"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Revision as of 20:16, 3 February 2023 by Randylyon (talk | contribs)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigationJump to search

PARKING METERS. The parking meter was designed to keep traffic moving and make more spaces available for shoppers. Beginning with the first parking meter, installed in 1935 on the corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, the device was championed as the great solution to parking problems. Decades of poor meter implementation, off-street parking requirements, and lack of technological improvement in meters slowly made city streets into a nightmare.

Parking covers more of urban America than any other single-use space, yet the vast majority of meters are outdated, coin-only devices, charging a flat-rate during operating hours across all zones. The price of most curb parking has not increased; adjusted for inflation, 5 cents in 1935 was worth 65 cents in 2004, less than the price of parking for an hour at many meters in 2004. (1)

The use of parking meters in downtown Dubuque was first discussed by the city council in July 1, 1946. A three member citizens' advisory committee on parking chaired by Frank R. KERRIGAN appeared before the council for a long discussion of the parking issues. (2) The Parking Committee did not want to make any suggestions about the installation until a survey was made by the Bureau of public Affairs of the State University of Iowa. (3) At the end of the discussion, the council appeared ready to install some meters on Main between 6th and 10th streets on a trial basis.

Prior to meters, one and two-hour parking limits were in effect in an area comprising twenty-four square blocks. One-hour parking was in effect on the north-south streets from Bluff to Central Avenue and along Eighth Avenue between these streets. The two-hour parking limit was applied to east-west streets beginning on Fourth and ending on 12th. (4)

The confusion this held for Dubuque residents was nothing compared to those from outside the city and unaware of the laws. In 1930 the Chamber of Commerce requested that out-of town visitors be issued "courtesy cards" instead of tickets. These cards read:

                  Notice! This is a courtesy card from the Dubuque police department and
                  the citizens of Dubuque.
                  We are pleased to welcome you to our city.  We hope you will come often.
                  Don't worry about the poicemen, as they will treat you with courtesy and
                  will be glad to advise and assist you in every way to make your visit
                  You are not expected to observe the one-hour parking rules.
                  Road information may be had at out automobile club on the corner of
                  Ninth and Loust STREETS. Telephone 2374.
                                Signed: John W. Giellis, chief of police (5)

City manager Albin Anton RHOMBERG was directed to go ahead with the necessary selection of the type of meter and the sites for installation in the business district. It was not necessary to call for bids on the work as there was no initial expense required by the city. The company selected to make the installations would install the meters and then take 75% of the receipts each month until all purchase and installation costs had been met. The company would then split the monthly receipts with the city on a 50-50 basis.

Meters then in use were operated on the basis of five cents for a full hour of parking or one cent for each twelve minutes. The initial installation was planned to be 300 meters. (6) Meters installed in April, 1947 took in nearly $39,000 the first year. The total taken in by the middle of January, 1949 was nearly $87,000. (7)

The "tiger eyes," the small glass openings through which coins were visible in parking meters proved too much for vandals. In September, 1951 vandals tried to break the "eyes" in an attempt to steal the coins. Police warned that anyone caught would be prosecuted. (8)

By 1949 discussions over whether a person should occupy a space all day by simply "plugging the meter" over and over again had expanded to the issue of whether the city had failed to provide parking lots--off street parking. It was proposed in June, 1949 that a two-storied parking lot on Robinson Street behind stores on Eighth Avenue would handle about four hundred cars. Edwin B. LYONS suggested that at least eight hundred cars had to be taken off the streets and that parking meter funds could be used to parking lot construction. (9) It was the position of the Telegraph-Herald editorial board in 1950 that meters and adequate off-street parking projects should have been planned to go together. (10)

In 1952 the first parking meters on the right side of the road as the motorist faced west were removed on Main, Locust and Iowa streets. This was to furnish a free 10 minute parking spot for people wishing to carry out brief business. (11)

Traffic consultant Adrian Koert suggested a much more severe fine system for downtown parking violations in 1955. Employees of downtown businesses were taking choice parking spaces when they came to work early in the morning and holding them throughout the day. The present system of a fine of ten cents if you got to the police station within an hour after the violation meant that some people completely ignored the meters.

