New technology to make downtown parking more predictable, easier to pay

Samantha Ye

Downtown parking can be a time-consuming game of luck and chance, especially if you’re looking for a free spot on the street. So the City is bringing in a technology overhaul to help address it.

In line with the 2017 Fort Collins Downtown Plan, the City will be installing pay stations and sensor technology in both the Old Town and Civic Center parking garages and in front of about 3,000 on-street parking spaces downtown over the next few months, said Seth Lorson, City transit planner. The complete project will cost $1.2 million. 

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Pay stations will replace the gate system in the parking structures, according to the City website.

Part of this is because the garage gates have been breaking down about once a week, trapping drivers inside, Lorson said.

“We have to bring a staff member out … to come and fix it and let them out but that really shouldn’t be unnecessary,” Lorson said.

With pay stations, users will simply park then pay at the machine. They will keep the same payment system: The first hour is free, then $1 an hour for every hour after that.

Sensors will also be installed at parking spaces to indicate if a space is available or not — green for empty, red for taken. Signs installed outside the garages will list how many spaces are available inside.

The University garage located on Lake Street has sensor lights in each parking space demonstrating if that space is available or not for parking. Similar technology is being installed in the Old Town and Civic Center parking garages. (Collegian File Photo)

Lorson said, right now, Old Town experiences congestion and air-pollution problems when many people are making circles on the streets hoping to find free parking. The sensors should help with predictability by letting people know the parking availability beforehand.

The sensor and pay station setup is functionally identical to the technology currently used in the Colorado State University parking garages, except the City’s technology will connect to their FC Parking app.

Those who download and sign up on the app will be able to see the parking spaces available in sensored areas. Users can also pay through the app for their parking sessions, as well as extend their parking time.

The app is currently available for free in the Apple App Store or on Google Play.

The pay stations will also allow people who paid with credit cards to receive a text when their time is running low with the option to extend their time.

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Old Town parking garage closed Aug. 20 to help install these changes, as well as for regular sealant maintenance. It is expected to reopen Sept. 1 in time for Labor Day, Lorson said.

Civic Center parking garage will also go through rolling closures of 75-100 spaces closed for sensor installations throughout this fall. It will have no full closures and a completion date is unknown, Lorson said.

On-street sensor installations will require closing around 100 spaces at a time for 24 hours, according to the City. The project begins the week of Sept. 10 and should be complete by the end of October. Installations will happen in six phases, one for each area.

The City is still evaluating the implementation schedule for this technology, however, and will not be launching it fullscale right away, Lorson said. The changes are significant and will require some trial time to make sure the technology works and to educate the public about them.

For example, the pay stations in the parking garages will require users to insert license plate numbers even if they are only parking for one hour. They will not be charged for that first hour, but if they do not register for a parking session, they will get a ticket.

“Pay and you will receive an hour free,” Lorson said. “It’s really about messaging because if we say ‘first hour free’ then it’s very challenging for people to wrap their heads around that they have to do something first.”

Lorson looks forward to improvements from the technology though, especially the parking data the sensors will provide.

The parking turnover and usage data will be used to inform new policies such as Pay-to-Stay, which would allow users to pay for more time once their free two hours of street parking are up, and extended enforcement of that two-hour limit. Currently, it is enforced until 6 p.m., Lorson said, but they anticipate extending it until 8 p.m. to increase turnover during the busy dinner time.

Those plans have no schedule yet, however. The focus now is getting the basic technology installed and the public informed.

“If we can put this technology in place…then there’ll be less driving (and) less frustration,” Lorson said. “Really, that’s one of our main goals is to create greater predictability and options for people downtown.”

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Larson as saying repeated maintenance of the parking garages “should” be necessary, when in reality he said this “shouldn’t.” Additionally, an explanation of 2-hour time limits incorrectly stated the enforcement period ends at 4 p.m. The City enforces these limits until 6:00 p.m. This article has been updated to correct and clarrify these points. 

Collegian news reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye