Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Council Delivers Free, Unlimited Downtown Parking to Petitioners

From the paper's story about the vote last night at Council:
“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.

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.
It's hard to believe this won't be one of those "be careful what you ask for; you just might get it" situations.

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.


Curt said...

I'm sure you can write my response but here it goes anyway:

If free parking were a boon to downtown, I probably never would taken any action to try and improve Salem because in that parallel universe I would be too busy enjoying all of its bounty.

There was also a revealing link from Eugene in the SJ comments. Parking proponents are not permitted to cite evidence from other cities but parking activists like Stephen Perkins cited Eugene as evidence that cities are disposing of parking meters. That is not only factually incorrect but free parking in Eugene is inflicting the same financial penalty on their town as it is here. Even with less than 300 "free" spaces.

So have Salem staff cooked Eugene's books too? Wait! Linda Norris came from Eugene! Well now that explains everything!

Curt said...

Parking meters proponents I meant to write.

Sarah Owens said...

BoB wrote, "So let's get data from right here."

I asked Councilor Bennett about the post-decision data-gathering plan when he visited the CANDO meeting last week, and whether it would take into account the anti-meter folks' objections to the data used to support the City's meter plan, thinking doing so might facilitate anti-meter folks' eventual acceptance of parking meters when things don't work out. I gathered from his response that, although the City does intend to gather new data, he doesn't expect it to change anyone's mind (because the initial data was adequate but didn't do so). He basically said that "working through this" (as you put it), will take "the public" reporting to Council in significant numbers that there is not enough parking available downtown.

Anonymous said...

Let the record show! November 2nd, and proponents of free parking already complaining.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the link. Stop Parking Meters has an updating blog post - I guess they abandoned separate and dated blog posts - with the original note.

It looks like voluntary compliance by downtown businesses isn't very high, and so folks want the City to step in with heavy-handed enforcement - but of course without user fees to fund said enforcement.

A metering scheme would just be so much simpler.

This will probably get nastier before it works itself out.

After just half a month, it's even harder to see free parking working.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In a note to tonight's Council meeting, a commenter cited the SJ's preview:

"The Salem City Council may explore downtown parking problems today, although it’s not on the agenda.

Salem City Councilor Chuck Bennett said Friday that he will ask the city manager to send out another round of notices to downtown business owners asking them to submit employee license plate numbers....

By one estimate, about 12 percent of downtown businesses comply with the city’s requests for employee license plate numbers. Providing the information is voluntary. Bennett suggests that sending a new form for business owners to fill out might encourage cooperation....

A half-dozen businesses recently contacted Bennett with complaints about on-street parking.

From Oct. 15 to Nov. 1, city staffers issued 60 employee parking citations, according to city records. Eleven of those were issued to employees who had been ticketed at least twice.

In comparison, from January to just before the two-hour limit ended in October, the city issued 98 employee parking citations.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a relative of one of our city councilors writes:


"In a move that was shocking for some, Salem City Council heard these requests and acted on them, deciding to do away with any form of parking restriction. I remember the cheers of celebration – on Facebook – lauding the good decision and stating that this was the first smart thing the city government had done in a while. Unbeknownst to them, however, the council was suppressing knowing looks of disapproval – not because they’re mean curmudgeons who hate culture and people who like to park vehicles downtown – but instead because they had a sense of what was going to happen next.

And indeed, it did happen.

Suddenly, downtown businesses saw an excess of cars parked in front of their business. How strange, then, that the number of cars didn’t correspond with the number of people inside their stores and restaurants. The reason for this is simple – the people living in the apartments above these businesses finally had a convenient place where they can park their cars overnight."

etc, etc

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A Sunday front page article and an editorial today:

"Downtown employees parking illegally in spaces set aside for shoppers are a threat to retailers’ profits. City officials and some business owners have urged employers and employees to help with renewed efforts to save parking spaces for customers.

'If the business community wants this kind of parking system, it needs to be cooperative,' said John Wales, the city’s urban development director.

But the early indicators show the spirit of teamwork between downtown business and the city’s parking enforcers is lacking...

Both suggest things aren't working very well.

