San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

by BRAD ROLLINS

If you go…

  • What: “Community input session” on Downtown Parking Initiative
  • When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 12
  • Where: City Park Recreation Hall, 170 Charles Austin Drive. (Adjacent to Lions Club Tube Rental on the river).

The city's 2008 Downtown Master Plan calls for a tiered system of paid parking downtown with more desirable spaces costing a premium. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Downloads

» 2008 Downtown Master Plan [pdf]

» 1998 downtown parking study [pdf]

» 2011 parking study update [pdf]

Downtown San Marcos businesses have boomed in the last decade and a half but the number of parking spaces has increased only modestly.

A parking study commissioned by the city in 1998 identified 500 on-street and 1,178 off-street parking spaces — a total of 1,678 — in a 15-block area of downtown. Thirteen years later, the total had grown to 1,828, according to a 2011 class project undertaken by Texas State University geography undergrads. All but two of the new spaces were in private lots not necessarily available to the general public.

That could be partly because, according to the various evaluations completed over the years, the parking supply in the central business district is adequate to meet demand generated by people actually headed to downtown establishments.

“Available parking in the downtown area is not a significant problem; rather improved management and efficient use of parking is essential for the growth and development of commerce in downtown San Marcos,” the Texas State students wrote in their report.

The 2008 Downtown Master Plan adopted by the city council argued against building a parking garage in favor of parking meters and better monitoring to “discourage students from occupying prime parking spaces that should be utilized by patrons and visitors.” Since then, officials have been watching the city of Austin’s experiments with back-in, angled parking and the possibility of doing that downtown is brought up periodically.

Now the city has hired consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to help it figure out how to implement recommendations in the masterplan including, possibly, paid parking and either hiring a parking manager or contracting with a private company to oversee the program.

The firm’s L. Dennis Burns will make a presentation on “parking districts and economic development, with a focus on parking as a part of community economic development strategies,” according to a city announcement.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at the City Park Recreation Hall, 170 Charles Austin Drive.

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This is what the Downtown Master Plan had to say about parking:

Another perceived problem in San Marcos relates to the parking within the downtown area. San Marcos has a high demand for on-street parking within the Downtown area – especially surrounding the Courthouse Square. Downtown business owners complain that they lose business due to the lack of parking spaces immediately adjacent their shops.

However, based upon our field observations, the current supply of on-street parking and surface lots is adequately meeting the parking demand, although there is some abuse of parking spaces by students at Texas State who occupy parking spaces without visiting stores or restaurants. [Page 36, The Downtown Plan]

While many feel that there is not enough parking in the area immediately surrounding the Courthouse Square, parking studies indicate that the Downtown has adequate parking within a several-block radius of the Square. Although outdated, a 1998 study by transportation consultant John Edwards, P.E., suggested that a parking management strategy be adopted by the City in order to regulate parking Downtown. Additionally, a parking management system may provide the City an opportunity to collect usage tariffs that can be applied to future improvements Downtown. [Page 37, The Downtown Plan]

Although there is local support to build a parking garage that would provide convenient parking to the downtown core, this may be a rash decision as the initial capital costs and ongoing operational and maintenance costs place a financial burden on the City or private developer. The parking garage would need to generate revenues to offset these costs.

The problem with paying to park in the garage is that there is an abundance of free parking on the street and in surrounding surface lots. It is likely that all the free spaces will be occupied first, and only the overflow will park in the garage.

Instead, the City should consider first starting out with introducing a paid parking program for on-street spaces around the town square and leading up to the university. parking meters or multi-space meters could be installed to capture revenue on premium parking spaces. This will help to discourage students from occupying prime parking spaces that should be utilized by patrons and visitors. If enforced, a paid parking program will also help to establish a parking fund to support future construction of parking facilities.

As the on-street parking continues to increase occupancy levels, the City should look for opportunities to purchase property in the areas surrounding the Downtown core and construct surface lots to meet the growing demand. The revenue collected at the surface parking lots combined with the revenue collected from on-street parking will cover the initial construction costs and operation and maintenance.

When these facilities reach critical levels of occupancy, it would then be appropriate to study the feasibility of building a parking structure. The cost of owning, operating, and maintaining a parking structure can be very expensive. A parking system  that generates revenue from all of its spaces will be required to match the financial burden of a parking structure.

