Parks board recommends not installing metered parking at parks

Parking in Austin is a precious commodity. It has also become more expensive for many residents who use the city’s parks for recreation.

After hiking the prices for metered parking to $2 an hour last year, the city announced it will add Deep Eddy to the list of parks with metered parking, which includes the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, Zilker Park, Walsh Boat Landing, Butler Softball Fields and the park access across from the Central Library. This decision propelled the Parks and Recreation Board to form a working group in December to look into a solution that allows for equitable access to the city’s outdoor recreational amenities.

Six months after the working group was formed, the parks board voted at its June 24 meeting to recommend the city not install metered parking around public parkland, trails, parks and pools until there is adequate and equitable public transportation to these amenities. In the resolution, board members cited inadequate alternative transportation, inequitable distribution of amenities around the city and the prohibitive expense associated with metered parking as reasons to avoid installing more meters in city parks.

“Metered parking makes sense only at park facilities which have frequent transit,” according to the resolution. The board previously noted that there is insufficient public transportation to support non-financially prohibitive and equitable access to most city parkland.

The vote passed 6-1-2 with Board Member Nina Rinaldi voting against the motion and Board members Francoise Luca and Richard DePalma abstaining. Board members Romteen Farasat and Kim Taylor had left the meeting before the vote was taken.

Rinaldi and Farasat expressed their concern that parking accessibility was a larger question than just whether city parking lots on parkland were metered.

Deep Eddy, which remains meter-free, elicited particularly strong opinions from the board that it remain free of charge. Deep Eddy is one of the few nearby parking locations providing access to Zilker, the Ann & Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, and the Deep Eddy pool that is not limited by residential parking permits.

“We need to also couple (removing metered parking) with a proposal to remove residential parking permits within a certain distance to parks,” Farasat said. “If we make (parking) free, in fact, that might make it less accessible to the general public.” He acknowledged that parking turnover at parks is an issue, and he noted that by keeping spots free of charge there is a risk that the parking slots will remain full on a consistent basis, forcing many parkgoers to look for parking on neighborhood streets.

“If all we do is remove or prohibit metered parking, the access issue remains,” Rinaldi agreed. She said that combining this discussion with a larger conversation on removing residential parking permits or metering neighborhood street parking will help to make parking around the city’s most popular parks more equitable. Paying at a meter, she said, is “a lot less of an equity issue than saying you can park here if you can afford to live here.”

While other board members agreed that residential parking permit restrictions can be a frustrating inhibition to easy park access, Chair Dawn Lewis said a discussion about removing permitted parking requires engaging with the neighborhoods that will be affected. The board agreed to address this question at a future date.

Although Board Member Laura Cottam Sajbel wrote the motion that the board recommended, she said, “I think the city does need to consider other ways to improve parking.”