Free downtown parking thing of the past?

RALEIGH Some merchants think free and easy parking has kept them afloat.

"We've been lucky to have parking for an hour without paying and that's saved us," said Brian Ownbey owner of Father & Son Antiques.

But free parking in downtown Raleigh is about to be torpedoed.

"I think in most mid-sized cities, people understand that you pay for parking on the street, particularly if you want a premium spot right in front of the store," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

The plan is to put pay stations all over blocks of downtown Raleigh.

The machines will charge a dollar an hour. Not to mention posted time limits will still apply.

"Throw in that extra money for parking, it turns people away," Ownbey said. "Even if it's only a dollar, what they keep in their mind is I'm going to have to pay to go down there. I don't want to mess with it."

However, Meeker says paid street parking will actually help merchants. He says many street stalls are taken by people working downtown and moving their cars throughout the day.

"We hear as much as 20 percent of the traffic downtown are people going around looking for spaces, having moved from one to the other," Meeker said.

But the new fees will not apply to what many call a growing group of cars with handicapped placards.

"I think it's a significant problem," Meeker said. "As you walk down the street, you see that every fourth or fifth car has a handicapped sticker."

They will still park anywhere, all-day, for free.

"It's going to ruin the parking availability on the streets of downtown Raleigh," building owner Don Carter said.

Last month, ABC11 Eyewitness News found people abusing handicapped parking rules all over Raleigh.

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Some predict if only cars with placards can park for free, there will be a rush to the DMV since it issues those handicapped placards.

"Everybody is going to try to get a handicapped parking decal to avoid paying at all," Carter said.

There is currently one handicapped placard in North Carolina for every five residents in the state. And the DMV has no record of denying an application for a handicapped placard.

Downtown merchants say they are meeting Friday to come up with a recommendation to the city to solve what they call a growing problem of cars with bogus handicapped placard clogging the street parking in downtown Raleigh.

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