The Oklahoma City City Council is considering replacing most of the city’s coin-operated parking meters, but losing them means losing part of the city’s history.
On a recent windy and gray day, cars pull in and out of parking spaces on Broadway Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City as people pick up lunch, run errands and rush into meetings.
Outside the Sheraton Hotel, J.R. Becker and his friend Chip Keeley are standing by a parking meter, sorting through change to drop into the machine.
Both men have close-cropped white hair and wire-framed glasses.
Becker is a Vietnam veteran, and he and Keeley both live in Tulsa, where they own a business selling embroidered hats and badges. They are visiting Oklahoma City to hawk their wares at an army veterans’ reunion.
But the hotel parking meter only lets them pay for one hour at a time.
“There’s bound to be a better system,” Keeley said, calling the coin meter a “dying dinosaur.”
But in downtown Oklahoma City, in areas like Bricktown, there are around 600 parking meters that only take coins.
The Oklahoma City City Council is considering replacing most of the city’s coin-operated parking meters, but losing them means losing part of the city’s history. The first parking meter in the world was installed downtown in 1935.
The meter was invented by Carl Magee, the head of Oklahoma City’s Traffic Committee in the 1930s, after downtown business owners complained to him about the parking congestion outside their businesses.
Magee designed a model meter with the help of engineers from Oklahoma State University and began manufacturing his product--launching the Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter Company.
These original Magee meters set the standard for the parking meters used today, according to Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California-Los Angeles.
“You put your money in, and you hoped to get back in time before the meter ran out,” Shoup said.
The Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter Company has since changed its name to POM and relocated to Arkansas. According to a spokeswoman for the company, it has not made a mechanical coin-operated meter like the original in more than two decades.
In recent years, Oklahoma City parking officials have struggled to maintain and repair the hundreds of meters downtown, according to Michael Scroggins, a spokesman with EMBARK, Oklahoma City’s transportation and parking division.
“We [look] to see if we can buy parts from another city,” Scroggins said. “It’s an aftermarket item, meaning it’s an item that’s no longer available from the manufacturer.”
According to Scroggins, EMBARK is asking city council for $160,000 to rip out 95 percent of the city’s single space meters, replacing them with multi space meters where drivers can pay for parking by typing in a space number and using cash or a credit card.
The money would also allow EMBARK to upgrade meters to a pay-by-plate system that tracks parking time using a vehicle’s license plate numbers.
But not everyone finds coin meters a nuisance. Some drivers, like Kenneth Hill, say they are easier to use.
“I prefer the coins. I’m old school. I don’t care about the plastic,” Hill said, feeding the meter as he stopped downtown for lunch.
Hill said he does not like the risk of being overcharged that comes with using a credit card.
Oklahoma City Council is planning to vote on the proposed parking budget Tuesday.
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