Koert, a representative of Associated Consultant, Inc. of Evanston, Illinois, suggested habitual violators should be fined in proportion to the number of their offenses. The first violation would carry no fine with the second bringing a fine of one dollar. A third offense would cost three dollars, and so on. Such a system, he explained, would keep the downtown area attractive for shoppers and lessen the national trend of "outlying shopping districts" without parking charges taking away business. (12)

Improvements in parking by 1963 included the installation of "piggy-back" parking meters that allowed parking without backing up. This type of parking did not impede traffic flow according to city officials. (13)

Downtown business owners still found parking meters a detriment to business. In 1981 nine out of ten surveyed by the Dubuque Downtown Asssociation believed curbside meters and pay-as-you-go ramps hurt business. An eight member group--called the parking committee--were searching for a better method to park and shop. Some downtown merchants gave out certificates for free parking in the Locust Street and Iowa Street ramps. Investigations into other ideas included studies of Peoria, Illinois where the first half hour was free. Research showed the meters were turning over twenty times daily and shoppers were staying downtown. Des Plaines, Illinois tried a similar system and made $40,000 more in parking fees during 1980 than the previous year. In the meantime, the city had purchased more than one thousand new parking meters and had four hundred on order to replace the 20-year old meter in use. (14)

Meter revenue was the subject of an article in the June 3, 2010 issue of the Telegraph Herald. Tim Horsfield, Parking Division Manager, noted that the city earned an estimated $60,000 annually from parking meter tickets given out on Saturday. Approximately $574,000 was received annually from total parking meter tickets. (15) Despite the revenue to the city, the DUBUQUE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE in 2013 sent out petitions to an estimated one hundred downtown businesses seeking support of seeing the practice of Saturday metered parking. Enforcement in other cities varied. Davenport had no parking meters downtown. Iowa City enforced metered parking on Saturday while Cedar Rapids did not. (16)

Beginning in June, 2013 customers could use their mobile phones to pay parking at all 2,000 City of Dubuque parking meters using the PassportParking Mobile Pay system. The initial setup costs were less than $5,000. Cities using the system saw meter fee revenue increases ranging from four to ten percent. Part of this came from people paying for the full time and then leaving before the time had expired. A new person parking in the same place would not know this creating increased revenue from double payments. (17) Customers could register for the program from their phone by either downloading the mobile app at www.ppark.com/park or call 608-678-3848. After being registered, customers could use the mobile app, the internet or a phone call to that number to pay for parking. (18)

Parking meter cash cards were no longer available for purchase or to add money beginning November 1, 2016. If there was a balance on the card, it could be used until the balance was eliminated. (19)

In 2017 a unique problem was pointed out in the "Ask the TH" column. The east side of West 4th St. between Locust and Bluff STREETS had parked car parking spots but no parking meters. The area also had signs saying "Bus Parking Only." According to an official of the Dubuque Parking Division, from April 1 through November 30 each year the parking meters were removed and the 'Bus Parking Only' signs were installed. The space was planned for tour an school buses because it was close to the FIVE FLAGS CIVIC CENTER, FOURTH STREET ELEVATOR and other attractions. Parking meters were reinstalled from December through March. (20)

In September, 2018 the announcement was made that the city of Dubuque would soon test 11 smart meters in downtown Dubuque as part of its effort to replace parking meters.

Transportation Services Director Candace Eudaley-Loebach said replacing the existing meters was part of the city's five year capital improvement plan. She reported that the current meters were hard to maintain and even out of date. They still ran on batteries that had be replaced daily and they did not gather data that can tell city staff anything about usage.

           "We don’t have data on vacancy rates, usage rates, or
            how much revenue a meter generates," "We also don’t 
            have the ability to know when the canister inside is 
            full, so we empty every single one. Even if it’s empty 
            we open it up and have to do that all the time.”

Eudaley-Loebach requested the city council's approval for a 30 day trial period with Sentry smart meters because it was free and the city would get to keep the revenue generated during the pilot. (21)

There were an estimated 2,000 parking meters in Dubuque in 2018. Most allowed drivers to park for either two or ten hours. Others were 20-minute, one-hour and four-hour meters. For the fiscal year beginning on July 1 and ending on June 30, the City of Dubuque was expected to receive an estimated $708,000 in gross revenues from the meters. Another $279,000 in gross revenue from meter-related parking tickets was also expected. To achieve this income, the city tried to employ six parking enforcement officers who worked three at a time. Two worked the downtown area and the third worked in the residential areas. From July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 the city issued 15,758 meter-related tickets. (22)

The trial use of smart meters in 2018 led the following year to a plan to permanently bring "smart parking" to the downtown are and PORT OF DUBUQUE. In January 2019 council members voted 6-1 to move forward with creating a comprehensive plan to implement a smart parking platform. The system could also have an option to check for open parking spaces remotely and signage to indicate the number of space available in ramps and lots. (23)