A parking manager should appointed to operate the system and to direct parking enforcement. This can be done in-house under a division of public works or parks and recreation. As an auxiliary service, this position will require full time attention to manage appropriate staff, issue and collect citations, operate facilities, oversee maintenance, etc. A secondary alternative may be to retain a privately-operated parking management company to operate the parking system. They would report to a manager within the City’s current structure and oversee all parking operations. The service is similar in nature to typical contracts for janitorial, landscaping, etc. [page 74, The Downtown Plan]

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26 thoughts on “Paid parking in downtown San Marcos? It’s in the plan

  1. When will we stop hitching our wagon to Austin. We are not Austin. We are our own town. We can come up with our own solutions.

  2. Use smart parking meters now during peak hours only and save that money over the next 10-15 years until we can pay for a parking garage in cash. NO MORE DEBT. NO MORE MUNICIPAL BONDS. NO MORE GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS. CASH IS KING!

  3. We had parking meters on and near the square some years ago. They were more trouble than they were worth. What will the charges be? How much for fifteen minutes? Wasn’t something said about agressive enforcement against meter cheats? Well, try this for being forceful. During the SM parking meter regime, our city had an armed parking policeman who walked the streets. He tried to arrest an elderly woman on south Guadalupe once for arguing that he should let her feed the meter to extend her time as he wrote the ticket. Memory doesn’t serve me with the details, but I think he either cuffed her or drew his weapon, or perhaps both. It was a real stinker. He kept his job because he was near retirement but was relieved of his weapon and handcuffs. Now, back to today. I think we all remember what has happened recently with a few of our unionized SM police pushing people around, and sometime down, on city sidewalks. Get ready, folks.

    Before the state built parking garages around the capital complex, one had to pay the Austin city meters when one visited state offices. There was one public parking lot one long block behind the capitol building, and it was almost always full. The meter charges were outrageous then, and probably remain so. I don’t know since I use the state garages for a modest fee and because it’s much more convenient. It seems that the state should build another, larger Texas State garage with daytime restrictions for students only. They already have one on campus near the student center, but it serves all comers for a fee.

    And one more possible problem involves government. The Hays County Commissioners’ Court continues to meet in the courthouse. Durng the meter regime, the city did not meter the spaces touching the courthouse square. Will people having business with the court face having to jump up and run out to extend their parking time? And if they are free, will shoppers and/or students take all those spots early?

  4. Whenever we had meters, it was a long time ago, and much has changed. The problem meter reader, for example, has certainly retired by now.

    I don’t follow the courthouse square point. Right now, parking there is time restricted, and folks have to run out and move their cars, or get tickets. How is that any better than running out to feed a meter? In either case, nobody would be parking there all day, for free.

    I’d love to be able to pay to park, and spend an extended period of time downtown.

  5. Will the number of people who won’t shop downtown due to parking fees be greater than the number of people who don’t shop downtown now due to parking difficulties?

    Is this a plan to improve the downtown economy, or a plan to generate revenue?

  6. I almost never have trouble finding a spot fairly close to the store I want. I think the complaining is either from those who think they should be able to park directly in front of the business or those who want to park for a long time and wander around downtown. ANY downtown has limited parking, at least if it’s a vibrant downtown.

    Meters would encourage employees of shops to park remotely and discourage students from taking downtown spots. Meters would allow enough time to have dinner and watch a movie. Meters would generate much needed revenue from something most cities of any size charge for but that we give away for free.

    We’re about to spend an ungodly amount of money on LBJ and Hutchison. Wouldn’t it be nice to retire that debt early with parking meter revenue?

    The new parking meters even take credit cards. I charged $.75 in Austin a couple weeks ago.

  7. “Anon,” If parking on the courthouse square is time restricted, the city sure isn’t enforcing it very strictly. Before the county offices moved away from the square, I parked on Guadalupe Street and spent hours doing research in the County Clerk’s office and not once did I get ticketed. Some people, including me, often spend two or three hours on Tuesday morning attending commissioners’ court. We don’t move our cars once during that time and don’t get ticketed.

    My point about not metering the square is that some slack should be cut for attendees at commissioners’ court. Perhaps put a sack over the meters on that day. Remove them when court adjourns.

    Also, dreaming about meter revenues being the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is unreasonable. Don’t count on it.

  8. I don’t know about Commissioner’s Court day, but my wife works on the square, and we have paid numerous tickets.

  9. Let’s do like they used to do at the Capitol. Hire some old retired guys to sit in lawn chairs at the courthouse and run off everyone who tries to park at the courthouse without business there.

  10. The article says there are 1,828 downtown parking spaces. Say you chose to meter 1,200 at an average of $.75/hr for 8 hours/day that’s $7,200/day 5 days a week for $1,872,000 per year. I think that more than covers maintenance, etc. Even if my estimates are high. Not a pot of gold maybe, but worth considering.

  11. I’d gladly pay to park downtown if it meant easier access to spaces. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to drive around and around while waiting for a spot to open up.

