A costly parking solution

Parking in downtown Medford ought to be a rather simple affair. There's no traffic-jammed city here, no huge demand going unmet.

Most times of the day, drivers can find a space within a couple blocks of the place they're trying to go. When they get to it, parking there is often free. And they usually can stay for an hour or longer.

A move in City Hall to change that strikes us as a mistake, both for downtown and for a city government that generally tries to stay out of people's way.

In a discussion that came out of a report commissioned after the city took control of downtown parking from the city urban renewal agency over the summer, officials are making a case for spending $600,000 to meter parking downtown. People would pay to park in 600 spaces in the downtown core.

This isn't out of the blue: The fund that runs the program is due to run out of money in the middle of next year. After the urban renewal agency handed over the program, the city learned that the two big parking structures downtown face $2 million in maintenance needs that nobody's been tending.

Medford paid for a study of the situation by a Portland consultant this fall, and out came the idea of pay-to-park stations, the same machines used in that city and many others, to raise more money. The report also suggested raising parking fines but said that alone won't make enough money.

We suggest city officials consider why parking meters were first pulled from downtown — to help keep it alive during some bleak times. The times are bleak again and, while we don't think paid parking would cause downtown to empty out, it unquestionably would be a deterrent to customers.

We also urge the city to avoid creating a larger bureaucracy here than Medford needs.

We've already spent big on the parking structures, built at a combined cost of about $15 million at the urging of government officials who insisted they were necessary. Today they offer ample empty parking spaces and are in need of costly repairs.

Now we've got the proposal to spend $600,000 more for the meters, which also may not be a solution but surely will add to parking-program creep, all the while irritating people attempting to do business downtown.

What, then, is the solution? A logical start to getting the program on better footing would be to raise the fines for parking violations, at $15 among the lowest around.

The city also ought to consider kicking in some money for maintenance from other sources. Though it wants parking to be self-supporting, the ignored maintenance on these buildings is an unusual expense.

The program should be able to cover the cost of its normal expenses, but not necessarily of this government mistake.

Finally, if Medford does need to look at a pay-to-park system, it ought to explore systems that don't require a $600,000 equipment outlay.

More than one service now offers municipalities a pay-by-phone parking system, for example. Drivers find a numbered space, dial up a service on their phone and "reserve" the space for a given amount of time. Parking patrols — Medford already has these — simply look up the reservation on mobile devices to see whether a ticket is due.

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