Crews began replacing downtown parking meters this week as part of a project to modernize the parking system and provide more payment options for customers who park on the street.

Here’s what you need to know.

What? The city has undertaken a $3.2 million project to remove about 3,000 parking meter heads assigned to about 3,400 parking spaces in the downtown district. It has installed about 400 payment stations midblock in those blocks where meters will be removed. This week, crews began installing identification markers for each space.

Why? City Traffic Engineer John Davis said the project is needed to keep up with changing technology. The meters that currently accept debit and credit cards run on 3G technology, which is being phased out this summer. Going to the new system will also make payment easier for customers. Davis said the new payment stations will accept credit and debit cards or coins, or allow customers to pay using the Park Mobile App. He said the app allows customers to add more time no matter where they are, whether at an event at Wells Fargo Arena, a performance at the Civic Center, or if they get stuck in a long meeting. The app will send a message when the paid time at a space is about to expire. There is also an option to pay over an automated system from a phone.

How is the project funded? The city is using money from its parking fund to pay for the project. The upgrade has been in the city’s capital improvement plan for several years.

How long will it take for the meters to be replaced with space identification markers? Davis said it will be a process that will take several months.

Will customers receive advanced notice of the change-out in areas where they may normally park? Davis said meters will be bagged the day before they will be removed, alerting customers to the change so they can plan accordingly to park elsewhere that day.

Is this technology new? No. Davis said other communities, including Minneapolis, have been using this technology for a decade, so the city has been able to take advantage of best practices and experiences by those communities in implementing the upgrade here.

Will the upgrade save the city money? Davis said he expects there will be savings in maintenance and equipment replacement. And because the coin boxes at the new payment stations are larger than in the current meters, coins will not have to be collected as often. He also expects that by using the mobile app, fewer people will use coins, reducing coin handling and resulting in fewer trips to the bank and fees involved in that process.

What is the status of street parking downtown? Davis said street parking is pretty strong, especially around the Iowa Events Center, the Civic Center and the Court Avenue District. It hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, but it has come back stronger than it was last year or in 2020, he said.

Photo above: This is a picture of a new payment station being installed mid-block on streets with parking meters that are being removed. Crews have also begun installing parking space ID markers as part of a $3.2 million upgrade to the city’s downtown meter parking system.