The city of Bend plans to start testing the use of parking fees on one street and in one parking lot downtown as early as October as part of a pilot program that could extend to other parts of downtown.

On-street parking downtown is free, but many parking spots in the downtown core are limited to two hours. The first three hours in the garage and first two hours in the Mirror Pond parking lots are free, but visitors can pay to park longer.

Additional time in the Mirror Pond lots costs $1 an hour, and the same rates would apply to the paid parking test areas in a lot at Greenwood Avenue and Wall Street and a block of Irving Avenue.

The Greenwood/Wall lot would help the city model what would happen if it eliminates the free two hours in the Mirror Pond lots , while the block of Irving Avenue is a model for on-street parking, said Drew Dietrich, Bend’s parking demand manager. The program would be similar to the city’s pilot test this summer on Riverside Avenue, where it limited parking to four hours.

“It’s kind of like the Riverside pilot, seeing what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

Members of Bend’s downtown parking advisory committee, a group mainly composed of representatives from downtown businesses, approved of the pilot program during a meeting this week. The city’s moving toward launching it in October, but it could take longer.

Paying for parking is one way to ensure that people do not overuse spots during peak hours, when 85 percent or more of parking spots are filled.

Another method committee members were interested in was changing the hours parking time limits are enforced. Enforcement now runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, meaning people can park longer during the evenings. Some committee members wanted to extend enforcement until 7 or 8 p.m., which they said would stop restaurant employees who get to work later in the afternoon from using customer spots through the dinner hour.

Dietrich said he’s looking into whether changing parking enforcement hours would require changing a city ordinance, which would require a City Council vote.

The committee will consider adding parking zones in downtown Bend to clarify where people who want to move their cars can go to stay longer. Now, the city’s policy allows drivers to avoid parking tickets if they move their cars 750 feet away before the two hours are up. Terence Spakousky, area manager for Diamond Parking, said that leads to arguments over how to measure that 750 feet.

Color-coded parking zones could cut down on that confusion and move longer-term parking further from core areas where downtown businesses and the city want customers and visitors to circulate. It could address issues with downtown employees parking close to their businesses and moving their cars throughout the day to avoid tickets.

“Essentially, all the customer spaces are still occupied all day, but they’re moving,” he said.

Downtown employees and their employers can purchase monthly downtown parking passes, which range from $20 to $50 a month and allow employees to park in the garage, Newport or Mirror Pond lots or side streets south or east of the main downtown area. Brittany Counts, store manager of the downtown Starbucks and a member of the committee, said her employees received parking passes this summer because the Riverside parking program limited free parking on that street. But permits can be expensive, particularly for employees making low wages.

“It’s not very easy for your employees to find parking down here,” Counts said.

—  Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com

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