Getting to new downtown arena must be simple

Golden 1 Center as seen from K Street.
Golden 1 Center as seen from K Street. jvillegas@sacbee.com

There’s a block not far from where the finishing touches are being put on Golden 1 Center that says it all about parking a car in downtown Sacramento.

On one side of Eighth Street, on the edge of one of the proposed special event parking zones, there’s a block filled with long-term parking meters that charge $3 to park for 10 hours. Across the street, there are short-term meters that cost $1.75 per hour.

Around the corner on O Street, there are more short-term meters. These, however, have Parkmobile sensors, which let drivers pay with an app on their smartphones and extend their time in a parking spot from afar.

And a few blocks farther south, there are no meters, but parking is now limited to an hour – from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. – every weekday. This is the case even though there’s no garage nearby and street parking is rarely an issue, used mostly by residents, their visitors, the employees of local restaurants and their customers.

This is the confusing mess that is parking in downtown Sacramento today. When Golden 1 Center opens in early October — less than two months from now – chances are it will get even more confusing before it gets better.

That isn’t a good sign. To get suburbanites to actually venture downtown for Kings games, concerts, dinner and other nightlife, driving, biking and parking must be as simple, predictable and consistent as possible.

Getting into or out of downtown Sacramento during rush hour doesn’t exactly provide a boost of confidence. Not when traffic lights on the grid have yet to be timed, and bike lanes from midtown into downtown have yet to be completed. The Kings have pushed the start time of their home games back a half hour – and fans will surely need it to figure out where they’re going.

Other cities, such as San Francisco, have mastered these logistical hurdles. Sacramento has a ways to go.

Consider how the fees for parking meters will change over the next few weeks. In an attempt to get more people to use garages, the city is extending meters from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. downtown, and to 8 p.m. along the western edge of midtown.

As The Bee’s Tony Bizjak described in a hypothetical trip to Firestone Public House for a 7 p.m. dinner, the restaurant, at 16th and L streets, will be the dividing line between two metering zones.

“Under one scenario,” he explained, urging diners to bring a calculator, “it will cost you $1.75, no matter how long you stay. Under another scenario, parking just across the street, it will cost $6.50. Under yet another scenario, it will cost $2 to park in a city garage.”

To make things even more complicated, the city is considering whether to use variable pricing for parking at meters and in garages. This fluctuating rate could occur inside four – yes, four – proposed special event-parking zones that cover 12 blocks, including residential neighborhoods, around Golden 1 Center.

So rates would be higher closer to the arena, which makes sense. What makes far less sense is that, right now, the city only plans to charge a higher rate at meters inside of one zone – the three-block radius between G and O streets, and the riverfront and 10th Street.

There’s also talk of a flat fee, separate, of course, for lots under the W-X freeway. Meanwhile, parking will remain free downtown and in midtown on Sundays, and sometimes on Saturdays. But during the week, if you park in any of the many meterless midtown neighborhoods, be prepared to move your car around the corner every hour or two hours, or risk getting a ticket.

Garages are another matter. The Sacramento Kings are letting fans who buy higher-priced tickets pick from a number of “premium” spots in a garage next to Macy’s. Fans who buy the most expensive tickets will get to park in a private garage under the arena.

You got all that? If not, the good news is, as confounding as the parking situation seems, it will get better.

Next month, the city plans to launch a SacPark “interactive navigation tool” that promises to allow people to map their route into downtown. Just plug in a starting address and it will spit out options for driving, riding a bike or taking Regional Transit based on real-time traffic data and the availability of parking.

Cyclists will get advice on the best way to make it into downtown safely and over to open bike “corrals” at the arena. Drivers will be able to secure parking in certain garages ahead of time, transit riders will be able to buy tickets for RT and perhaps the new late-night Capitol Corridor service. Eventually, all of these features will be rolled into the SacPark app, but for now, it will send users to Parkmobile and other outside websites to make actual purchases.

To ease the nerves of suburbanites, RT is launching a separate smartphone app that will provide a direct line to RT police. It’s part of a new strategy to put customers first from a transit agency known for doing everything but that.

Come October, General Manager Henry Li promised The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, rail stations and bus stops will be clean, many of them with ticket machines that will take credit and debit cards. After every Kings game, ending at about 10 p.m., there will be 12 trains waiting at downtown stations, each capable of carrying at least 600 people to the suburbs. Each train will have a security officer aboard, along with staff so riders don’t get lost.

There’s an advertising campaign in the works to convey all of this information, which should help allay some of the fears of Kings fans used to the ease of jumping in the car and parking at Sleep Train Arena.

In short, like getting the team back on track, working out the logistics of getting to and from Golden 1 Center, and crafting a sane strategy for parking in the central city, is going to take a while.