Madison City Council heard the findings of a monthslong, downtown parking study Tuesday and the overall message is that the city has more parking than most people realize but there could be better management of those spaces.

Kevin Senninger, a planner with HWC Engineering of Indianapolis, summarized the 75-page report based on hours of drone footage and days of interpretation after the city’s Redevelopment Commission allocated just shy of $50,000 last year to hire the firm to evaluate parking demands and resources in the central business district corridor.

Senninger said the area was found to include 1,603 total parking spaces with 967 on street and 636 off street. Of that total, 245 are located in city lots and 391 in private or other governmental lots. On the October 2021 weekend of the study, there was a 45% average utilization rate Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Senninger noted that the central core of the downtown business district had the highest concentration of cars parked — the lot at Poplar and Main streets was the most used at 87% capacity — but the lot at Second and Jefferson streets — the city’s largest lot at 84 spaces — was only 20% full. He noted that 85% capacity is generally the target for utilization so that spaces are being used but enough spaces remain open to serve those looking to park.

In key findings, Senninger said Madison has “sufficient capacity” to handle most of its parking needs but the “central core approaches capacity at peak times” so the city needs to develop better and more consistently marked signage directing visitors to underutilized lots.

“There’s available parking within one block,” Senninger noted. He said the city does not need to build a parking garage or more surface parking but that better signage and perhaps time limits in some areas could provide more parking and better turnover of spaces.

“We can start with things that don’t cost a lot and are more informational,” Mayor Bob Courtney said. “There are things we can do to create more capacity without making a multimillion investment.”

Courtney noted that Madison has had free and unlimited parking since removing its parking meters many years ago and that sometimes results in less parking for local businesses and the customers and tourists they serve — especially as more and more businesses have located in the downtown area and apartments have been developed in lofts — because some people park vehicles in spaces and don’t move them for long periods.

“There’s simply no restriction on parking in our community,” Courtney added.

Councilmen Curtis Chatham and Dan Dattilo both questioned if there was enough handicapped parking in the target area. Senninger said ADA spaces were not included in the study but Courtney indicated there was enough handicap spaces and more are approved by the city’s Board of Public Works and Safety as needed.

Dattilo noted that with the city’s landscaping and tree plantings, that some handicap spaces can be difficult to use by vans with side doors for wheelchairs. He also noted that he would have liked the study to include areas around the new Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott and the Riverside Terrace Lofts because parking patterns have changed significantly in those areas in the last year.

Courtney noted the data collection area was already quite large but agreed that neighborhoods around those developments are seeing “encroachment of parking issues in areas that had been abandoned buildings.”

The next step may be to send the report to the city’s traffic committee for additional study or working to develop a consistent sign program at key locations to direct visitors to parking, seeing to it that parking lots are designated on online/satellite mapping programs and updating the city’s website with parking information and resources.

In other business, the council approved the transfer of funds in several accounts including an additional $237,479 to the solid waste transfer station to cover expenses not covered by operating revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic and 2021 flashing flooding.

The city allowed free dumping for about 150 tons of trash from the flood — and free trash collection for about 30 homes in the affected area for several months after the flood — as well as accepted additional trash created while residents were home during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff Mindy McGee noted that residents generated significantly more trash and waste during the shutdown because they were spending more time at home, ordering more goods by delivery and engaging in more home improvement projects. All of that combined with having to hire more workers due to a shutdown of the Indiana Department of Correction work program led to higher trash costs, she said.

Chatham asked if is time for Madison to conduct a trash rate study much like has done with water other services. Courtney said the study had already been started but was shelved during the pandemic and flood due to bigger issues. However, he said that with rising costs now exceeding revenues by so much, it is inevitable that a rate study be conducted and adjustments made.

“We have started a rate study but put it on hold,” Courtney said, noting that COVID relief money has helped the city cover some of the shortfall. “We’re OK now, but none of this is free ... eventually it will have to be addressed.”

The Council also approved several board appointments including: Glen Schulte and Teri Adler to the Tree Board; Tracy Wyne to the Public Arts Commission; Lisa Ferguson and Steve O’Rear to the PACE Committee; and the city’s Economic Development Director Tony Steinhardt to the Riverfront Alcohol Permit Committee.

The Council also named Ron Bateman as the city’s representative on the Jefferson County Board of Tourism.