Often, folks ask Alan and me what is the best thing about living and working downtown. We tell them, basically, “everything!” We love the fact that downtown is walkable, you see so many folks you know everywhere you go, there’s always something fun going on, and the restaurants are great and getting better.
They also ask what are the worst things about downtown living. That’s easy to answer, too: panhandlers and parking. I will discuss panhandlers later. Let’s talk about parking now.
We are happy to pay to park. We pay $70 per month for a designated parking space in the bottom of the State Street Parking Garage and we love it. That section of the garage is gated, well-lit and feels very safe.
The problem is with parking for guests from the suburbs or elsewhere visiting downtown. The new solar-powered parking meters only allow you to park in the same spot for two hours. And they are “smart” parking meters. They “know” when you do not move your car and are just “feeding” the meter.
So, if you don’t park in one of the city’s garages or one of the expensive privately owned surface parking lots, and if you stay longer than two hours, you will probably get a parking ticket, which will cost you $11 if you pay it within 10 days and $20 if you do not pay within that time period. According to city officials, downtown merchants want the two-hour parking meter limit so that the parking spaces will turn over and one car can’t “hog” a space for an extended period.
I think the limit is too short. You can’t do much of anything in two hours. You can eat dinner, of course. In fact, if you make a reservation at one of my favorite restaurants, J.C. Holdway on Union Avenue, the hostess suggests you allow two hours to receive “the full dining experience.” So, obviously, you can’t eat dinner and do anything else you might be interested in — like go have an after-dinner drink somewhere else or visit the shops on Market Square or Gay Street. You certainly can’t go see a performance anywhere.
I think the two-hour limit actually discourages commerce downtown. If you have to go move your car after two hours, you will probably just drive back to the suburbs rather than find another spot and park again before rejoining your friends or dining companions.
My friend Rick Emmett, the city’s downtown coordinator, says that the two-hour limit is standard among our peer cities. He also notes that there are more than 5,000 parking spaces in the city’s garages, which are free on nights and weekends. But that counts the garage at the Civic Coliseum, which is not exactly convenient. Rick says the city is not hearing many complaints about the two-hour limit on parking meters.
So maybe it’s just me. But I don’t think so. I hear complaints all the time from my suburban friends about the parking situation downtown. That makes me sad. I want folks to love coming downtown as much as I do. I want them to feel welcome when they come here. I want their downtown experience to be carefree and easy. I think the two-hour limit is a problem. I think it should be three or four hours instead.
What do you think?