Hampden parking study starts

Jennifer Leonard, the new parking planning manager for the Baltimore City Parking Authority, drives along The Avenue on Aug. 28. Hampden is the focus of her first parking study. (Photo by Noah Scialom / September 17, 2013)

Jennifer Leonard was hired in May to the newly created position of parking planning manager in the Baltimore City Parking Authority.

"My role is going through each one of the communities (that have parking issues) and studying what their parking problems are, and their needs," she said.

Now, Leonard is conducting her first study, in Hampden. She is, in effect, the face of the Parking Authority.

"I'm good with that," she said. "I love working with communities."

In Hampden, where merchants, shoppers and residents complain bitterly about parking, Leonard has started what she estimates will be an approximately year-long study aimed at optimizing the neighborhood's parking..

"The goal is to hit the entire community over that period," she said in an recent interview at Cafe Hon, joined by Tiffany James, special assistant to Parking Authority Director Peter Little.

Leonard said she plans to spend the coming months looking at parking turnover, and fluctuations in parking in the daytime, at night, and during holidays and festivals, especially on The Avenue, Hampden's main retail area, and near schools.

The Parking Authority has also begun taking parking counts in Hampden, including one at Hampdenfest on Sept. 14

Leonard is working with the city's Department of Transportation, the Maryland Transit Administration on bus route issues, the Hampden Community Council, the Hampden Village Merchants Association, and Baltimore City Council members Nick Mosby and Mary Pat Clarke, who represent the Hampden area.

She is also working closely with a newly revived parking task force of community and business leaders in Hampden.

And she is keeping a close eye on planned developments in Remington and the redevelopment of the Rotunda mall, which complicate the parking picture.

'Nothing is ruled out'

Possible solutions include adding more reverse-angle parking spaces like those on Chestnut Avenue, which Leonard said could create 10-20 percent more parking; negotiating to use private and school lots for public parking when they're not in use; starting a valet service on The Avenue; expanding the Parking Authority's Residential Parking Permit program near the Rotunda; and establishing loading zones that can be shared by multiple businesses.

Leonard told the merchants' association last month that she is considering changing parking meter hours and doubling the hourly rate, currently 50 cents per hour..

There's been some talk in the community of building a municipal parking lot or garage. Will Bauer, a consultant to new businesses in Hampden, is part of a group that is trying to build a garage behind the old Dogwood. But he said the landlord rejected the idea and has signed a new restaurant tenant.

"The old-school way of thinking is, well, just build more parking and that'll take care of it," said James, a Hampden resident.

Leonard said she doesn't want Hampden to become "a parking lot," and added, "Parking lots don't activate a community."

But she said, "Nothing is ruled out."

She said she first wants to understand what factors are generating parking demand on a regular basis and during special events like HonFest and Hampdenfest, including the availability of on-and-off-street parking, bus and bike routes, car-sharing options, the walkability of the area, the volume of shoppers and peak hours for businesses.

She said she wants to "take the traditional tools available in parking and blend them with newer strategies."