Boulder City Council members said Tuesday night that they support ongoing efforts to improve downtown parking and the development of principles and strategies to integrate parking policies with other city goals.
Downtown and University Hill Management Division and Parking Service Director Molly Winter told the City Council that parking works fairly well in the downtown area.
"People often have a negative perception," she said. "It's not a reality, but we work really hard to dispel that."
She described several initiatives that should improve the experience of people trying to park downtown. Several garages will have electronic signs by late May or early June that tell drivers how many spots are available inside. The division is also working on a pilot program to allow back-in parking on University Avenue, adding electric vehicle charging stations near 15th and Pearl streets and working on a public-private partnership to improve access to parking lots on University Hill.
At the same time, the parking division plans to hire a consultant to do a more thorough analysis of the city's parking policies.
Winter said the division has several goals, including increasing the rates at which people use alternative modes of transportation, providing parking where it is needed and ensuring the economic vitality of the city's commercial districts.
One of the purposes of the analysis will be to integrate the city's parking policies with transportation and planning goals.
Councilman Macon Cowles said parking is still too cheap and plentiful downtown, and that studies show higher parking rates lead to more turnover of spaces, which in turn increases availability of parking as well as retail and sales tax revenue.
"Demand is intimately linked to pricing," he said.
The parking division's analysis will include a look at how rates are structured and whether that should change.
Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said he agrees with Cowles in principle, but officials need to remember that parking is free in many other commercial areas.
"We don't run the world, and people have options, and they aren't just in Boulder," he said. "We're not New York or San Francisco. We're not so essential that people couldn't go elsewhere."
Councilman George Karakehian, who owns a store on the Pearl Street Mall, said the city should be careful about experimenting on the backs of retailers.
"There are alternatives to downtown, and we need to be careful that this is not an experiment that doesn't work," he said. "I am open to ideas, and I think the other merchants are, too, but these are their businesses."
Councilwoman K.C. Becker said any changes to parking policy should be accompanied by public outreach.
"I think there is some education component to the public and the retailers because there will be a lot of pushback," she said. "There might be good reasons to do it, but we need to show the public the benefit."