“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.”
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.
“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.