“It’s going to be a new challenge, but one I think we ought to accept with some excitement,” said Salem City Councilor Chuck Bennett, who made the motion to approve the initiative.It's hard to believe this won't be one of those "be careful what you ask for; you just might get it" situations.
Salem Mayor Anna Peterson said downtown businesses will have to take “personal responsibility” to make free unlimited parking work. Businesses will have to encourage employees to follow parking rules, she said.
The vote to approve the initiative wasn’t unanimous: Councilors Brad Nanke and Dan Clem opposed it.
There is of course a non-zero chance that proponents of metered parking are wrong. It is possible that free, unlimited parking will be a great boon to downtown and will bring a golden age of prosperity, vitality, and joy.
From here, though, the odds of this seem very, very small.
(And it's important to remember that if this turns out to be the case, we'll be the first to admit that's a win: The goal isn't for a car-free downtown or anything like that; the goal is for a thriving downtown. It's just that some of us think a thriving downtown actually is more likely with metered parking, a more walkable environment, and a smaller car/everything-else ratio. We have the same goal; we disagree significantly on the tactics to achieve it.)
Instead, it seems more likely that local commuters will discover a new source of free parking, that downtown employees will find it all too convenient to park all day in the on-street stalls, those who parked in the garages will move to the free on-street stalls, and that parking petitioners and other merchants will call for increased enforcement as actual customers find it increasingly difficult to find parking.*
Then the question will be how to fund the enforcement? Do we cannibalize general funds - to trot out the tired cliche, do we close police and fire stations to support more parking enforcement? Is this really the policy choice Salemites want to make?
And then we'll likely be back at meters again. Maybe even on a cycle more accelerated than the Parking Task Force originally envisioned.
Some suggest this is would be a "poison pill," but isn't it rather just an empirical test? Like the closest thing to science we can get in parking and transportation?
Data from other cities has not been persuasive. So let's get data from right here. Let's just see if it works. Maybe it will. But more likely it seems that it won't.
Working through this may take more than months. It may take a year or two - though the holiday season will be a great test. But it seems almost a sure bet that unlimited, free on-street parking will fail and that the proof will be in the pudding, finally.
*In several places online folks have expressed surprise at the "unlimited" part, and have even said that the petition was about "no meters," not about time limits. Here's the first clause in the petition:
Within the Downtown Parking District described in SRC 7.010, parking meters and time limits are prohibited for any city-owned parking (on or off-street)...Sure, there are a few exceptions, but the clear intent of the petition was to ban meters and to remove time-limits.