    Parking does seem to be a little better since so many of the county offices moved out to the new building on Stagecoach, but it’s still not great. I know for a fact that a lot of students who don’t want to pay for Texas State parking permits park their cars downtown literally all day while they’re in class. Meters would likely cut down on that quite a bit.

  12. If I recall correctly, most of those spaces are in private lots. The master plan may have an actual count.

  13. We need the revenue. However, something should be done to accommodate bar employees who get off work at 3-4 in the morning. Walking alone at night a few blocks when people know you’re carrying cash on you is not 100% safe. There have been a handful of incidents in the past year or two.

  14. Does anyone else think there is really a parking problem in San Marcos? I’ve gone to the Square numerous times on a saturday night, and it’s never taken me more than 10 minutes to find a place to park. If evaluations show there is enough parking to meet demand, then there is no reason to establish meters.

  15. I usually don’t have trouble finding a spot but I sure hear a lot of complaining so maybe there is a problem. At least one person has complained there is no (or not enough) long term parking if you want to have dinner and see a show. I don’t mind feeding a meter for the type of downtown shopping I do which is usually short term. I feel the revenue is fairly earned as the city maintains the parking to the benefit of the downtown businesses. Perhaps the revenue should be restricted for downtown improvements/parking issues.

  16. On the RARE nights I would go to a bar downtown I expect to park a block or two away and walk in.

  17. Patches, I don’t think there is a parking shortage, so much as a parking management problem. When you go out on Saturday night, you are not required to move your car, every 1-2 hours, depending on where you park. If I want to spend the day downtown, walking from restaurant, to shops, to bar, that’s what I have to do.

    Parking could easily be metered during the hours that it is currently time-restricted, and free the rest of the time.

  18. That being said, there may be a parking shortage during the day, if peopel are able to park long-term. There is ample parking for people to come and go, in 1-2 hour intervals. I just don’t think that helps the downtown area to thrive.

    The money from metered parking could help address any potential shortage.

  19. Build a parking garage on the lot where the old justice center, now vacated, is currently rotting. It’s all of two blocks from the square, so it’s perfectly suitable as parking for the downtown commercial zone. Employ a flexible design that allows ground-level space to eventually be used for businesses (coffee place, bodega, etc.) if commuter rail ever does come to San Marcos.

    You could even claim some space for the Tuesday Farmer’s Market there, and then open up the current Farmer’s Market space for more public parking.

    All that delicious parking could be used both for downtown businesses and commuter rail passengers.

    Keep street parking free, but release the time limits after 5 or 6 pm on week nights so people can catch a show and get a pizza (and, maybe someday, Indian food??).

  20. Parking garages are very, very expensive. If we can possibly avoid building one I hope we do. If TxState would park their students we wouldn’t have an issue to begin with. Sell the old justice center to the private sector and get something on the tax rolls. That’s an excellent spot for multi-story student housing or office.

  21. I’m downtown several times a week at various times of the day and never have to walk more than a block or two to get wherever I’m going…I just don’t see that we have a problem.

  22. If I go to Fredericksburg for the day, I park wherever I find a spot, and I walk around for the day. Generally, I am there long enough to wander around, taking photos, hit a bunch of shops, have lunch, and maybe do something like visit the Pacific War Museum for a couple of hours.

    Where would I park, to do that sort of thing in San Marcos?

  23. Well, I stay the longest during the courthouse market days when I might be there for several hours and never have a problem with parking whether I get there at 9 or 12.. On other times if its on a weekday I admittedly do not walk around all day long, usually something shorter like to go to twist and shout with my kids or something like the book store or post office. Once again I never have problems finding a spot.

    If it were a weekday and i was going to be doing it for several hours I’d probably just walk from my house. I’ll admit there might be an issue if someone from out of town wanted to do something like your Fredericksburg example, but I suspect we don’t have too many people doing that here (not that anyone would want to discourage it, of course).

    Couldn’t we just designate several all day spots in the lot where the Farmers’ Market meets on Tuesday and figure out a way to regulate that spot? That would seem to make way more sense than putting up meters or building a garage at this point in time to fix a problem that really isn’t.

  24. my experience, parking is rare even after 6pm, (lbj) the advent of the trailer food court further reduces parking. i have counted 34 businesses and approximately 60 parking spaces for these businesses. this does not promote downtown shopping at all when most of these businesses are not shops that have intermittent shoppers but are designed for group or many clients at one time. (theater, dance studio, wallys and paper bear, hair cutting, etc.) this does not take into consideration the handicap spots, and students who can park for a max of two hours, further reducing the shopping experience. but now i can see theres not a parking shortage.

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