Downtown parking makes me peevish

See this sign? They're serious.

See this sign? They’re serious.

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.

Welcome to downtown — here’s a parking ticket. When I walked three blocks from my office to a lunch spot today, three cars had these little “Valentines” on them. They were in two-hour parking spots.

Welcome to downtown — here’s a parking ticket. When I walked three blocks from my office to a lunch spot today, three cars had these little “Valentines” on them. They were in two-hour parking spots.

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.

Rick Emmett. Nice guy; tough job.

Rick Emmett. Nice guy; tough job.

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?

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42 Responses to Downtown parking makes me peevish

  1. Maria Cornelius, on February 6th, 2017 at 1:54 pm said:

    Three hours minimum. Four is best. And they are very hard to read. I see people squinting at the screens in daylight (especially sunlight) and dusk.

    I get not allowing a commuter to grab a street spot all day. But a visitor needs more than two hours to enjoy downtown. There is not a lot of street parking as it is. And the garages can fill up.

  2. Chyna Brackeen, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:02 pm said:

    I completely agree. The 100 Block has empty spots all day long, and then they fill up after 6 pm when the meters switch over to free. It certainly hasn’t helped foot traffic during the day – it has had the opposite effect, in fact.

    Three hours seems reasonable to me. And I travel all over the country, park in cities everywhere, and usually find more flexible parking options than we have in Knoxville.

    I also hate that they have to have diagrams to explain when and how long you can park in a certain spot … it should be simple, clear and easy to understand!

  3. Lisa Starbuck, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:05 pm said:

    I agree. Two hours is too short. Should be at least 3 hours if not 4.

  4. Shaun Fulco, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:12 pm said:

    I recently experienced this when I met a friend downtown for dinner. We had time for dinner, but then wanted to have a drink and there was no time. He ended up with a ticket. He loves downtown, but said to me that he thought the two hour limit was ridiculous. I agree. 3 hours minimum.

  5. Gary Bentley, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:15 pm said:

    I thought it was too short also until it was explained to me by a city official. The street parking is to make it convenient for people who just want to run in and take care of business without having to go to a garage several blocks away. If you are going for dinner and a movie then go for the garages. It also discourages the downtown residents from parking on the streets.

    It’s the Premier lots that get my dander up. If there is any doubt in the world that you may be more than the minimum time limit go for the whole day. They go from $10 for all day to $25 plus penalty for being a few minutes late. City lots are the best for evenings.

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:22 pm said:

    Love hearing everyone’s thoughts.

    Gary: I understand the theory and I don’t think downtown residents should park in the metered spaces. But some folks are older and can’t comfortably walk from the garages to the restaurants — and if they opt to go to an eatery in the ‘burbs, they don’t have to. Even the handicapped spaces downtown have a two-hour limit. I seriously don’t think that is right — if you want to encourage visitors. Again, just my opinion.

  7. Bernie Rosenblatt, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:24 pm said:

    I agree. Also the Premier lot…$10 to go to the KSO performance!!!!!! Parking garages are good…..if you can find a spot in the evening when there are performances at the Tennessee Theatre and if you cannot walk blocks from a garage; disabled parking is too limited.

  8. Chris Hill, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:24 pm said:

    The two hour limit is too short, especially after ordinary “business hours.” While it may make sense during the day, how many people go downtown in the evening and expect to park for only a short time to “run in” to do some quick business. In fact, unless I missed something, there is no indication on the meters as to whether the two hour limit even applies in the evenings or weekend.

  9. cindy bradley, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:30 pm said:

    I am going to offer a little different opinion. As a City taxpayer I feel like we are subsidizing the residents being able to pay a low monthly fee to park in the garages. The most recent developer to receive a TIF said it was to provide parking ( although only 1 space per unit) and we have given the same TIF to every developer and none of them provided any tenant parking. When we come downtown we park at State Street but my husband is no longer able to walk from there so I let him out and then have to walk to wherever alone which normally doesn’t bother me. The last 4 or 5 times we tried to park at the garage at Market Square it was full. I do understand that if you live down there you have to have a place to park but I am not sure the City should be the one providing it.

  10. Curtis Curley, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:33 pm said:

    I have not had any problem doing what I need to do within the two hour limit and have found the parking changes very beneficial. If I go to dinner, a movie, etc. in the evening downtown, I arrive before 6 pm and normally have no problem finding a metered space. I may pay for 30 min or an hour and stay 4 or 5 hours. As a downtown commuter, the parking changes have worked well for me (and others I know). Personally, I am glad to see the “smart meter” technology deployed in downtown Knoxville.

