Parking buttons raise awareness, suppress anger

August 17, 2005

Hood River Parking Enforcement Officer Ronda Gimlin isn’t just writing tickets these days — she’s also passing out lapel buttons.

Last week, Gimlin handed out the first “I Got a Warning from Ronda” button to a downtown shopper. That individual plugged an expired meter just before Gimlin finished writing out a $10 ticket for the violation. She anticipates giving away about four buttons each day, the average number of warnings that she issues.

“It was kind of fun handing out the first one. He was happy and put it right on his shirt and even agreed to come into the office and pay another ticket that was outstanding,” said Gimlin. “I think it’s pretty nice because it makes me not look quite so mean.”

Police Chief Bruce Ludwig said the buttons are intended to raise public awareness about parking rules throughout the business corridor. He said the unusual warning will only take the place of a ticket if Gimlin has not yet finished with paperwork before coins are deposited in a meter.

“We’re not making a special effort to do any more warnings than normal. Ronda’s trying to do this more for locals than for visitors,” said Ludwig.

The police department has been asked by the Downtown Business Association to take more of a “warm and fuzzy” approach to parking enforcement. Ludwig said Gimlin’s job is to make sure that all motorists follow the rules. However, she has been instructed to give the benefit of the doubt to a customer whenever possible. Ludwig asks that vehicle owners receiving tickets remember that Gimlin is just doing her job. He said people routinely berate her and have even thrown food at her out of anger over an infraction. However, Ludwig said it is clearly posted on each meter that payment is required from Monday through Saturday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. So, if an individual forgets to plug the meter, Ludwig said he/she needs to take accountability for the consequences.

Meanwhile, the DBA will soon begin passing out parking ticket waivers to some shoppers. By September, each participating merchant will receive five coupons per month to redeem the ticket of a client who has forgotten to plug the meter. The waivers do not apply to other violations and cannot be redeemed by employees or business owners.

“We are really trying to take a more customer-friendly approach to parking in and around downtown,” said Bob Francis, city manager.

He said preliminary results from a parking study this summer show that meters are moving traffic along, as envisioned by officials at the time of installation. Francis said staffers from Richard Williams Consulting have found the average parking stay to be less than two hours, with 204 new cars arriving downtown each hour. The hardest time to find a vacant parking space seems to be from 2 to 4 p.m., both on the street and in city lots.

Francis said the Portland-based firm will interview stakeholders this Thursday to hear their views on parking needs. By late September, a complete package of information will be submitted to city officials for review. Francis said recommendations could include shuttling downtown employees to work from another location or building a multi-tiered parking structure.

When the results of the $34,940 study are in hand, Francis said a plan needs to be developed and moved forward. He said for more than 30 years, Hood River has been seeking an affordable solution to the growing problem. And he is confident the issue can be resolved if downtown businesses and local residents work together. But, said Francis, the final solution — especially any construction — could necessitate higher meter and lot rates. He has also suggested the DBA consider formation of an Economic Improvement District so that more tax dollars could be dedicated toward that cause.

“If a plan sits on a shelf all it does is collect dust. We need community buy-in to find a solution,” said Francis.

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