There's no need for a parking garage at this time

Maxine Lewis seemed pleased Thursday afternoon as she looked over displays showing the results of a long awaited city traffic study.

“I am impressed,” she said. “For a long time, people have had a negative reaction when talking about the parking situation downtown.”

Lewis, the proprietor of Maxine’s Fashions on South Governors Avenue, shares a building with two other businesses. She and the owners of The Wedding Boutique and Top Notch Sewing had to move to South Governors because their customers complained they couldn’t find parking at their original locations on Loockerman Street.

“I think the fact the city is interested enough to do a parking study and remedy the situation will be good for business,” she said.

Lewis, a member of the Downtown Dover Partnership’s Merchant Committee, was one of about 40 people attending a three-hour workshop at the public library. Hosted by the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization, it was the public’s final chance to review draft proposals to improve parking before it goes to city council.

Key among the findings is that Dover does not need a parking garage, an idea that’s been suggested time and again over the years.

Spencer Finch, sustainable development consultant with Langan Engineering of Philadelphia, said this simply is not the time for such a structure.

“What needs to be done is to better manage the existing parking,” he said. Overall the city provides about 1,800 parking spots including more than 450 in lots around downtown.

“That’s a large number for a city the size of Dover,” he said, but many stand empty during most of the day.

A count showed parking lots are busiest from 11 a.m. to noon but average only 63 percent full during the day. The most frequently used lot off North Street usually is 84 percent full; the least used is on Governors Avenue with a peak occupancy rate of 21 percent.

The peak parking time on city streets is 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., during which time 25 percent of the spaces go unused.

The common denominator with the parking lots is that they contain a mixture of parking categories -- some parts of the same lot have free parking, some are metered parking, and some are permitted parking.

That’s confusing, Finch said.

“This creates barriers,” he said, adding people who come to shop or look around downtown can’t figure out where they’re allowed to park.

“It tends to freeze out visitors,” Finch said.

Along with better management of available parking, the study recommends considering how much it cost.

Langan Engineering looked at pricing in 10 nearby cities and discovered Dover has the cheapest rates: street parking is free in the Capital City. It can range from 50 cents per hour in Media, Pa., up to $2 in Annapolis.

Public lots here cost $2 per day but range from $4 daily in Media to $13 in Annapolis.

Public response to questionnaires passed out during the study indicated Dover residents would be willing to pay 25 cents for limited on- or off-street parking needed for quick errands downtown, with the first 20 minutes free.

The survey found day-long off-street parking should cost only a quarter, but run to $4 for all-day on-street parking.

“It shows the spots with the highest demand should have the highest prices,” Finch said.

It also would help deal with so-called “parking surfers,” which Lewis cited as one of the concerns that led her to move her business.

Those are people who work downtown and park for free, but who move their cars every two hours to avoid citations from the police, Finch said.

And a change in signage throughout the city would be a tremendous help, Finch said, especially when it comes to directing people to central Dover.

“People can’t find the way to the parking,” he said. “We need directional signage to take people downtown and to tell them where to park. It would make a world of difference. It would tell people driving on Route 13 that Dover is a cool place to be.”

Residents can submit their thoughts on Dover’s parking situation in an online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/doverparkingstudy.

Finch then will take those comments and those from the workshop and incorporate them into a final report to the city council and the Dover/Kent MPO by the end of September.

“We know everyone is coming at the issue from slightly different viewpoints, but we all hope the study helps bring everyone together toward a better way to understand and manage parking, and to attract more folks downtown,” he said.

A PowerPoint presentation of the parking study from Aug. 24 is at http://tinyurl.com/doverparkingstudy.