One little tweet = big look at downtown bus parking

“I don’t know why these giant white tour buses are outside my door, but I’m getting dang tired of hearing them idle and sigh. This is my home.”

Jennifer Holder

Jennifer Holder

That was the frustrated tweet posted near bedtime on August 28 by CocoHolder, whose real name is Jennifer Holder, a long-time downtown resident and avid Twitterer.

What Holder did not know at the time is that another avid Twitter user – one in a position to help – was reading. That would be one Hannah Parker, the city of Knoxville‘s new policy analyst and downtown coordinator.

Parker, who describes herself as a social media “lurker,” saw Holder’s post – and a similar one the next night – and decided to look into the matter. She discovered that the city has a policy of renting downtown parking-metered spaces to tour buses – many bringing in sports teams, musical groups, or just tourists – often for stays at the downtown hotels. Those are the meters you sometimes see sporting orange meter covers saying “restricted parking.”

To make matters worse, Holder lives on Vine Avenue and the meters near her condo are part of the city’s “downtown resident parking program” and are designated for downtown dwellers who pay a special fee to be allowed to park at them.

Hannah Parker

Hannah Parker

“It really bothered me that the buses were at my front door,” Holder said. “They idle their engines the whole time, causing noise and fumes. They block the view of our narrow street, which might cause the police not to be able to see nefarious activities. We’ve had an increase in crimes here lately. One neighbor had a bench and a birdbath stolen.  Another had someone shoot a bullet through his window. The buses just make it that much more likely that someone up to no good might not be noticed.”

After contacting Holder by e-mail for more information, Parker agreed. “Downtown parking is at such a premium anyway, it just didn’t make sense to let buses use the spaces in certain residential areas,” she said in an interview later. She took quick action to make the Vine Avenue meters off-limits to the buses.

She sent Holder an e-mail with the good news: “There shouldn’t be any Saturday morning diesel wake-up calls outside your front door.”

Holder is happy – and impressed with the quick resolution. “I think the city is finding that using social media is a good way to keep up with things.”

Meanwhile, Parker said that as a result of this being called to her attention, the city is now going to take a comprehensive look at its entire tour bus policy. She speculates that the policy of leasing the parking spaces to buses was developed when downtown was not such a popular residential area or destination.

“We need to find more appropriate locations for the buses,” she said, mentioning the Coliseum parking garage or the Jackson Avenue lot the city is about to purchase as possibilities.

“Downtown parking is something to wrestle with,” she said. “We have got to find a way to accommodate the hotels, the residents, and folks who are coming downtown for dinner and entertainment.”

Parker’s boss, Bill Lyons, the city’s senior director of policy and communications, says the way Parker handled this issue is an example of how the city can use new media to help solve constituent problems. Lyons himself is a frequent presence on local blogs and message boards.

Coming soon out of Parker and Lyons’ department: a new downtown blog. Stay tuned.

7 Responses to “One little tweet = big look at downtown bus parking”

  1. Wow! That’s an attentive city employee and a real asset to us all. Hannah Parker deserves an award.

  2. Thanks for the kudos. However, I want to be clear that I’m not convinced that this is an “award-worthy” deed. I wish responsive government was the norm, rather than the exception to the rule – and I suppose I’m new enough – naive enough, perhaps – to think that we can actually do that: to be proactive in our response rather than waiting on folks to complain about something that needs to be adjusted or “fixed.” Certainly, we don’t always get it right, but we are trying! In the meantime – we still take complaints. :)

  3. Thanks to Hannah for taking care of this so quickly and so effectively. And thanks to Cynthia for creating and growing the Blue Streak. There are always new and more effective ways to communicate, but at the core of it all is having something worthwhile to say. Hannah was able to use the information from Jennifer not only to solve a specific problem, but to check on a policy in need of re-examination. Rick Emmett is using the 100 Block Blog to keep people aware and informed during a very tough construction process. Anne Wallace’s Cumberland Connection is helping people make real contributions to the future of Cumberland and the Ft. Sanders.

    All in all, it is so heartening to be a part of an online world that is constructive and civil.

  4. Great story, Cynthia. I’m glad residents like Jennifer are going to get some peace, and I’m glad there was someone who not only could do something about it, but also actually did something. That strengthens my faith in humanity. :)

  5. I know some people think that those of us who choose to live downtown should be accepting of noise, traffic, litter, and other issues that would not be tolerated in a suburban setting, the reality is we deserve to have pleasant neighborhoods, too! My hat’s off to Hannah and Bill for showing us that the City of Knoxville recognizes downtown as a community and is responsive to residents’ needs. Also, many thanks to Cynthia for her consistent descriptions of the wonder of living downtown. It truly is a great place to live, work, and play and we need to be mindful to make sure it stays that way and gets even better.

  6. It is not only the residential areas that are affected by the tour buses. Think about the limited parking around the library.
    Frequently buses dropping groups at the Hilton take up
    most of the street parking on the east side of the hotel.

  7. Hannah Parker. Cool. Knoxville’s very own Leslie Knope.

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