Anonymous said...

A petitioner writes in the paper today:

"The petition’s sole purpose was to move the City Council off the fast track toward parking meters and re-align them with what the citizens want. The petition never pretended to provide the final and absolute solutions to all parking problems downtown."

The petition was headed for the ballot, and there was a very good chance it would have passed. So petitioners submitted knowingly a flawed proposal? At the very least this is ambiguous, and it is difficult to read as a "good faith" contribution to an important policy debate.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It's very strange, isn't it? Things just don't add up!

"If the City Council didn’t support the petition, they should have offered a competing measure. Their measure could have offered their solutions and let the citizens decide which measure they support." Wasn't the "competing measure" the Parking Task Force recommendations? The Citizens and downtown businesses embraced the petition. So this argument doesn't look very strong at all.

"If free downtown parking fails, it is simply because the City Council wanted it to fail. From the moment the City Council adopted the petition, they owned the successful program it could be — or the failure they create. We need to see leadership from our City Council now." It's almost like you make up a fiction, persuade someone to embrace it, and then disavow the fact that you made it up and are responsible for it, saying instead that the person who embraced it now "owns" it.

Petition backers want to foist all responsibility onto the City now. That's nuts. I don't think it really works to try to displace ownership in this way. Petition backers should instead assume responsibility for their own ideas.

Also: Metered parking is bad, but $250 fines to non-compliant businesses is ok? How's that a pro-business solution? Seems to me that a spirit of friendly compliance is much more pro-business and small-government solution.

In the end, it seems more likely that it's the petitioners who were insincere since they apparently concocted a petition they didn't actually believe in. And if they did fully believe in it, then the evidence is showing that it was a flawed policy, not a Council failure, and the evidence then suggests that maybe metering is simpler than draconian fines and elaborate and big-brothery lists of employee license plates.

Anonymous said...

Go Mayor Peterson!

From the paper on her State of the City address:

"The mayor fired back at critics, who have blamed the city for parking problems in the downtown area. In October, the city abolished the two-hour time limit in the downtown core. The change came after Salem City Council voted to adopt an initiative backed by a citizens’ group, which banned parking meters as well as the two-hour time limit.

Peterson said the cause of the problem wasn’t the city council, but “apathetic downtown business owners and property owners who failed to speak up, who failed to face the reality that there is no such thing as free parking.”"

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Salem Weekly has a piece on it:

"Last summer’s citizen’s petition did not mention downtown resident parking, in hindsight perhaps an omission – and when City Council adopted the petition, they too did not add back language that would protect downtown businesses from these cars. Both actions created the pressure for on-street parking spots that frustrates the businesspeople interviewed for this story today.

However, downtown business owner Carole Smith, one of the petition’s creators, says that the purpose of the petition was simply to express the community’s desire to support downtown businesses and customers. Noting that petition language is not usually adopted verbatim, and that she expected to negotiate portions of the document with the city, Smith says, “What needed to happen, was that a partnership needed to begin between the city and the petitioners.” Smith is disappointed that no partnership has developed.

It was not merely a "petition," though; it was an initiative, which would have gone onto a ballot. Why petitioners are surprised the City adopted it is amazing. If petitioners just wanted a negotiating position, they could have adopted an ordinary petition drive, which didn't have to involve legal language for the ballot.

The article also misunderstands an important part of a "healthy" downtown:

"With the U.S. Census seeing a trend for Americans, especially younger ones, to move to city centers to live, it seems likely that downtown Salem’s residential density will only grow.

A livable downtown provides numerous benefits to a community and goes hand in hand with an increase in culture, tourism, business and greater building occupancy. Finding a solution for downtown resident parkers, respecting their needs and rights, as well as those of people who do business downtown is not an issue that will go away. It is an issue that matters to all Salem citizens who value a healthy city.

A truly livable downtown would be less car-centric than one devoted to free, unlimited parking and vast rivers of cars.

So it goes...

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

And it went for 10 months. Tonight Council passed a resolution calling for three-hour limits from October to February, during the holiday season. A group of businesses came to Council to ask for this.

Unlimited free parking has failed.