Drivers seek out shrinking car space Good economy causes bad parking, city says

August 13, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

As a city parking officer for 17 years, Delores Drummond has seen the many forms of parking madness.

Like the guy who was so upset he received a ticket that he stood in front of Drummond's car refusing to let her leave. Or the man who followed her for four blocks, repeatedly jumping out of his car and arguing as if he were former Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver disputing an umpire's call. Other motorists broke down in tears or trembled in fear, Drummond said.

"We're just trying to create a friendly atmosphere so that everyone will have a chance to park," Drummond said. "Most people don't want to take responsibility."

Such parking passion is swelling in Baltimore because downtown business growth over the past seven years has resulted in more competition for limited space. City leaders named Michael Rice to be the first parking coordinator two weeks ago to create the city's first comprehensive parking plan.

The need for Rice grew out of increasing complaints from downtown merchants about parking tangles and the haphazard evolution of car space in Baltimore. The city controls street parking and several garages, while private entrepreneurs operate 30,000 downtown spaces on their own lots.

3,600 spaces needed

A recent Downtown Partnership study shows that the city will need 3,600 new parking spaces over the next 10 years. And that comes after the number of parking slots in the city grew by 13,000 in the last 13 years.

With the latest surge of Inner Harbor tourism, including the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood, city officials say the time has finally come to bring all sides together in a united parking front.

"Economic development spurs the need for parking and parking enhances economic development," Rice said.

The 40-year-old Northwest Baltimore native has worked for the city 18 years, mostly as a road inspector for the Department of Public Works. In 1991, he transferred to the city transportation department to become the administrator for the city's parking budget. Rice sees his job as no different than the fire chief or police commissioner.

"Parking is a service and I like helping people," said Rice, who holds a bachelor's degree in business management from Coppin State University. "When people come downtown, they want to find a space as close to their event as possible. The more restriction, the more aggressive their behavior."

Task force to form

Rice's first task will be to form a parking advisory task force that includes downtown business owners and city officials.

Much of the problem is educating motorists about the parking bureau's role. Drivers have the false perception, Rice said, that the city uses the parking unit to raise money for Baltimore's coffers. Although the agency, with 100 parking enforcement officers, generates $40 million each year, its goal is to create parking turnover so that more customers can patronize city businesses.

The aggressive behavior of motorists upset about parking enforcement has spilled over into residential neighborhoods, Rice said. When Drummond started in 1981, she estimates the city had 10 residential parking regions requiring people who parked on the street to have permits. Now that number has tripled, showing that the need to manage parking has grown.

The popularity of neighborhoods such as Federal Hill and Fells Point, much like the economic growth, is making parkingscarce. Competition for parking spaces in other neighborhoods has required the city to manage parking there too.

"Citywide, the parking situation has tremendously grown, particularly in the residential areas," Drummond said. "Most people want a parking spot in front of their house, but your property stops at the curb."

Pub Date: 8/13/98

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