Extended meter hours spark debate

Extended meter hours spark debate

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Business leaders remain undecided on whether extending parking meter hours will be a boon or bust for shops and restaurants.

City councilors discussed, as part of City Manager Rashad Young’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget, extending parking meter hours to 9 p.m. citywide, and begin Saturday parking meter enforcement in the Carlyle neighborhood at length last month.

Councilors will vote to approve the budget, including the expansion of meter hours, at a hearing tonight.

Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg called the idea “anti-business,” arguing that meters will convince visitors to frequent other retail centers in the region.

“We want to encourage people to come here, to stay as long as they can to enjoy what Alexandria has to offer,” Silberberg said. “I have heard from a number of businesses that feel it is anti-business, and that was my inclination as well.”

But City Councilor John Chapman reported hearing just the opposite from business leaders. He said that parking meters encourage turnover, meaning that although some people won’t stay in Alexandria for as long, a greater number of people can visit the Port City.

“They see it as kind of catching up to what other jurisdictions are doing as well,” he said. “We’re not going to be the first to have later parking hours. … If I go to Old Town, I want to be able to park on a street, but if there is nowhere to park because someone is in a space for three or four or five hours, that is going to make me go somewhere else.”

As the back-and-forth between Silberberg and Chapman suggested, the business community is split on the issue. John Long, president and CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, said many of his members see additional parking meter hours as a barrier to evening shoppers and diners.

“That’s the general consensus,” Long said. “You certainly want people to come into your community, to visit your shops and your restaurants rather than be concerned about the time for the meter to expire.”

Long said recent city efforts, like letting drivers pay for parking via a smart phone app, eventually could eliminate the deterrent factor of parking meters, but the technology is not yet widely used.

“I think its time is coming, but I’m not sure that it’s there yet, that enough people understand that it is an option that they have,” he said. “I think if you add more challenges [like longer parking meter hours] folks will be looking at, instead of coming into our shops, going to locations where there are bigger parking areas and shops outside of the Beltway and outside of Old Town.”

But restaurateur Mike Anderson noted that, particularly in the Carlyle neighborhood, the challenge facing potential shoppers is not meters, but residents taking advantage of free parking instead of their buildings’ garages.

“What we’re finding is there are folks who come home from work and they can either park in their spots in the underground garages, or they take the easy route and just park on the street,” Anderson said. “So there are no spots available after 5 [p.m.] or on the weekends for extra customers to park. If we had something going until at least 7 p.m., businesses might have a shot at dinner and nighttime business. But I can’t speak for my Old Town brethren and how it might affect them.”