Bethesda On-Street Parking Rate Hike Proposal Scaled Back

Bethesda On-Street Parking Rate Hike Proposal Scaled Back

Council committee strikes compromise on meter prices

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A rate increase for on-street parking in downtown Bethesda to $3.25 per hour advanced through a County Council committee Thursday, representing a compromise between the current on-street parking maximum of $2.25 and a push to increase it to $4 an hour.

County Executive Marc Elrich’s proposed $5.7 billion budget called for parking rate increases in the Bethesda and Silver Spring central business districts.

The Bethesda meters would be priced based on how much demand there is for parking during certain times of day, with the highest rates during times when downtown restaurants and retailers are busiest.

The Montgomery County Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee Chairman Tom Hucker proposed the $3.25 maximum because it “split the difference” between the current and proposed rates, and his suggestion was supported by council member Evan Glass. Council member Hans Riemer said he was comfortable with the $4 maximum.

“This establishes a ceiling that the [Department of Transportation] can go to. It’ll probably go up incrementally in consultation with the business community,” Hucker said.

The goal of the rate increase in Bethesda is not to raise revenue, but to encourage more drivers to park in garages, and free up on-street spaces in front of businesses.

“Local businesses need the availability of spaces, and giving the department the ability to raise the model to raise prices and encourage short-term parking use in the garages is an effective strategy,” Hucker said, while noting that $4 was too steep.

The committee also voted to table discussion on a possible increase in prices for on-street parking in Silver Spring to $2.25 per hour until the county holds a community forum.

Revenue from the parking facilities in urban districts of the county pays for maintenance services, which committee members said needs to be better communicated to the public. Glass, however, questioned whether the business model of relying on parking revenue was sustainable after hearing that parking use in downtown Silver Spring was declining.

“All of us agree services need to increase, but the rate increase that you’re proposing, does that come with increased services?” Glass asked of Transportation Director Al Roshdieh.

Roshdieh answered that the hikes are needed simply to maintain the current level of maintenance services, with the addition of some small security improvements in the garages. Improving services downtown, he said, would require hiking rates to Bethesda levels.

The council also voted Thursday to extend on-street parking enforcement hours to 10 p.m. in downtown Wheaton Monday through Saturday. Payment enforcement hours currently end at 6 p.m., and business owners have raised concerns over parking spaces being filled by residents who live in nearby apartments who would normally pay for parking within their building, but park on the street because it is free at night.

Hucker objected to the increased payment enforcement on the part of Council President Nancy Navarro, whose district includes Wheaton. Navarro, Hucker said, would prefer to wait until a new county office building is finished being built before making any changes to on-street parking. But Riemer and Glass voted to extend the hours.

Riemer said he understood the concerns about business owners feeling that some residents were “freeloading” by taking up spaces for overnight parking that would otherwise be used by customers frequenting restaurants at night.

The full council will vote on Elrich’s budget at a meeting later this month.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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