Our View: Extending meter limits along upper King Street is a good start

Our View: Extending meter limits along upper King Street is a good start

(Photo/Jennifer Powell)

City council’s recent decision to allow longer hours at parking meters in West Old Town is good news for patrons and proprietors of businesses in that part of Alexandria. The change, which allows motorists to park for three hours instead of two, is a welcome, pro-business move — but it’s not enough.

There is more to undo from last year’s add/delete budget session, when council decided to extend parking meter hours from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The extension of meter hours was made to help fill the city’s budget gap, and was estimated to bring in an additional $500,000 annually. But by finalizing the change at the add/delete session, without proper study of the potential impact on local businesses, council inadvertently created bigger problems than it solved.

Now, a year later, the unintended consequences of the meter extension are becoming clear. Restaurateurs and shop owners are complaining that their businesses are being hurt because
customers don’t want the inconvenience of having to leave a dinner or special event to move their cars.

In addition, the expense of paying a parking meter after 7 p.m. on top of paying for a restaurant meal may lead potential patrons to choose venues with free parking — or just to stay home. So, while it is better to be able to park for three hours than two, it would be better still for businesses if patrons didn’t have to pay for street parking at all in the evenings.

The larger topic of parking in Alexandria is a significant issue that’s going to become more contentious in the coming years as competing interests collide — and space becomes ever more scarce. In this instance, it’s the welfare of business owners versus city revenue needs. There has also been a clash of residents’ parking needs versus the city’s efforts to provide more lanes for bicyclists, as evidenced by last year’s nasty debate about King Street bike lanes.

We have several thoughts on how to move forward:
• In the future, a change that has the potential to impact Alexandria’s business community needs extensive study and public debate before being implemented. Last year’s extension
of meter hours did not have this.

• City staff needs to provide council with yearly data on the efficacy of existing programs like Metroway, Capital Bikeshare and the King Street Trolley, so council can make informed decisions about whether to continue to fund them or spend that money elsewhere. It’s possible to take $500,000 from an existing program rather than looking for new revenue streams.

• The Old Town Area Parking Study work group is a great idea and an example of positive citizen involvement. Alexandria’s Chamber of Commerce worked with local business owners
to staff the group and come up with constructive solutions. We congratulate both the group for its recommendations and city council for heeding this first suggestion.

While allowing motorists to park for three hours was a good first move, council needs to take the next step and admit that last year’s extension of meter hours was ill-advised. Meter hours should be returned to 7 p.m. from 9 p.m. Alexandria’s small businesses, from restaurants to boutiques to spas, are an essential part of the economic and social fabric of our city. Let’s try to bolster rather than burden them.