On January 29, 2020 city officials announced the launch of a three month pilot program at no cost to the city aiming to test new "smart parking meter" technology. Located at 100 downtown spaces, the new meters would provide such options for payment with coins or the use of credit or debit cards. They would also be additional tools for enforcement informing parking attendants when a user's time had expired. The pilot program could lead to the permanent use of the meters. Two multi-space kiosks--pay stations--would be installed. One covered sixteen parking spaces in a parking lot at Third and Main while a second covered 71 spaces in a lot at 11th and Elm. (24)

In January, 2023 representatives of Walker Consultants were hired to help the city develop infrastructure was underused, outdated and financially unsustainable. Representatives of the company stated that the city's parking technology remained its largest drawback particularly its on-street park meters. These were described as functionally obsolete. Other observations included a description of the downtown as a 'patchwork system requiring regular maintenance and, with inconsistent signage and time limits, creating unnecessary confusion for those attempting to park.' Occupancy of the on-street and off-street parking supply, according to the report, was lower than expected even taking into account the number of people working from home.

Data collected in September-December, 2022 indicated the seven city-owned ramps saw peak occupancy around 10:00 a.m. with collective occupancy ranging from 26% to 32% each of the seven days of data collection. City-owned parking lots were even less occupied with an occupancy rate of between 21% and 30% on the days they were surveyed.

Parking revenues were annually falling about $2.l3 million short of operating expenses. (25)



1. Eveleth, Rose, "Parking Meters, Originally Meant to Keep Traffic Moving, Need an Update," Smithsonian.com. Online: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/parking-meters-originally-meant-to-keep-traffic-moving-need-an-update-7446458/

2. "Parking Meters Likely in Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, July 21, 1946, p. 1

3. "City Council Proceedings," Telegraph-Herald, July 19, 1946, p. 6

4. Tyson, H. G. "Parking Rules Are Defended," Telegraph-Herald, April 14, 1946, p. 17

5. "Cops Distribute Courtesy Cards," Telegraph-Herald, June 25, 1930, p. 3

6. "City Council to Pave Way to Selection, Installation," Telegraph-Herald, November 24, 1946, p. 17

7. "Dubuque Parking Lots," Telegraph-Herald (editorial), January 23, 1949, p. 22

8. "Parking Meter 'Eyes' Attacked by Vandals," Telegraph-Herald, September 30, 1951, p. 24

9. "Parking Lots Urged at Forum," Telegraph-Herald, June 10, 1949, p. 7

10. "Where Do We Park?," Telegraph-Herald (editorial), November 26, 1950, p. 8

11. "Free 10 Minute Parking Stalls Established in Downtown Area," Telegraph Herald, July 27, 1952, p. 17

12. "Suggests Stiffer Fines For Overparking on Streets Here," Telegraph Herald, June 10, 1955, p. 4

13. "Judges Urges Motorist Aids, Traffic Checkers," Telegraph-Herald, April 23, 1963 p. 13

14. Freund, Bob, "Downtown Unit Studies Parking," Telegraph Herald, January 25, 1981, p. 26

15. "Meters Enforced All Day Saturday," Telegraph Herald, June 3, 2010, p. 3

16. Becker, Stacey, "Chamber: End Saturday Parking Fees," Telegraph Herald, October 19, 2013, p. 1

17. Habegger, Becca, "Plug the Meter...From Your Phone?" Telegraph Herald May 16, 2013, p. 1

18. "Parking Meters..."

19. "Parking Meters," Online: https://www.cityofdubuque.org/1781/Parking-Meters

20. "What About Bus Parking, Car Spots on Dubuque Block?" "Ask the TH"--Telegraph Herald, October 2, 2017, p. 5

21. Wong, Allison, City of Dubuque to Pilot Smart Parking Meters, One Council Member Opposed," KCRG,com. September 18, 2018, Online: https://www.kcrg.com/content/news/City-of-Dubuque-to-pilot-smart-parking-meters-one-council-member-opposed-493648641.html

22. Hinga, Allie, "How Much Money is Collected in Dubuque's Parking Meters?" Telegraph Herald, October 27, 2018, p. 3A

23. Hinga, Allie, "Dubuque Eyes 'Smart' Parking," Telegraph Herald, January 24, 2019, p. 1

24. Montgomery, Jeff, "Smart Meters on Deck," Telegraph Herald, January 29, 2020, p. 1A

25. Kruse, John, "Consultant: Downtown Parking Needs Major Upgrade," Telegraph Herald, January 31, 2023, p. 1A