  11. Liza Zenni, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:42 pm said:

    Four hours.

  12. Dee Constantine, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:46 pm said:

    Way back when I used to loved beating the meter readers at their own game. I’ve been known to move my car one spot ahead so the chalk mark on my tire wouldn’t count or dash to the meter for another “feeding” when tipped off that the meter reader was in her buggy headed toward the Church Avenue bridge (I just showed my age). Perhaps it’s people like me that caused this latest two-hour minimum atrocity. It’s simply taken all the reward out of my game.
    Seriously though, if I want to enjoy an afternoon and early evening downtown the meter would have to be no less than three hours so that I can eat and shop. Four hours would be even better.

  13. Cynthia Moxley, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:56 pm said:

    Curtis: Even though the meters are “free” in the evenings, the 2-hour limit is still enforceable, unfortunately. Admittedly, sometimes it is not enforced because the meter readers are not working. But there still is a 2-hour limit.

    Dee Dee: When we all worked in the old newspaper building on Church Avenue, we all had our ways of avoiding tickets while parking on the Church Avenue viaduct. My favorite trick was to take a wet paper towel and just wipe the chalk marks off my tire! But I promise I don’t do that anymore. I pay my monthly fee and park in the garage almost all the time.

  14. Wayne Christensen, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:57 pm said:

    Two hours has worked very well for me on numerous occasions in the past month or so during the day … just sayin’.

  15. Cynthia Moxley, on February 6th, 2017 at 2:59 pm said:

    Wayne: Glad to hear.

  16. Bob Alcorn, on February 6th, 2017 at 3:16 pm said:

    I see the parking police eager to give out tickets after 6pm. So that means they are just enforcing the 2 hour limit and no money in meters is required after 6pm? How long into the evening do they check meters? I do think it should be a 3 hour limit.
    Cindy, to address your concern about resident parking, everyone who owns downtown pays extra taxes to the CBID and it is the only perk that we see as far as I can tell. That would not apply to renters though.

  17. Fay B. Carr, on February 6th, 2017 at 3:21 pm said:

    Three to Four Hours

  18. Cyndy Cass, on February 6th, 2017 at 3:40 pm said:

    Two hour limit DOES discourage dinner and a show, or drinks after the show, or leisurely brunch and shopping–all of which we should encourage folks to come downtown for. BUT those things normally take place evenings or weekends–so how about 2 hour limit until 6pm, then unlimited for nights and weekends? Also, realistically, don’t think the Civic Coliseum parking garage should be counted as general downtown parking when you’re counting garage parking spaces.

  19. Dawn Ford, on February 6th, 2017 at 3:47 pm said:

    I understand the two hour limit on Gay Street where people really do run in and out of Mast General, Prestige or other retail establishment. I also understand the need to discourage resident parking. But to have a two hour limit on side streets where there is no commerce is too short. For example, I came to dinner at your condo a couple of months ago. I have a bad knee and to walk from one of the garages to your condo is a hike for me. I could have parked across the street for $10. We chose the meter and got a ticket as we exceeded the two hour limit in the evening by a half hour. Anywhere other than the heart of Gay Street should be three hours.

  20. Susan Sinclair, on February 6th, 2017 at 4:15 pm said:

    Downtown parking is a problem in most cities. The city council, county commissioners and other officials allow for development without thinking about the whole picture and its impact down the road. I got the ticket as well and paid it but this policy has indeed made me think about whether I want to come downtown as often. This is also a problem for the employees of our favorite places to eat. We discussed it with a few and for them it takes a big chunk out of their paychecks. I think they should make it free after 5 pm and especially on the weekends starting on Fridays.

  21. Adrian, on February 6th, 2017 at 4:20 pm said:

    I’ve just learned to park in the garages and not waste time looking for on-street parking. Between State St., Market Square, or Locust Street garages, it’s pretty easy to get in and get out even for quick visits. And we have four kids. If Market Square Garage is going to be packed, I aim for Locust or State Street. If you park on the bridge level of State Street Garage, it’s a straight easy shot to Gay Street. Sometimes the garage behind Mast is good, but I rarely use that one.

