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City staff looks into new parking commission

It’s no secret that parking in downtown Columbia and the surrounding neighborhoods is a headache.

So after a recent parking audit recommended the city implement a parking commission or task force, city leaders are urging staff to comply.

“There are often issues and concerns about parking downtown,” said Katie Essing, executive director of the Columbia Community Improvement District. “For our restaurants and businesses to survive, we need adequate parking.”

In the past year, Essing has sent three letters to the city urging it to form a task force or commission. Now that the recent audit results and recommendations have come through, City Council leaders are on board.

The city has had success with past parking task forces, the most recent in 2011.

But as the head of that task force, Skip Walther, points out: Parking in such a large city is a problem that won’t go away.

“The parking issues that we face in 2016 are different than they were three years ago and they’re changing more rapidly,” Walther said. “The parking issues in the arts district may not be the same as they are on Broadway so looking at solutions that are tailed to specific parts of downtown make a great deal of sense.”

Essing believes the city staff has now decided to move forward with creating a commission and is looking to its stakeholders (property and business owners, residents) to help make sense of what the task force or commission would look like.

“The discussion is surrounding neighborhoods downtown, university, what’s the ideal number of people and constituents so they’re doing work on that right now,” she said.

While city staff doesn’t know if the commission would be a permanent part of administration, Walther believes that might work better.

“It gives the City Council and the city administration more information,” he said. “Anytime you have more information you’re better able to handle a particular problem.”

Essing said a temporary task force would be fine, as long as they are finding some way to look at the issues and solve the problems.

As the details fall into place, city leaders do agree that residents and business owners deserve better parking.

“Parking is important for downtown Columbia,” Walther said. “We’ve got to have available slots for customers and patrons to come downtown, shop and go to the restaurants and venues. We’ve got to have an adequate inventory of parking spaces.”

The other three recommendations besides establishing a commission that came out of the audit are:

– Use mode share and public transportation to reduce downtown parking demand.

– Public information, marketing and education.

– Prepare a downtown access and circulation plan.

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