Annaka Norris, a project manager with Michigan-based Rich and Associates, who was hired by the City Council in 2013, presented the findings of the 20-week study Monday night and said much of the concern is based on perception, although things can improve.
“There’s enough parking,” Norris said during the meeting at City Hall. “You don’t need a parking structure.”
But while a lack of available spaces in downtown Canton may not be as dire as some believe it to be, Norris said many things can be done to improve the situation.
Norris laid out a long list of ways the city could improve the parking outlook, such as increasing fines, adding signage and ramping up enforcement to deter employees of downtown businesses from using on-street parking. She also suggested adding bicycle racks to accommodate those who might help the problem by not driving downtown.
Key’s Jewelry Store owner Doug Key said during the meeting that parking has been a problem for decades and something needs to be done.
“I’ve been in the store since ’74 and it’s been an issue since ’74 and probably long before that,” said Key, whose business is in the heart of downtown on East Main Street. “It’s a constant battle in downtown areas. It’s just the way things are in downtowns. I’ve got a lot of loyal customers that come back or circle around 14 times to try to find a place.”
Norris said part of the trouble for Canton is that nearly 70 percent of the parking spaces downtown are private and not controlled by the city, which she said is about 20 percent higher than recommended.
She also chalked up much of the problem to people who work in downtown Canton choosing to park on the street, instead of in one of the multiple lots on the outskirts of the city’s center. Some of those people are known to “shuffle” their cars from one space to another to avoid fines once their time is up, Norris said, adding the city should consider an ordinance against shuffling.
“People will take the easiest route, even if it’s a detriment to their business,” she said, referencing business owners and employees who take up the spots in front of their own establishments, blocking customers.
While some have suggested more drastic answers such as the parking deck or parking meters, Norris said multiple times that a more subtle approach can be effective for Canton.
“Putting in meters isn’t cheap, it’s expensive,” she told the small crowd of about 15 residents and officials. “I don’t think it would benefit you.”
Instead, Norris suggested following the company’s recommended solutions, which are mostly aimed at improving awareness of the parking available. More enforcement by authorities to stop those who break the city’s parking rules would also help, she said.
Canton Police Chief Robert Merchant said the police department doesn’t enforce parking downtown because there isn’t enough manpower to do it.
“We don’t have anybody assigned to the parking enforcement,” Merchant said after the meeting.
But Merchant said he did have money put into the fiscal 2014 budget to hire civilians to police parking.
Norris said Merchant’s efforts to hire non-police officers to patrol parking downtown would be effective.
“If we can get those employees and those violators (off the street) and at the ends of town to let the visitors come in,” she said, “that’s huge.”
For people like Key, anything to lessen the parking strains downtown might be welcome.
“The days you see parking turn over, it’s a beautiful thing,” he said.