    The only time I use a lot is when I go to the Old City. And the only time I park on the street is when I go to Knox Mason. Heck, it may be cheaper to take Uber than to park in a city lot.

  22. Annette Winston, on February 6th, 2017 at 4:26 pm said:

    The one thing I have noticed is the lack of handicapped parking in the downtown area. I cannot bring Barry’s mom down there for anything because there is no place to park that is within her limited walking distance. It kind of stinks. I use the free parking in the garages on nights and weekends, and find that there is a garage convenient to most of the places I want to go. The Locust Street garage is great if you’re going to J. C. Holdway. I do sometimes grow weary of the circle driving I do in the Market Square garage, but still, it’s so convenient! If I get lucky enough to get a meter close to where I am going, I just check my watch and get back within the time allotted. Seriously, though, if you know you’d like to make a night of it, don’t park on a meter. And give us some more handicapped parking!

  23. Bill Horton, on February 6th, 2017 at 4:27 pm said:

    Now that I am back in Palm Springs, I am reminded that this city has a different approach to parking. Because the city wants to encourage people to go downtown to shop or to go to restaurants, there are no parking meters. In addition to street parking, there is a city-owned parking garage and there are several city-owned parking lots and parking at any of these locations is free at all times. There is a 3-hour limit. This approach seems to work well here, but Palm Springs is much smaller than Knoxville and does not usually have the level of traffic found there.

  24. Cynthia Moxley, on February 6th, 2017 at 4:34 pm said:

    Love all the comments, everybody. Thanks so much for taking the time to make them.

    Bill! Great hearing from you, old neighbor!

  25. Katie Kline, on February 6th, 2017 at 4:49 pm said:

    Wow — raised some dander! I have a place to park, so this issue does not apply to me (currently). But my kids do not want to come down and pay the high-priced lot prices to eat lunch, shop and go to a movie. Parking lots are outrageous. I agree with Gary Bentley!

  26. Pam Rhoades, on February 6th, 2017 at 5:01 pm said:

    I think the meters are a bit difficult to navigate – like Maria said – hard to see the screen in the sun. I understand the convenience, but I also feel a bit vulnerable fiddling around with my debit card at the meter in front of everyone. Too much potential for bad things to happen.

  27. Candyce Goschy, on February 6th, 2017 at 5:14 pm said:

    I am in agreement with those who say that a two hour limit MIGHT work during the day when most stores are open. ( And, I know some stores stay open after 6PM but I don’t believe that the majority of people downtown after 6 are shopping.) A two hour parking limit is NOT enough to go to dinner and a movie, or to a show and then out for a drink. (And, after having knee replacement recently, I have to agree with those who have difficulty walking from the parking garages.) Maybe they could re-consider relaxing the two hour limit after 6pm and on weekends. Two hour parking limits at night make going downtown unappealing. That’s not good for business.

  28. Lauren Miller, on February 6th, 2017 at 6:02 pm said:

    I almost exclusively park in the State Street Garage, but at times I need to make a quick stop at the office or a store. My frustration with the “smart” meter system is it allowing a grace period after a car has left – which means you have to wait about 5 minutes before you can enter payment – or a car leaving without the meter realizing it like it’s supposed to and it only has 12 minutes left but you can’t reset it to enter payment. That only has happened once, but the grace period issue has happened to me twice. I also counseled a confused downtown visitor who was trying to enter payment during the grace period and couldn’t. I can manage around it, as a frequent downtown visitor, but I think the concern for attracting new visitors and patrons is valid. Miami has a wonderful smartphone app system that allows you to pay from your phone, get alerts when your time is about the expire and reload, as needed. As a visitor, I was quite appreciative of that approach.

  29. Pam Rhoades, on February 6th, 2017 at 6:50 pm said:

    Lauren: we were in Tampa a few years ago and took advantage of the parking app like you described in Miami. It was super convenient and safe.

  30. Cheryl Goins, on February 6th, 2017 at 7:16 pm said:

    My husband & I live downtown & own our condo & love it. We don’t get free parking….we pay a monthly fee for any PBA parking Yes I agree the city needs to extend the limit. Like Cynthia said you can’t eat or have a cocktail before or after a meal or attend a function in that short of a time. What I really wish they would do is have handicapped parking on every street corner. My mom could never come downtown because my daddy couldn’t push her up Union or could I. I hope with all the renovations going on the city listens to the people.

