is we expect to have much more capacity in borough facilities over the next year based on what we’ve seen so far and what we expect during the fall and spring semester."

State College has traditionally not enforced the 2 a.m.-6 a.m. parking restriction during Penn State home football weekends and other special event times. But in 2017 the Highlands Civic Association asked the borough to enforce the restriction in that neighborhood 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. 

Some residents argued the plan was unwelcoming to visitors and anti-student, and some council members expressed concern it would shift overnight parking to Holmes-Foster.

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.

Under the system, Highlands residents registered with the borough and, using an online system, could get up to 36 free overnight permits per year and 20 special event permits for football weekends, Arts Festival and other special event times at a cost of $10 each.

Ward said in March that in the first year, 123 residents registered, purchasing 239 special event permits and obtaining 622 free permits for non-event times. 

Though it won't continue for the next year, a similar system could return in the future.

"The program will be considered in the future to address the residential parking concerns of the HCA," Ward said. "In speaking with the Highlands Civic Association, they were encouraged by the data gathered over the duration of the pilot so far as well as the impact to the volume of cars parked inside the boundaries of the HRPP."

Ward noted that the program experienced technological problems as the software needed to be built out over a short period of time through vendor ParkMobile. 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 that resulted in some "bad citations" that were later voided, Ward explained in March.

 

"The technological solution the borough implemented had its challenges during the pilot," he said last week. "The parking department will continue to work with vendors to provide a residential parking program that is simplified and easier to use for residents and their guests over the next year."

 



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