Parking in Morgantown Requires Careful Planning

Deondra Jones, a 20-year-old Senior at West Virginia University used to wake up at 6 a.m. every day to move her car from a space in front of her apartment on Grant Street to a free lot. If she hadn’t she would have received a ticket for parking in the permit area, which was enforced from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Signs like this one in Sunnyside line the streets of residential neighborhoods with blue curb parking, which requires a permit.

“One day I was going out to move my car and I saw a boot from afar and I said “dang someone got a boot,” and I got closer and saw that it was my car and started crying,” Jones said.

Jones realized she would be late for work and called her boss, who paid her $200 ticket. She then went to meet the parking authority to get the boot taken off. When she arrived, the boot was already taken off but, to her surprise she had another ticket.

Though Jones was a student at the time of these incidents, she was living in off-campus housing and parking in city enforced lots.

On West Virginia University Campus property, parking is enforced by University Parking and Transportation. But all non-University parking is regulated and enforced by the Morgantown Parking Authority (MPA). MPA parking tickets are only $5. But, campus parking tickets are $15.

Although it seems that there are endless parking lots around the Morgantown area, parking is still limited because many of them are permit-only parking. For on-campus parking, it’s a rapidly revolving door, a student pulls out of a spot, and another student pulls in. For off-campus parking, the challenge is finding parking close enough to your destination. With students parking downtown, spots for people coming to shop and eat at the businesses are limited.

The map below indicates parking areas around downtown Morgantown and their rates and hours.

Morgantown Parking Director, Dana McKenzie says people often misunderstand the intentions of the Morgantown Parking Authority.

“Everyone has a misconception that we’re out to get everybody when it comes to tickets. That’s really not the case. It’s more about compliance and making sure everyone is on the same page going in the same direction,” McKenzie said.

“When I started here in 1996, you could walk down High Street and not find a single space that was open, and this was at 9 a.m. Most businesses did not even open until 10 a.m., so there was no place for customers to park on High Street at that time,” McKenzie said. “Through studies and many meetings with stakeholders, we were able to create new parking regulations that made it fair for all of our customers and not just a select few.”

Changes are coming to Morgantown. The MPA is working with local businesses to bring more awareness about parking that will not only benefit customers but the businesses themselves.

“We are creating folders to hand out to all the business in the downtown to explain the options that the parking authority offers for them and their customers,” McKenzie said. “We currently offer validation stickers for the downtown businesses to provide to their customers that park in the gated garages.”

On Nov. 1, the city began a new campaign, “This One’s On Us.” According to Parking Enforcement Supervisor Larry Merrill,  the campaign is trying to change the perception of the MPA. Instead of automatic ticketing when a meter runs out, parking enforcement personnel will place a note on a car, leaving the person with no fines.

Courtesy of the City of Morgantown Twitter page

With downtown parking, there is already a 10-minute grace period if a meter runs out. But with this campaign, the person parked gets an additional 5 minutes.  The parked car will receive an orange paper, which resembles a ticket, but instead says,“This One’s On Us.”

By the end of the year, MPA will introduce Park Mobile, an app that lets drivers pay for their meters or parking spots online.

“If it’s raining, snowing, you don’t ever have to worry about standing in lines; it’s just pay and go,” McKenzie said. “It will also give you a reminder 15 minutes before your time expires, so if you need to add time you can do that.”

McKenzie hopes the changes will bring a needed change in perception of the MPA.

“I think it’ll cut down citations. Our end goal, as many citations as we do write, is to not write any citations,” McKenzie said.

Currently the city gives out, 43,000 tickets (or citations) per year, six days a week, 24 hours per day. On Sundays, the enforcers are not ticketing after 5 a.m.

Parking in residential areas presents other challenges.

Some of the streets in Morgantown, in residential neighborhoods, have curbs painted blue. Blue curbs in Morgantown allow residents of homes guaranteed parking with a permit Monday-Friday. The times that blue curb are in effect differ per neighborhood. In order for a new resident to see if they are eligible for blue curb parking, they must contact the MPA. The Sunnyside area and South Park area are an example of areas where blue curbs are in effect.

