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Parking in Duluth turns toward the future

Matt Kennedy, parking manager for the City of Duluth, and Elisabeth Crosby, of 50 Below sales and marketing, talk about parking issues before the breakfast hosted by the Greater Downtown Council. (Photo by Thomas Vaughn)

To Matt Kennedy, drivers are customers and snagging a parking space in Duluth should be an experience, not a chore.

That was the gist of a Power Point presentation by the city's parking manager at a breakfast gathering of the Greater Downtown Council on Wednesday, at which he talked about future innovations that will make parking more customer-friendly.

"I hope people look forward to the parking experience in downtown Duluth now with the new technology coming in," Kennedy said.

Customers -- or drivers -- are already able to use cell phones and smart phones to pay for parking in the renovated Library/

Depot Upper Lot, Kennedy said, and the innovation is coming to a growing number of the city's lots.

By calling a phone number or by downloading an app, drivers can pay for specific amounts of time by credit card. They'll also receive a text message a few minutes before their parking time expires. Two Canal Park lots will offer 24-hour maximum parking time allotments rather than just the 2- and 3-hour options offered historically. Kiosk payment options, such as some already on Canal Park Drive, will accept credit and debit cards, as well as currency including nickels, dimes, quarters and dollar bills.

Kennedy also noted that lots with better traffic inflow and outflow management technology -- better-working gates, for example -- are less likely to break down and cause traffic backups. When a malfunction does occur, a text message will automatically go to a parking management official.

Kennedy connected technology to economics, stating that mechanical improvements in parking reduce traffic congestion and idling, create a quieter environment around the parking area, and speed up traffic flow. These improvements lead to increased business activity in places such as Canal Park, where three lots are undergoing updates.

And then there are the signs telling drivers what's going on, which Kennedy said will explain how to use these innovations. Also, the city's official website will soon offer increased parking information.

"We got a progress report on some of the improvements that have taken place in parking this morning and also what's to come," said Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council. "We've been really supportive of the use of new technology, and we're seeing that in some of the ramps and lots. Now, were anxious to see it take place with some of the meters."

Pilot deployments for improved meter payment options will be initiated this winter.