In downtown Houston, there are about 3,200 parking spaces on the street – and a whopping 5,800 signs drivers must decipher to use them without getting towed or ticketed.
Aiming to fix this “confusing mishmash of signs,” as Mayor Annise Parker put it, City Council on Wednesday approved a $1.3 million contract with a Houston firm that will spend the next year removing signs and replacing them with a standardized set.
The types of parking signs posted downtown will drop from 120 to as few as 16.
“The goal is to have people be comfortable coming downtown knowing where they can park and not having a nasty surprise with their car being towed,” Parker said. “The theory apparently was previously that it’s better to have specific signs to say, ‘On this block you can do this between these hours.’ I don’t believe that. I think there ought to be consistency across downtown.”
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Downtown Management District staff spent a week in a golf cart traveling streets, cataloging and photographing parking signs. The list showed, for example, at least 22 different versions of the same “no parking” message. In some places they found five or six signs stacked on the same post pointing in various directions, in what Councilman James Rodriguez called a befuddling “totem pole.”
Such proliferations of placards make it easy to miss the one that applies to you, Parker said, adding that the city also must keep curbs painted yellow in no-parking areas.
“I don’t want any ‘gotchas’ out there,” she said. “We want people who come downtown for a festival to have a great time at the festival and go back and find that their car is still in the same place they left it. Hear me: My goal is to write fewer parking tickets in downtown Houston and encourage everybody to come down and have a good time.”
‘They look the same’
That was welcome news to Levone Campbell, a Missouri City resident who drives into downtown most weekdays to pick up his wife, who works at the city Public Works and Engineering tower. Parked on Walker next to City Hall on Wednesday afternoon, Campbell pointed to a post with two different “no parking” signs and a green sign stating the area is limited to one-hour parking for city visitors.
Campbell said he had assumed a similar green sign in the 600 block of Walker – where the public works building sits – spelled out the same rule, when, in fact, the sign limits parking to city workers only. That earned him a parking ticket, despite his having fed the meter.
“It’s confusing. They look the same,” he said. “It’s stuff like that. You go from one block to the next and you never know, it’s totally different.”
Rodriguez, who represents downtown, said even he sticks to meters he is familiar with when parking downtown.
“I hear from many constituents about how difficult and confusing it is when they’re coming downtown to park,” he said. “We want to make a better parking experience and ease some of the confusion.”
More changes to come
Bob Eury, director of the downtown district, says the sign consolidation marks a shift at City Hall from squeezing cash from parking meters and citations to managing curb space efficiently to drive economic development. The city’s current budget projects $9.1 million in revenue from parking tickets and $6.1 million from meters. “Part of this is to add certainty and simplicity to the experience,” Eury said, noting that the final number of sign types is being worked out, but likely will be 16 to 20. “Keep in mind, you need to do this as you’re driving down a busy downtown street.”
The sign program is part of wider parking reforms, said Chris Newport, spokesman for the city’s Department of Administrative and Regulatory Affairs.
The sign switch will create about 340 parking spaces by eliminating restrictions on some “mobility lanes,” where parking is prohibited during morning and afternoon rush hours. For example, Eury said, the city has covered Travis with those signs although only the south end of the street is busy in the morning and only the north end is busy at night.
Newport said the city also plans to ditch the dark green bags it places over meters during conventions, road projects or when the meter is broken. Instead, the city will use two types: red when parking is not allowed, and blue when it is.
Nightmare to navigate
3,200 – Approximate number of parking spaces on the street in downtown Houston
5,800 – Approximate number of signs that drivers must decipher to use those parking spaces
120 – Different types of parking signs posted around downtown streets
$1.3 million – Approximate cost to the city to remove existing signs and replace them with a standardized set
Uptown-Memorial Park TIRZ plan OK’d
In other business, City Council:
1 Approved a plan to annex Memorial Park into the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and extend the zone’s life to 2040 to allow it finance $100 million in repairs to the park and a $188 million effort to build dedicated bus lanes in the middle of Post Oak Boulevard.
1 Reinstated unused sick time and vacation status for fewer than 100 previously laid-off employees who were rehired within a year of the layoff.