  31. Lynnda Tenpenny, on February 6th, 2017 at 11:04 pm said:

    I am an Art Market Gallery artist and we are discouraged that new parking policies seem to discourage folks from coming downtown. Hardly anyone (visitor or native) comes downtown to run into Mast General Store for one or two items! Downtown is a place to stroll down see what is happening. As you say, it’s difficult to even have dinner, not to mention go to an event within a two hour limit. I agree that extending the time at least at night and weekends would be a help.

  32. Tim, on February 6th, 2017 at 11:04 pm said:

    Ok….so I wasn’t going to weigh in because downtown residents learn how the system works and just deal with it but…I just have to add one thing:

    Handicap access and sensitivity to handicap visitors downtown REALLY SUCKS!!! Having not so long ago having foot surgery and the long recovery and 12 weeks with no driving, I have to stand up for those folks who deal with this all the time.

    The quantity of designated handicap spaces and their locations are ridiculously inadequate. There are NO handicap resident spaces….so I guess you just have to move if you need a wheelchair or crutch or knee scooter as in my case. Most parking is on a different street elevation level leaving a handicap person either the choice of a distance and upgrade that only an olympic athlete covets to get to their home.

    Let’s not forget that most every sidewalk has some construction taking place every 250 feet that are obstacles for everyone except American Ninja Warriors, but the reality is those require you backtrack and cross to get beyond the construction and cross again……and again. You get the picture.

    Lastly, for this subject for now (there are other vivid examples), are those “—-” charming brick pavers that are so cared for by the city! I appreciated the look and novelty of them until I was having to navigate them as a handicap person in something that required rolling over them every day….oh, and avoiding the gaping hole of the occasional stolen one (aka….throw me over the handlebars pothole). The physical jarring that reverberates up your joints and bones as you go is very painful and continuous as you bump and jump along the way……and I can only imagine if I had a spinal injury or post neurosurgery of some type. And this was a choice of someone by design!

    I got more tickets during that period than I even want to talk about but had limited options. I did call the City Disabilities Office and dealt with the greatest staff ever, including the Director who is permanently disabled herself. Wonderful folks there doing good work! They were sympathetic and assisted in getting me a location to park that wouldn’t constantly ticket me, but it was even further away and thus not workable. I really wound up talking to them more about how could I help them……so, I hope this message to readers gets people to think more about our city and the unintended message downtown is sending of “we don’t have accommodations for you here, please go elsewhere”. I know that is not how we want to greet these folks. Too bad Target doesn’t have lofts at each of its locations……..

    Think about it ……Let’s try to be more sensitive……2 hours? 3 hours? 4 hours?…..Not the point for me. Let’s make half those spots available for those who can’t enjoy our downtown at all without reasonable accommodations being made.

  33. Kim, on February 6th, 2017 at 11:46 pm said:

    I’m with you! It’s gone too far. I lived downtown for six years, so I know the issues well and have direct experience. I’m sad to say I now avoid downtown sometimes due to the hassles with the new parking rules and the feeling “big brother” is always watching at the curb. Is it true that the meters actually alert the ticket patrol as soon as they expire? The whole vibe has changed from welcoming to enforcement. And the new meter rules around the post office are another issue that has made it nearly impossible for businesses to check their post office boxes in the morning. I am very frustrated and would like to see a review of the changes to see if they really are working. I, too, have heard a lot of complaints from people who are invested in seeing downtown succeed.

  34. Jeff Cupp, on February 7th, 2017 at 2:51 am said:

    Amen Cynthia, I can’t agree more.

    Another important piece of this is the loading and unloading spots for downtown residents limited to thirty minutes. We have ONE spot (for about four complexes) In front of mast general which plainly states that it is for loading and unloading and by all means put your flashers on !!!! We get so many folks think it is a “waiting while we shop spot”….the spots should specify for downtown residents only. We love love love our downtown life but folks can sure be inconsiderate !!!

  35. Aaron Thompson, on February 7th, 2017 at 8:45 am said:

    My viewpoint comes as an owner of a business downtown since 2008 and as an owner of a Condo on Gay Street since 2013, (renter 2008-2013). I also pay a monthly fee for parking in a lot; a very affordable one actually. I’m in agreement about the handicap spaces, but I certainly don’t know enough about it to say more. My big question is what businesses wanted the 2 hour parking enforcement? No one asked us, I know that. No one asked many of my fellow bar and restaurant owners, I know that. So my question is what special voices helped make this change happen? Or did the city do it on our behalf and then blame us as the ones who wanted it?

