DDA Chairperson Dunstan Discusses Parking Issues in Royal Oak

DDA Chairperson Dunstan Discusses Parking Issues in Royal Oak

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 7, 2018)

Royal Oak, MI – As the Royal Oak City Commission faces a vote on raising rates for monthly permits in the parking decks and surface lots, Oakland County Times interviewed Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Chairperson Jay Dunstan to help explain some of the issues businesses face in regards to parking.

“Parking is absolutely the most difficult subject that the DDA, serving as the parking committee for Royal Oak, faces on a daily basis. As the parking committee we make recommendations to the City Commission. The City Commission then may either agree with, disagree with, or revise what we’ve recommended,” Dunstan said.

“At this time we’re addressing the increasing costs of maintaining parking within the downtown. That would include the new deck at Second and Center as well as all the other decks, surface lots, and metered parking. I wish parking could be free everywhere within the DDA but that’s just not possible—in fact far from it.

“What the DDA is recommending at this point is raising the monthly permit rates for the garages and lots. Even with these permit increases our rates will still be significantly less than cities with similar downtowns such as Birmingham and Ann Arbor.

“We decided against recommending to move the meter rates until we receive a report from Rich and Associates in March. Rich and Associates is a well-respected parking consulting firm with whom we’ve relied upon many times for advice in the past. It didn’t make sense to raise meter rates before we received the report from Rich. What if they didn’t recommend an increase? What if they recommended a larger increase? Waiting until March to make a recommendation to the City Commission isn’t going to make us or break us. What I will tell you is that the proposed meter increases are in line with other cities with similar downtowns and they are also going to be tiered between high and low demand areas.”

Dunstan was the lone vote against both the recommendation for the permit increase and the study by Rich and Associates.

“After serving on the DDA for the past seven years I’m tired of only giving out bad news about parking in the downtown. There has to be something good in the package for our residents and our visitors—and we don’t have that yet,” Dunstan said.

He also shared examples of what he would like to see in the Royal Oak parking system, including:

~”The newer electronic meters rolled out 100% across the downtown. This is 2018. This is one of those good things that need to happen. Watching people park, walking to a business to make some change for their meter, and then walking back to the meter is just plain stupid. Or worse yet, gambling that they can do their visit and make it back before getting a ticket—very frustrating. Let them have the option of using a credit card. Everywhere! I don’t think we need Rich and Associates to tell us whether or not this is a good idea.

~”Parkmobile. This needs to be deployed citywide. There is push-back from city hall, the PD, and the court on Parkmobile. There have been some payment issues, the technical sort, with the intermediary between the city and Parkmobile. There are enforcement issues as well. To all three entities I say let’s check with the cities where Parkmobile is widely used with success and emulate their processes. For example, with Parkmobile we’d have the ability to set a 20-minute 10-cent rate in front of the post office (that’s just an example!!). We could also set it up so that parking within the downtown would be discounted for RO residents. Parkmobile also alerts you when your parking session is about to end.”

One of the biggest challenges, Dunstan said, is with employees taking up spaces that should be left open for customers.

“I can’t tell you how many downtown business owners have complained to me about the lack of quality street parking near their operations—only then to find out that their employees or the owners themselves have their vehicles parked right in front of their place. Unbelievable. This is also a huge issue at the Farmers Market. I see it happen every Saturday. Many of the closest spots are taken by vendors who don’t have a need for their vehicles to be near the market during business hours,” Dunstan said.

He recommended that more people, especially employees, use the garages more.  “Before 5pm the first two hours are free. Flat rate of $5 after 5pm, $0.50 an hour afterwards. Because I live very close to downtown I usually walk but when I don’t I use the garages. It’s a no-brainer!”

Enforcement is also a challenge.  “It’s a hard one,” Dunstan said.   “People are frustrated when they get back to their vehicles after being ten minutes over time and finding themselves with a ticket. I get it. I think Parkmobile can help with this. Unfortunately enforcement is a necessary evil. Otherwise street parking might as well be labeled ‘employee-parking.’”

There are some common misconceptions about the system as well.

Rumors continue that building a parking deck will destroy the Farmer’s Market. “Every Saturday I need to help calm nervous vendors from the fallacy that the sky is falling. There is no doubt that there will be some chaos when this project begins—and the project WILL happen. The DDA is already kicking around some pretty creative ideas for easing the pain not only for the market but surrounding businesses as well,” Dunstan said.  

Rumors surrounding projects are also a challenge that the DDA faces.

For example, people question the motives for building the Second and Center Street Deck.  “That deck has been on the radar all seven years since I’ve been serving on the DDA,” Dunstan said.  Referring to the new Etkin building kitty-corner from the deck, he said “The new building certainly accelerated the process of its construction. We’re taking full advantage of the TIF revenues we’ll receive from the Etkin project to aid in the debt service for the construction bond.”

Regardless of the vote Monday evening, discussions of parking challenges and solutions continue to be on-going.  For more on the proposed rate changes, see our PREVIOUS STORY.

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