Downtown Dover Partnership looks for input to solve parking dilemma

DOVER — The Downtown Dover Partnership’s Parking Committee is ready to shift its plans to improve parking downtown into drive, setting a goal to gather information and studies that could lead to solutions that can be implemented by the end of 2020.

“We have a side-working group and an official parking committee,” Todd Stonesifer, chairman of the DDP’s parking committee said at a working group meeting at the Cendel Building on Tuesday afternoon. “The side-working group has already heard a presentation from a parking solution

(Passport, which recently launched in Newark), and we received some suggestions and some help on official Requests for Information, some documents that we can review and ask (cities and parking authorities) to submit a formal Request for Information (RFI) for our informational purposes.

“I think we can get those (RFI’s) out by January 15th with a 60-day request for submissions and then we will receive those submissions in paper form, we’ll review those, and then try to line up some presentations where we can have those participants come in and present to us and, hopefully, we will have all that handled before July.”

Mr. Stonesifer said after the parking committee members examine all of the RFI’s it receives that they can discuss the ideas with follow-up meetings, presentations and can ask any questions they have before making a recommendation to the (Downtown Dover Partnership) board of directors 30 or 60 days after that.

“The board of directors can then make a final decision, work with the city toward implementing the changes that we have no later than the end of the year (2020),” he said. “We’re all just trying to work this out and we’re not just sitting around here kicking a can down the street.”

Tina Bradbury, operations manager for the DDP, is looking forward to perusing through all the suggestions the organization is hoping to get from other cities and parking authorities that have experienced similar issues with parking in the past.

“The Request for Information is getting companies that have parking knowledge to give us some insight and give us the best information on how to move forward,” Ms. Bradbury said. “We’ve had parking studies, but this is more informational, where they can say, ‘This is what you have in your arsenal and now you this is the best way that you can use it,’ whether it’s meters or what, they’ll give us all these (potential) solutions.”

That is what the DDP is in the beginning stages of trying to accomplish now.
Some of the members of the DDP’s Parking Committee own businesses downtown and they admit that finding a spot to park off the Loockerman Street corridor to stop and shop quickly during peak hours can be difficult, considering all the people who work and live in that area.

There is currently an inventory of 233 parking spots in the downtown shopping district. However, 34 of those spots will soon be lost when the Loockerman Way complex is eventually built at the site where the Capital City Farmer’s Market has met for the past couple of years.

Chris Raubaucher, a member of the parking committee, suggested that the DDP ask an official from Rehoboth Beach to come and speak and offer suggestions.
“They just went through it all,” Mr. Raubacher said, of Rehoboth Beach. “They redid all their parking.”

Much of the parking at Rehoboth Beach is now smartphone-app driven, something that Dover City Councilman Fred Neil issued a warning about.
“One cautionary note,” Councilman Neil said. “When we’re doing this, I think we have to have almost the latest technology making it as easy as possible for people to come in and to pay for parking. Of course, so much of it is driven by software and smartphones and that type of thing.

“But we have to be careful about those of us who are chronologically challenged. I use a flip phone. I don’t use a smartphone. Some of us are not going to be as savvy in terms of what to do and what have you, so you almost need to look at a hybrid system to make sure that you’re up to date, but that can’t be the only answer.”

The councilman added that he didn’t want people to use the smartphone app to outwit the city “in the sense that we have two hours parking and then maybe come back and do another two hours and keep doing that all day, taking up the parking spots that we want to be open for our people.”
Seeking ideas at no cost

One of the best parts of the DDP’s study is that it’s not going to cost the city a dime to receive ideas and suggestions.
That’s what impressed City Councilman Tim Slavin the most about the plan before the city’s Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee at a Council Committee of the Whole meeting in mid-October.
Councilman Slavin offered his support toward finding solutions in an often-confusing parking situation in downtown Dover.

“We have analysis paralysis when it comes to parking,” he said. “We’ve done so many studies and each one has come back – with the exception of one – each one has come back and said, ‘You have a parking problem.’
“The last one we did said, ‘You don’t have a parking problem,’ and the first question that was asked collapsed the whole methodology when asked, ‘Are you figuring this out for today’s level of jobs and residents or tomorrow’s’ — and they said ‘just today.’”

Mr. Slavin added, “I agree with the approach. Just be solutions-based and bring the experts in. Let people who do it for a living, do it for a living.”
Mr. Stonesifer is just looking for a better parking situation than the one that currently exists in downtown Dover.
“We’re tired of talking in circles,” he said. “We’ve been given a proposal by one company for a solution to our dilemma. We like the idea, but we decided there might be a better idea. There might be a less costly idea.

“There might be an idea that we can control ourselves, and so we’d like to go out to other parking authorities, cities similar in size and demand as ours, and see what they have to offer as a solution.”
He added, “It might be night and day from what we’ve already been offered. It might be a similar idea. We don’t know.”

That’s what the informational search is all about, according to the DDP Parking Committee.

Park free in holiday season
Ms. Bradbury noted that free parking will be available in downtown Dover from Nov. 29 until Jan. 6 in both the Loockerman Way Plaza and Bradford Street lots. The off-street two-hour parking lots will also remain free of charge, as they traditionally are.

“After Jan. 6th the meters will resume at both locations — the Loockerman Way Plaza and the middle stretch of the Bradford Street lot,” she said.
“There are 32 spaces in Loockerman Way Plaza. Permit parking lots are free after 5 p.m. and they are also free of charge on weekends and holidays.”

The free parking will be available for Thursday’s Capital Holiday Celebration that will take place from 5 until 8 p.m. in front of City Hall and at Loockerman Plaza, as well as the Home for the Holidays Parade that will take place downtown on Loockerman Street on Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m.
Ms. Bradbury said people seem to embrace the free parking downtown during the holiday season.

“We’ve been doing the free parking for the past five years and it’s worked,” said Ms. Bradbury. “People like it, it helps with the shoppers being able to come down and have ease of parking, and it’s our little gift to them.”

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