Carlisle's parking revenue has been growing steadily over the past four years, and a nearly $28,000 increase in revenue last year could be a fair indicator that the borough's downtown economy is improving, officials said.
"There's been a general increase from at least 2004 on, and increases over the last decade," said Debra Figueroa, Carlisle's assistant borough manager.
While revenue from metered road parking and garages shows a general upward trend, that's been more pronounced since 2009, she said.
The largest increase was last year when Carlisle collected $501,903 from parking, according to the borough. That's $27,814 more, or a 5.9 percent increase from 2011.
That money isn't due to subsidies or increases in parking rates — they haven't changed since 2007, said Owen Snyder, the borough's financial director.
"Most of (the increase) was in the metered revenue and some in the garage revenue," Snyder said. "So more people are coming downtown. It's just more activity."
The larger question is: why?
The borough has its First Friday events, specifically to attract people to downtown businesses, as well as its parades for the car shows run by Carlisle Events. Those help, Figueroa said.
But those have been constants for many years.
The borough has other theories, too, Figueroa said. The road diet could be doing what it was intended to do: slow down traffic in town, making Carlisle a friendlier atmosphere for the pedestrian and bicyclist. That could be leading to more people frequenting stores. That means more people are parking and walking downtown.
The improving economy also could be a strong reason for increased traffic downtown. All of the counties in southcentral Pennsylvania have a lower unemployment rate than the state average, according to the state Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.
But in the Harrisburg-Carlisle metropolitan statistical area, which includes Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties, Cumberland County has the lowest unemployment rate. In June 2012, that rate was just 6.7 percent compared with the 8 percent for Dauphin and Perry counties, according to statistics from the state Department of Labor and Industry.
Cumberland County's unemployment rate had dipped to 6.3 percent in April and stood at 6.5 percent in June, according to L&I.
Parking revenue this year is tracking close to 2012 trends, Snyder said. It could mean economic activity is at least holding steady.
There are other indicators, including retailers and restaurants that are moving into larger spaces downtown as well as seeing stronger revenue increases, possibly from all those people parking downtown, said Glenn White, director of the Downtown Carlisle Association.
"In a downtown revitalization effort, it's not one single thing that pushes things forward," he said.
In a survey of business activity from downtown businesses, the average increase in revenue is between 3 percent and 5 percent, White said.
There also are ongoing renovations of Carlisle buildings, which are adding economic activity downtown. And the revitalization planning for former industrial properties has potential to increase economic activity, too.
Parking might be just one small piece of a larger economic pie, but for Carlisle that pie is looking delicious at the moment.
"We feel like downtown is doing well and this is just one more indicator," Figueroa said.