City of Omaha officials are hoping the city's first parking manager will be one of the keys to fixing the downtown area's persistent parking problems.
Ken Smith, who oversaw parking operations in Lincoln for the past 11 years, started working for Omaha this week. His addition to the city's staff comes a year after a consultant who studied the city's parking situation offered a list of recommendations to save money and make parking easier. That list included hiring someone to supervise the effort.
During a Wednesday press conference near 10th and Howard Streets, Mayor Jim Suttle said changes in the way Omaha manages parking are expected to cut costs by $1.2 million over the next two to three years. That includes making parking the responsibility of the Public Works Department, rather than dividing it between that division and the Parks Department.
Suttle said Smith, who will be paid $70,534 per year, will help guide other changes such as
installing parking meters that accept credit cards and implementing new rates and enforcement hours for meters.
Officials say those changes should help solve the biggest issue: street spots that are full during the Old Market's busiest times while dozens of spots sit empty in city-owned garages.
“We need to make sure that parking is not an obstacle,” Suttle said.
It's a tall order.
City Engineer Todd Pfitzer said the parking study recommended that on-street parking spots never be more than 85 percent full on any given block. At peak times, some stretches in the Old Market are beyond capacity.
He and other officials said they will need to find ways to change drivers' behavior.
That might include raising rates at some high-demand spots. It most likely will also mean putting up better signs directing drivers to the city's parking garages and possibly lowering the rates for garage parking.
Pfitzer said many people can't identify where the garages are, in part because of their confusing numerical names. In the future, they'll probably get names that indicate their location.
Smith said he is still sorting out which changes he'll push for first. He said the key will be figuring out how to change Omahans' beliefs about where they can and should park.
“The perception is that there's never any parking available,” he said.
Parking in Omaha
Hiring a parking manager was one recommendation made last year by a national consultant. Now Ken Smith will oversee the approach to problems such as under-use of garages and chronic parking shortages in the Old Market.
Here is an overview of the parking situation:
» City of Omaha parking budget: $3.6 million
» Downtown parking spots: 40,979
» Number of them open to the public: 19,200
» Number owned by the city: 6,150
» Spots filled on a typical weekday: 21,548
» Spots filled on a typical Friday night: 18,698
» City-owned downtown parking garages: 7
» Omaha parking meters: 3,700
» Parking tickets collected: 45,063
Sources: City of Omaha, 2011 Walker Parking Consultants study
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