We are a week a way from the continuation of the March 5 meeting on paid parking – the new meeting will be held as a continuation on Monday, March 25, at 6:30 pm. A key question will be whether a compromise can be reached to avoid a direct conflict between the city council and downtown business community – which is overwhelmingly against the proposal for paid parking.
Mayor Brett Lee last week, speaking at the State of the City Address in front of Chamber members, struck a relatively conciliatory note.
“Council is supportive of downtown,” he said. “We have good intentions.
At the same time, he struck down the idea that the city has the resources for additional parking supply.
“The city has limited resources,” he said. “We don’t have $20 million for a (new) parking garage.
“With paid parking there is this understandable dislike for having to pay for parking,” he explained. “One of the ideas is to have paid parking because we don’t have the ability financially to build a new garage.”
A key stat that has been cited has been the fact that between 15 and 25 percent of those parking in the core are employees rather than customers.
The mayor also noted that a “good chunk of the people parking in the downtown are employees or actual students.” He said, “The question is how do we incentivize folks to not use parking spaces which would be better used by people who are shopping in our downtown?
“It’s kind of a tricky situation,” he said. “I would say that the council is open minded, we want to do what will support downtown.”
He added that paid parking is still an open question for the council.
“When you look at the big picture, it is no surprise that we would look at the idea of paid parking,” he said.
Another member of the council suggested to the Vanguard that the area for compromise might be in the number of parking meters, rather than their existence.
Meanwhile, Alzada Knickerbocker, a business owner who served on the parking task force, continues to speak out against the proposal.
She noted the heavy opposition to installing meters in the downtown. She wrote in an op-ed this weekend, “The majority of residents and downtown business owners speaking at the meeting also asked the council for a no vote. Shoppers are continuing to sign petitions at downtown businesses that will further augment the current numbers.”
She cited among the reasons for opposing the parking meters: “It’ll change the community feel of our downtown. It’ll be one more reason to keep customers away and compel them to shop online or in surrounding communities.”
In arguing, “Only during certain times of the day and week is parking an issue,” she suggested as an alternative, “Paid parking could be installed incrementally — in the F Street lot, for example — and, where it currently exists, extended into the evening.”
But like others, Ms. Knickerbocker did not seem to understand that one of the reasons that customers may stay away and go shop elsewhere is the difficulty of finding parking downtown.
While she is correct that only during certain times of the day is parking an issue, those times are problematic – the lunch hour and after about 3 pm any given day of the week.
She also suggested “other mitigating solutions,” including “most notably exploring availability of existing parking, including permit parking purchasing by businesses for their employees and improving transit options into the downtown.”
Frankly this is the key point – given the cited 15 to 25 percent of parking traffic being downtown employees, the business owners actually control much of their own fate. But to date, they have done little to resolve this problem.
At the current time, there is not a parking supply issue. Rather, what the city and consultant data show is that there is a distribution issue – with areas like the south east portion of the downtown being heavily concentrated with filled parking, and outlying areas to the north including the G and 4th garage having plenty of excess capacity.
A better distribution of that could solve the problems. But the city has proposed to use a system that charges people for parking as that solution. If there is to be another solution, it must come from the downtown businesses themselves.
Ms. Knickerbocker writes: “Before the council on March 25 will be the most extreme and costly remedy of all, one least capable of reversing. Most who patronize our downtown are opposed to such a measure. We call upon the council to seek solutions that will retain the friendliness and accessibility of the center of our town. We ask that the council reject metered parking where residents live, work and shop.”
At the end of the day, if council is to reject metered parking, they still have to find a solution because the current system is not working and is not sustainable into the future. Ms. Knickerbocker, while opposing paid parking, has put forward some vague ideas that could form the basis of a lasting compromise – but they need to be more specific and there need to be firm commitments from the downtown businesses.
—David M. Greenwald reporting