Back in March, we wrote that Carrboro was, once again, discussing the idea of charging for parking and enforcing 2-hour parking limits.  At the time, we learned that more than half the cars in Carrboro’s public lots stay over 2 hours, and a quarter of cars stay 6+ hours.

Two parking studies – one in 2016 and one in 2022 – reached the same conclusions: Carrboro has a lot of parking. (More than 1/3 of all of the land downtown in our towns is dedicated to parking.)

As we’ve pointed out before, the Town of Chapel Hill charges and enforces parking, while the Town of Carrboro currently has “free” parking and no enforcement of time limits. People appear to be parking in Carrboro and taking the bus to UNC or Chapel Hill. This results in less turnover for businesses, fewer parking spots for residents, and Carrboro essentially subsidizing parking for Chapel Hill.

The town has just released a proposal for a paid public parking ordinance. Feedback will be accepted through July 17. Here’s what’s in the proposal:

The first 30 minutes of parking would be free

This is something Council pushed for back in March and allows people to run quick errands.

After 30 minutes, parking would cost $1.50/hour in public lots, with discounts for low-income residents

This is the same as lots in Chapel Hill, which charges $1.50/hour. (Some on street spots in Chapel Hill cost $1.75/hour.) Low-income residents would receive a 50 percent discount.

As currently proposed, parking in one spot would be capped at 2 hours

A survey asks if the time limit should be modified to 3 or 4, or remove the time limit completely and let people pay for how long they want to park.

Fines would be 20 or 50 bucks

First time offenders would get a 20 dollar fine. Second time in a 365-day period nets a 50 dollar fine.

What we think

We’ve been discussing this topic for a while. Some random thoughts:

Carrboro is one of only a few municipalities in our state that doesn’t charge for parking. (Boone, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Wilson, Hendersonville, and Greenville all do.) I like that the proposal on the table include a free window to make sure folks can run errands. The spots will be priced to disincentivize all-day parking, and to ensure that spots turn over. That’s good for local businesses and foot traffic.

Carrboro currently has a two-hour parking limit which is effectively not enforced. I’m not sure one paid position is enough to enforce this. (And there’s an entire movement to put parking fees back into reinvestment funds for that neighborhood or area. I’d love for Carrboro to consider this. Columbus, Ohio recently spent meter revenue to give employees discounted transit fares and car, ride and bike share memberships. They also established an employee permit program for both on and off street parking, giving businesses an opportunity to purchase up to 10 permits at a progressive rate. Portland, Oregon reinvests some of their revenue into building and repairing sidewalks.) If we’re going to do this, let’s make sure that we’re enhancing the town in other ways.

$1.50/hour is the same as Chapel Hill which is good. (If one were cheaper or more expensive than the other, we would run into the same issues happening now.) Hendersonville charges .50 per 15 minutes. Boone is $1.00/hour. Durham is $2.50/hour, and enforced during business hours.

I’m not sure if 2 hours is enough time – particularly if someone is attending a concert at Cat’s Cradle or even attending a Town Council meeting, which extends longer than 2 hours most weeks. It seems like most of Town Council would be in violation once a week….(A reader pointed out that the 2-hour limit might only be applicable during business hours, which makes more sense.) Right now, there’s no information about hours this would be enforced.

I also worry about staff of our town and of local businesses. I wonder if there’s a way that businesses could pay for employee spots, or subsidize them. (Chapel Hill has a program in place for this.) There may also be a possibility for businesses to pay for parking for patrons the way Target does in Chapel Hill if you purchase something.

I do hope that wayfinding will be improved because directing people to available spots reduces people circling and looking for spots.  The city of Bend, Oregon just installed digital parking signs to direct people to existing parking lots — and let them know how many spots are available. This helps prevent people from circling and gets them to their destinations more quickly. (The costs are covered by the cost of parking.)

It’s good that there will be a warning period. I hope, too, that data is collected so the program can be analyzed and improved. I imagine some people will switch to bus or bike, which is good for the town’s climate goals.

In all, this seems like a thoughtful way to implement a hard, long-talked-about change. It’s very clear that the town has put almost a decade of thought and research into this. I expect there will be a lot of push back initially. It will be good to see how this is tweaked or what happens next. Carrboro asked for a second parking study because, at the time, nothing happened after the first. We now have two parking studies that show that Carrboro needs to change. Will it?


Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....