Among a slew of changes to parking enforcement in downtown Bend in 2019 is a policy that will make it easier for the city to charge an hourly fee for parking spaces that are now free — depending on how a test of a paid parking program plays out.

Most parking downtown is free and limited to two hours, though visitors can buy extra time in the Mirror Pond lots and the parking garage. Starting in January or February, depending on how long it takes to put up new rate signs, the city will test charging $1/hour for parking in a lot at Greenwood Avenue and Wall Street and along a block of Irving Avenue.

In a 6-0 vote on a number of fee changes last week, the Bend City Council approved an hourly rate of $1 that can be applied anywhere in the downtown parking district. For now, that’s just for the Mirror Pond lots, the parking garage and the two test areas, said Drew Dietrich, the city’s parking demand manager. But it could be expanded to other areas, he said.

“It’s better just to have a good baseline,” he said.

However, the wording of the fee makes it easier to apply to other streets and lots downtown, depending on what the city learns from the test programs. A parking management plan prepared by a consultant in 2017 suggests eliminating free parking at Mirror Pond and looking at paid on-street parking in popular areas.

Some members of Bend’s downtown parking advisory committee, which consists primarily of downtown business owners and employees, favor more paid parking because they see it as a way to attract more paying customers. People who have a few dollars to shell out for parking are more likely to make purchases at stores or restaurants, according to their reasoning.

Other coming changes to parking enforcement are also intended to result in more customers parking in downtown spaces. Diamond Parking Services now enforces 2-hour time limits downtown between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., but one change will extend enforcement until 7 p.m. in the blocks bordered by Greenwood Avenue to the north, Franklin Avenue to the south, Lava Road and Harriman Street to the east and Drake Park to the west.

The new hours are meant to deter downtown employees who work nights from taking spaces that could be used by customers, Dietrich said.

“Typically what happens is that at 4:01 on the dot a lot of employees will come and park right in front of their place of business,” he said. “By pushing it to 7, we hold those spaces until 5.”

Employees will also pay more to park in some areas of downtown and less for parking permits in other areas. Beginning Jan. 1, monthly employee parking permit fees will fall from $45 to $20 in the Newport lot and from $50 to $40 in the parking garage. By July, monthly permits will cost $30 for streets on the east side of downtown and on Hospital Hill and $60 on roads in the southwest part of downtown, where most city employees now park.

Permits now cost $30 on the east side of downtown, $25 on Hospital Hill and $30 in the southwest. Rate increases for existing permit holders will be phased in over several months, Dietrich said.

Rates in all areas will be discounted 50 percent for workers who earn less than $17 an hour. Median hourly wages for downtown employees were $18 in the final quarter of 2017.

Also starting in 2019 is a four-hour cap on parking in the two Mirror Pond lots. The first two hours will remain free for the foreseeable future, but downtown visitors who use one of the 90 spaces in the lots will only be able to buy two more hours. The new cap will allow for more turnover in the Mirror Ponds lots, which experience some of the highest demand in the city, Dietrich said.

“Four hours is sufficient time to go and get lunch, do some shopping (and) walk in Drake Park,” he said.

The city will begin using the smartphone app ­ParkMobile to charge for parking, and it will be the only way to pay in the test areas. Visitors who park in the garage or Mirror Pond lots could use the app or continue paying as they do now.

The downtown parking district also will expand to include parts of Riverside Boulevard, Franklin Avenue, Broadway Street and Louisiana Avenue because of a 4-3 City Council vote last week. Residents who live on those streets can receive free parking passes, while people who don’t live there will have to adhere to two-hour limits.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160;