Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Free Parking Alternatives Meeting on Wednesday

Parking doesn't pay for itself, and the Downtown Parking Task Force is charged with finding solutions for the large deficits that our commitment to free downtown parking has created.

As City Councilor and Chair of the Task Force, Chuck Bennett, said, “Nobody really gets free parking.Somehow it all has to be paid for.”And the Salem Downtown Partnership says,
The City of Salem is our partner to help us achieve the best shopping, dining, art and entertainment experience for our customers. Unfortunately, the City is $4 million behind in maintenance on the three downtown parking garages, Chemeketa, Liberty and Marion.
And in fact, the recent letter to the editor could easily reflect the reality of the $4 million deficit and other subsidies for parking!
It is upsetting that tax dollars are spend to accomodate car parkers. They don't pay a penny for using all the amenities that have been implemented just for them. If they paid a parking fee, at least they would be paying something. It is not fair to the rest of us to pay their way.
More seriously, the Partnership is holding a meeting for downtown businesses on Wednesday to discuss parking and its funding, and hopefully the conversation will generate creative ideas on ways to balance downtown's current dependence on free parking with the need to transition to different parking strategies. Most importantly, with luck the conversation can shift from the temporary free storage of cars to the mobility of people, people who might choose to use cars and people who might choose other means.

If 85% is the magic threshold,
maybe there's too much parking?
What matters of course is how many people come downtown and how easy they find it to get there. At present most people make drive-alone trips and therefore many feel free parking remains a necessity. But this is historically a recent and local phenomenon and is not how things work in much of the world - and is not how things are likely to work in the not-so-distant future.

Bikes should be part of the solution.  By investing in high quality bike facilities, more people will bike downtown - will be comfortable and feel it is a realistic option - reducing congestion and the perceived need for car parking. The same can be said for walking and transit.  There's a distinct possibility for addition-by-subtraction here!

If one strategy is to manage supply, another is to manage demand - we should be investing in things that get people downtown and reduce the demand for free car storage downtown, rather than investing in increasing the supply of free car storage.

One downtown voice advocating for change is Mary Lou Zeek. Over the weekend you might have seen her "My Passion" column in the paper.
Most people have no idea of the richness of the visual landscape in the downtown area of Salem right now — you simply can’t see it very well if you are just whizzing by in a car....If you are in a car, you probably only notice the street construction delays and the hassles of finding a parking place.

When I think about cities that were born in an era before cars, what strikes me is that people took care to have interesting things to look at along the way. There are statues. Buildings have striking architectural features. There are places of greenery and flowers in tiny window boxes and larger pocket parks. There are places to sit for awhile. Cities like that grow and change and many have survived for hundreds of years. Those features that we might think of as costly “extras,” such as art or landscaping, may actually be at the core of economic vitality and longevity in a city.

Downtown is the heart of our city where our identity should be strong. We need to imagine downtown Salem where the alleys aren’t ill-kept passages people avoid but are instead pedestrian pathways with sculptures on display. Imagine the alleys vibrant with art painted on the sides of the buildings and flowers and greenery hanging above. The alleys could make downtown so much more friendly to bicycles and pedestrians and we could make the alleys feel like a walking tour of an art installation.

1 comment:

Jim Scheppke said...

Great post SBOB. Let's make downtown Salem bike friendly. It is most definitely bike unfriendly now. When I get to downtown on Liberty, the bike lane goes away and I am squeezed between the new protruding sidewalks and the cars. Welcome to downtown! Then there is often no place to lock my bike. The few racks are all in use. I hope we can change this someday.