  36. Phyllis Severance, on February 7th, 2017 at 3:33 pm said:


    I could not agree with you more. I do not live down town. However, I have quit coming downtown to shop or to dine due to the parking . As a “Senior Citizen”, I find it difficult to walk up the hills from the State Street Garage, the Dwight Kessell Garage, etc. I am thrilled that the downtown area is once again booming with those who live and work there. It sat empty way to long. It is a great boost to our tax base. For that I am grateful.. However, I vote for a four hour limit.

  37. Lori Chmielewski, on February 7th, 2017 at 4:00 pm said:

    You know, that 2 hour limit could affect those who are attending an event at the Convention Center and become a deterrent for attending future events. Case in point was last Friday for my husband and me. We drove over 20 miles from our residence to enjoy the Dogwood Arts Home & Garden Show. We avoided the public parking garages because we figured they would be full as it was midday. The Holiday Inn Downtown, directly across the street from the Center, wanted $15, which I thought was outrageous, so we crossed the bridge and immediately spotted a parking meter near the Knoxville Musem of Art. We did not park there because we would have been dashing back from the home show to “beat the clock.” (It was a very cold, windy day, too.). Luckily, there was parking near Fort Kid. Less determined people, or ones with physical limitations might have just headed home, or, like us, vowed to attend fewer downtown events because of the limited, restrictive parking. I do not understand building such a lovely convention center and not providing attached parking but only slapping a few meters close by, paving the way for that private garage to price gouge, or requiring families with strollers, older attendees, or those with physical limitations, for instance, to hike from a parking garage blocks away. Huh?

  38. M. Janice Mitchell, on February 7th, 2017 at 9:17 pm said:

    I attended a play about 9/11 at the Emporium and was petrified I would have to leave before the play was over. I left immediately afterward and missed the reception and talking to the actors. I have also been confused about the hours to pay the meter. If it is free at night, are you allowed to stay in the spot for longer than two hours? I asked a resident and they were under the impression meters ran 24/7.

  39. Lauren Miller, on February 8th, 2017 at 10:57 am said:

    As a follow-up to some comments, I believe all the meters now run 24/7. Case in point: My parking ticket from yesterday evening. My fault; I knew better.

  40. Johnna Easter, on February 15th, 2017 at 11:15 am said:

    I don’t live downtown but am there several times a week. I’m getting a ticket about once a month now, I’ve decided to accept it as karma for the times I run over the limit and didn’t get a ticket. But a 3 hour window would be much more realistic.
    Every time I drive by an entire block with the “no parking/construction” bags over the meters I wonder why this is enforced after 6pm. I’ve never seen any construction going on in the dark. The spaces just sit empty, in front of businesses, for weeks on end.
    Is there a reason I am not seeing that our parking enforcement team couldn’t take them off in the evening and put them back on in the early morning? Maybe make them a tow zone after midnight so they can move any cars that park overnight and might interrupt morning construction activity. Just a thought.

  41. Stacey Rivers, on February 20th, 2017 at 3:08 pm said:

    I do want to comment as a person with a disability. There must be more parking along Gay Street for handicap parking. Even trying to get a handicap spot in the parking garages has become very difficult. I would like to use the abilities I do have to walk along, and inside, the businesses downtown…not traveling paved parking garages and side streets.

  42. Sandra Powell Emond, on February 23rd, 2017 at 10:34 am said:

    Now that I am somewhat crippled up, I tend to avoid any trips to downtown. In fact, recently I donated my KSO tickets rather than attempt to walk any distance on the abysmal downtown sidewalks (have had way too many trips and falls downtown in the past when I still worked there and was not disabled). It is nice that so much is happening downtown, but I may have to leave the benefits of that experience to those who live there or who can still navigate the parking and the downtown streets. If I do go downtown it will have to be with friends who can drop me off near where we are going. And the last time I came downtown with friends to Oliver Royale, I loved it, but even though I was dropped off right at the mall, I nearly fell because of stepping on a large “buckeye” looking nut that I didn’t see in the dark and turned my ankle. With an instability problem already, that is an issue for me. Downtown Knoxville is not very disability friendly. And after hearing yet more horror stories about downtown parking, I’ll probably select fine restaurants closer to home in Bearden and further west. I long ago gave up going to concerts at UT because of the parking and walking issues.

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