The blue curb policy began about 5 years ago and limits residents to three spots per home. This allows residents to have designated spots with punishable fines for those who park without a permit.

Neighborhood Associations have been advocates of the policy.

“A lot of the stuff that’s going on with the neighborhoods with the blue curbs is all from the neighborhood associations,” Merrill said “They contact the parking authority; they go through council, and they really do all the work to have the blue curbs put into the neighborhoods. We’re just there to enforce it.”

According to Mckenzie, the city has about a $3 million budget. The MPA is an enterprise, which means the money gained from parking citations goes right back into the city. Since 2000, the city has put over $10,000,000 worth of capital improvements into downtown. The upgrades include parking garages, surface lots, paving parking lots, equipment for snow removal, updated garage equipment, paint, etc.

“My main goal is to provide parking, which sounds kind of cliché but it is such a fashion that everyone is happy,” McKenzie said. “It’s impossible, but that’s our ultimate goal is to try to keep everyone going in the same page and the same direction, so we can have a successful downtown. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Jeff Vance is an MPA Enforcement Officer. In the video below, he walks through some of the ups and downs of working for a city where college students are a majority of drivers.

Drivers parking on university owned property may be subject to different fines and penalties than the ones levied by the MPA. WVU will place holds on the accounts of students with unpaid parking tickets. Those holds prevent students from registering for courses or even from graduating if fines are not paid. If students or residents continually get tickets and don’t pay them, University parking will tow their cars, which can become costly.

West Virginia University Parking and Transportation has done a lot of work over the years. They have updated their machines to take credit cards and allow additional payments from mobile phones. They have also added parking lots and more spaces.

For those who don’t see the changes it may be because they aren’t present when the work is being done.

According to WVU’s Parking and Transportation director, Clement Solomon,“One of the missing points is, you guys [students] don’t see a lot of it [changes] because you’re gone in the summertime, and we do a lot of the work during the summertime. So when you come back everything looks the same, but lines are painted, lots look good, lightbulbs replaced, no holes. So that’s what we do; we plow it [money from citations] right back into those parking lots.”

Over the past few years, the University’s Parking and Transportation department has added parking to the Student Recreational Center, Evansdale Crossing, and they are currently trying to extend the library parking.

Yet, students still feel that there are not enough parking spaces.

For students who want to park on campus regularly, a simple solution is to purchase a parking permit. This grants students a guaranteed parking spot. A student can find information about getting a permit for their car by going to the University’s Parking and Transportation website.

“We have parking permits available. It may not be in the lot that you want. The first thing is, you’re better off buying a parking permit even if it’s a lot that you don’t really have access to,” Solomon said. “You’ll only pay thirty bucks a month. Two citations will pay for that permit.”

WVU Parking is not out to get students but rather to ticket those in the wrong. The citations are a punishment because people park in areas for which another has paid .

WVU Parking and Transportation’s operating budget is about $4,786,949, which includes salaries, parking lot maintenance, supporting technologies, etc. They give out an estimated 48,344 tickets per year.

WVU Parking and Transportation has turned to social media to communicate with students. They use Twitter regularly to announce changes to parking patterns.

Engineering Career Day was Sep. 14, so the campus parking authority tweeted out that a short-term lot at Evansdale Crossing was closed for the day.

On Oct 5, Solomon met with a student who was upset that she had received a parking ticket because the lot was closed. Solomon explained that the campus parking authority had notified students, but he said they want to be user friendly too.

“So I brought her in; I chatted with her; I explained to her; I said, “Hey, I’ll take your citations off,” Solomon said. “We void at least 10 percent when you have a legitimate excuse or reason. Probably 99 out of 100 times if you’re legitimate we’ll probably excuse it.”

 

Text, video, and interactive graphic by Rebecca Toro