Dowagiac police, businesses working together to solve downtown parking issues

A new initiative recently launched by the city, Dowagiac police and the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce is looking to address drivers who are “asphalt” for congesting critical downtown parking lots.

Over the last few weeks, police and downtown storefront owners have worked together to increase awareness of the three-hour parking time limit imposed upon certain spaces within the central business district — in particular the busy corridor along stretches of Front, Commercial and Beeson streets. Officers and business owners are working to inform residents of the time limit, imposed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, encouraging long term visitors to use the all day parking availible on Depot Drive.

The added vigilance of the city’s limited parking spaces comes as the result of a forum hosted by the city and the chamber April 13, led by Deputy Chief Jarrid Bradford. According to an article published in the May edition of the chamber newsletter, the problem of people parking in short-term parking spots has been an issue plaguing the downtown for decades, with recent complaints prompting the city entities to take action on the matter.

“There is concern that it deters customers from visiting businesses downtown,” Bradford said.

During the forum, Bradford discussed his observations from a four-day study of downtown parking trends he conducted April 4-7. During that period, he noticed that an average of around four cars violated the three-hour parking limits every day, he said.

While this number may not seem that large, these violators contribute to parking congestion, especially within the 40 parking spaces located along the so called “red zone” adjacent to many of the city’s restaurants, beauty salons, and barbershops. With 58 to 91 percent of these vital spaces occupied at any given time, some customers may have to park in a space located far away from the storefront they want to visit, Bradford said.

“It makes it difficult for people to find a convenient parking place,” he said.

Since the forum, Bradford and other Dowagiac officers have reached out to some of the frequent long-term parkers, who are mainly comprised of tenants of downtown apartments and business employees, to inform them of the issue.

While police can issue an ordinance or state citation for people who violate the parking time limit, Bradford said he prefers to work with these people to find a solution to the problem, he said.

“Often just talking with offenders helps,” Bradford said.

Business owners have also been discussing the issue with employees and customers to address parking issues, the deputy chief said. According to the chamber newsletter, the Downtown Development Authority will be updating its “Guide to Downtown Parking” pamphlet, which is distributed to business and building owners as well as offenders cited by police, to address the problem.

The recent focus appears to be paying off thus far, as police have only had to issue seven parking violations since April 13, Bradford said.

The deputy chief recommends that people who need to park for more than few hours to use the Depot Drive lot, located adjacent to the railroad. The city is considering installing additional signage to highlight the availability of these spaces, Bradford said.

“We’re not telling people not to park downtown,” Bradford said. “We want people to enjoy our downtown, to eat here, to shop here. It’s a beautiful area and we want people to visit as often as possible.”

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