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Downtown parking study important

There are many reasons to feel hopeful regarding the Downtown Altoona parking study that kicked off officially on July 20.

However, it is not premature to ponder what the city will do — and, most importantly, how soon — when officials have the study’s findings in hand.

Even now, it is reasonable to acknowledge that improvements to the current parking situation in the heart of the city will take time; it will not be an overnight venture.

Perhaps before putting the study results to work for the municipality, officials might even see value in establishing an official stakeholders advisory committee to work with the parking authority to organize a slate of priorities built upon recommendations contained within the study.

It is not beyond reason that the advisory committee also might have need for stakeholder subcommittees focused on particular areas to fine-tune what the basic study indicates.

No proverbial stone must be left unturned in terms of compiling the full downtown parking picture — now and what it likely will be a decade or two from now.

Being upbeat about how the study has gotten underway must not rule out optimism built on a foundation of caution. Over time, leaders change, as do subjects of intense focus and individual priorities.

It is important that the city not get lost amid new initiatives that could divert attention from the important parking challenge — a core issue for any city like Altoona experiencing revitalization.

We began by referring to reasons for feeling hopeful on the parking front. Two of them are the planned pursuit of a full inventory of existing parking spaces and an evaluation of how those spaces stack up against anticipated future demand.

Important amid all of that is that the parking study consultant hired by the city — Trans Associates — will be awaiting the return of Penn State Altoona students for fall classes in order to get a true, accurate reading of the effect of students attending classes downtown on the overall parking environment.

According to Bob Goetz of Trans Associates, the inventory of existing spaces will examine how intensively those spaces are being used and during what times.

Goetz said that will involve counting the spaces and categorizing them based on whether they are public or private, regular or handicapped, on-street or in a lot, and whether they are free of charge, whether they are time-limited, whether they are paid for by meter or lease, and how often they are occupied and when, and by what kind of user.

According to an article about the study in the July 21 Mirror, “the company wants to conduct the labor-intensive inventory on a typical day or days, while determining the intensity of usage at special peak times, like Friday evenings.”

Goetz said a crew of five probably would be required to carry out the work. Mostly, crew members will be walking, he said, making repeat observations of spaces as often as hour-by-hour, to assess turnover.

At the city’s request, the study will include private as well as public lots.

Trans Associates estimates there are approximately 3,000 parking spaces in the about 40-block study area — between 10th and 14th avenues and Eighth and 18th streets.

The study will be a significant task but, all considered for now and the future, a very important task.

Achieving the most vibrant economic impact possible is what is at stake.

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