Death by parking meter

May 16, 1994

Annapolis soon will be known as the home of sailing, the U.S. Naval Academy, the seat of state government and some of the most ridiculous parking fees on the East Coast.

Under Mayor Alfred Hopkins' budget for the new fiscal year, parking meter fees are doubling from 50 cents to $1 an hour. Parking tickets (which, at $10, already are pretty steep) will also double, to $20. And to take advantage of the fact that more people park at meters in the evening than the morning, the city is changing parking meter hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday to 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week. Even churchgoers who park along city streets during Sunday services will have to make sure they bring eight or 12 quarters to feed the meter.

The city says it needs the money -- $445,000 from the meter and fine hikes, plus increases in residential parking permits. But it's cutting off its nose to spite its face. On one hand, city officials are constantly debating how to keep downtown Annapolis thriving. They've struggled not to lose county courthouse traffic and are pouring millions into rebricking Main Street to make the business district more attractive.

What's the point if the city is going to drive everyone out of town by making them pay through the nose to park? Traffic may be the bane of Annapolis, but it is also its lifeblood. If people stop coming downtown, the city dies.

That includes out-of-town visitors, for whom an unpleasant experience like finding a $20 ticket on the windshield might be enough to sour them on Annapolis for good. It also refers to city taxpayers who patronize downtown shops and restaurants. How many more of them are going to head for Annapolis Mall, where traffic is easy and free, rather than pay $1 an hour and suffer the inconvenience of having to run out of a store to feed the meter before the omnipresent meter maid gets there first?

The city better think about the consequences of these decisions. If it wants more people to park in garages, there are better incentives than raising meter fees to new heights. Maybe some people will turn to the garages if the higher fees are approved. But others -- probably a lot more -- will get so fed up that they simply kiss Annapolis goodbye. In the long run, that will likely cost the city far more than the $445,000 it expects to get from drastically raising its parking fees.

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