If you are familiar with downtown Houston and have ever driven behind someone who isn't, you know what pissed off feels like. Making matters more complicated is a mess of parking design. Because Houston's downtown was neglected for so long, little attention or care was paid to how parking was laid out or managed. Signage is one of the more significant issues facing downtown drivers. There are 128 different types of parking signs downtown, with a whopping 5,600 signs in total.
Last week, City Council voted to approve a $1.3 million contract that will, hopefully, improve signage and eliminate confusion for downtown parkers.
"It was not a fun project, but it had to be done," Angie Bertinot, Director of Marketing and Communications with the Downtown District, told Hair Balls, describing a week in 2011 when she and a co-worker drove every street in downtown in a golf cart surveying and photographing every parking sign. They found that there were 22 different types of signs for no other purpose than to say "No Parking." They intend to cut down the variety of signs in downtown dramatically.
"Right now we're looking at between 16 and 20 unique signs," Bertinot said. "And that's still being tweaked, but won't it be much easier to learn 16 signs versus 120 signs?"
The massive variety of signs is the result of a bureaucratic train wreck with administration after administration adding to the nightmare of changes, making things increasingly confusing for drivers.
Then there are the mobility lanes. During peak times (7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.), the far right or left lanes of busy streets are closed to parking, allowing better flow of traffic during rush hours. In addition to the wrong signs being placed on a number of streets with mobility lanes, some of the mobility lanes were no longer necessary.
"They were putting these signs up just because I think that's what they were pulling out of the closet or something," Bertinot said. The fixing of signs and the removal of certain mobility lanes should free up as many as 340 new parking spaces by next year.
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Perhaps the most frustrating problem is that of how long a person is allowed to park in a given space. The "downtown hopper" parking pass that can be purchased from parking meters downtown allows drivers to park all day, but in many cases, they must move every two hours or get a ticket. Not only is it confusing, it's a pain for those who don't want to have to move their cars.
The new changes will place a uniform three-hour limit on parking across the city, which should help clear up the confusion and lower the number of parking tickets for unsuspecting drivers who are just trying to go to the George R. Brown Convention Center to cover the NBA All-Star events for an alt-weekly. Ahem.
The project should be completed by next summer and, depending on the results, this could be expanded to include the entire city.
"The goal is to get rid of this totem-pole signage and have signage that's easier to understand so we won't have as much clutter on the street," Bertinot said.