This change marks a step in the town’s efforts to improve parking overall. A 2008 parking study by parking consultants Rich and Associates, Inc. found that parking demand far exceeds the supply: there were about 840 public spaces downtown, but there was demand for an estimated 2,840 spaces.
“We hear that all the time, we hear that our parking is a hassle,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said. “We’re trying to take a holistic approach.”
The rate for on-street parking will remain $1.50 an hour.
Extending meter hours won’t alleviate the high demand but will improve the quality of the parking by reducing anxiety and encouraging people to hang out downtown, Hemminger said.
With a two-hour limit, it can be hard for visitors to feel comfortable eating a meal or going out to a bar while they worry about needing to move their car.
“You might run the risk of a ticket,” Parking Superintendent Brenda Jones said.
Adding even one more hour may reduce that risk, she said.
The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously voted to make the change at its meeting March 20. Prior to this meeting, Hemminger had attended a national conference for mayors and found that other towns were also making the move to three-hour meter limits.
The town doesn’t expect to see any effect on revenue, negative or positive. Jones said there is a fee to reconfigure and change the rate cards, but the biggest economic impact will be seen through increased business if more visitors are encouraged to come.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said it is too early to have received any feedback about the change, but those comments will be important to evaluate.
“Ideally, parking is forgettable,” Blue said.
Sonna and Sho Yamagishi, who live in Cary, said when they come to Chapel Hill they usually park in the parking decks and avoid street parking all together.
“Two hours is still plenty of time,” Sho Yamagishi said.
Sonna Yamagishi said the third hour would give people the opportunity to get dessert after dinner instead of rushing off.
Sho Yamagishi said more decks could be a solution to parking issues.
Jamil Kadoura, the owner of Mediterranean Deli, said the number of parking spaces is a greater issue than length of time at the meter.
“Parking is the cancer of this town,” he said.
Kadoura, who started his business in 1992, said the town has grown but parking has not yet matched it. Businesses would benefit if meters ended earlier or had even longer times, he said.
However, Kadoura said the increase to three hours shows the town is putting effort in the right direction.
“I have faith in our mayor,” he said. “I think she’s realizing what’s going on more.”
Hemminger said the town council will discuss more solutions to parking issues at its work session Wednesday.