New parking website to aid visitors

Apr. 25, 2013 @ 01:08 PM

To the untrained eye, parking can be a challenge in the southern part of heaven.
But a new website, a joint effort among the town, the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, intends to take the challenge out of parking downtown, even for a first-time visitor.
“The new site answers a lot of those questions people have about parking downtown, and hopefully we’ll change some behavior,” said Bobby Funk, assistant director of the Downtown Partnership.
The new site, titled “Park on the Hill,” can be found at http://www.parkonthehill.com/.
It includes a map detailing the locations of public and private parking throughout downtown Chapel Hill and on the UNC campus.
The mobile phone-ready site also tells when parking is available, the cost to park and where free valet parking is provided by 18 participating businesses. The valet service can also be used by patrons of other businesses for a $5 fee.
“I think it’s a really great tool if you are on the go, or if you are planning a trip to downtown,” Funk said.
He said the Downtown Partnership had a parking page as part of its website, but believes a standalone page will be more accessible, help to drive traffic downtown and change people’s behavior when it comes to parking.
“People like to park where they’ve always parked and their habits change slowly,” Funk said. “We’re trying to speed up the leaning curve [with the new website].”    
Downtown businesses and organizations are being encouraged to use the Web link to www.parkonthehill.com in marketing and public outreach.
And the Park on the Hill graphic logo is available for downloading from the website.
Brenda Jones, the town’s parking attendant, said the new website will be a great help to residents and visitors.
“We hope the unified message will allow visitors to have one place to go for their parking needs,” Jones said. “It’ll also allow us to do a better job of marketing our parking so people will know what’s available.”
In the past 18 months, the town has added three new public parking lots, pay stations that accept credit cards and blue signage at all lots.
Last week, the town christened its newest parking lot, which opened as part of the 140 West mixed-use project on West Franklin Street.
The project, which replaces a former town parking lot, will add 337 parking spaces – 161 of which are public spaces controlled by the town – to the downtown parking stock.
“It’s going to replace parking that went away with 140 West and provide new parking opportunities, and serve a lot of businesses in the vicinity,” Funk said.
In recent years, parking in downtown has been at the center of a major controversy between the town and a tow truck company that has sued the town over its attempt to add regulations to its towing ordinance.
George’s Towing and Recovery was accused of predatory towing practices by citizens and visitors, which led the town to adopt new rules requiring towing companies to charge a flat rate for car retrieval,  accept debit or credit cards as payment and to locate storage lots no more than 15 miles from the site of the tow.
But Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled last August that the town’s towing ordinance was an unconstitutional attempt to regulate trade.
The town appealed the decision, and the N.C. Court of Appeals could render an opinion as soon as next month.
Funk said town leaders hope the new parking page will accentuate the positive about visiting downtown.
“We’re doing our best to focus on the good things that are going on,” Funk said.
 

Quick Facts about Chapel Hill Parking
--Parking is free after 6 p.m. at all on-street meters and after 8 p.m. at off-street lots. 
--Parking is always free on Sundays in Downtown Chapel Hill. 
--Chapel Hill has issued about 5,000 “courtesy” tickets to first-time violators of expired meters. 
--Prefer valet? Fifteen businesses participate in FREE valet parking. 
--Meters cost 50 cents to $1.25 per hour, and attended lots charge $1 to $1.30 per hour.