Entitled to Parking

“Dude, c’mon – I was only in the hour-long parking space for two hours! What’s the problem?”

There’s a great “Pick of the Day” letter to the editor in The Roanoke Times this morning.  You need to go read it, but here’s the crux of the problem the writer presents:

I parked across the street [from the Taubman Museum] in an hour-long parking space. I was in the museum for about 45 minutes. When I came out and checked my car to see if there was a mark on my tires, there was not, so I went to have lunch at the Thai restaurant, and when I came back to my car, I had a ticket.

You might not be surprised to learn that he’s upset he got a ticket for parking longer than an hour in an hour-long space.

The Roanoke Times should have headlined this, “Duh of the Day.”

This attitude of entitlement is one of the reasons it’s so hard to develop smart parking policy.

Is Parking in Downtown Roanoke a Problem?

A recent letter to the editor in The Roanoke Times (“Museum planners overlooked parking”), the latest in a recent series of complaints about the perceived lack of parking in downtown Roanoke, prompted me to make this admittedly frustrated post to Facebook this past Wednesday:

More letters to the editor about the lack of parking downtown, the second recently in reference to the Taubman. There are 7,000+ off-street parking spaces downtown, more with surface and private lots. There is MORE THAN ENOUGH parking, most within a block or two of your destination, easily the distance you’ll park and walk at the mall. It’s infuriating.

To my surprise, discussion erupted on the post from a whole host of people, finally topping out at 53 comments and several private messages on the subject.  Because the discussion touched on many issues, I was asked to bring it off of Facebook and into a more public forum, which I will attempt to do below.  But first, I want to make a quick point about parking capacity in downtown compared to places where you don’t hear the same sorts of complaints.  Using Google maps, I’ve taken a snapshot of Downtown Roanoke and overlayed an image of Valley View Mall and all its parking spaces, with the centerpoint of the mall roughly corresponding to the center of downtown:

Downtown Roanoke with Valley View Mall Overlay

What you see pretty quickly is that the Mall’s footprint captures pretty much the entire urban core and most of the major venues – the market, Center in the Square, the Taubman Museum, the Campbell Court Transportation Center, Kirk Avenue Music Hall and The Shadowbox, and the bulk of Downtown’s restaurants and galleries.  Also within that footprint is six parking garages:  Wachovia Tower, Campbell Court, Market, Church Ave (both the newly renovated one at the Market and the one across from Texas Tavern, and Williamson Road.  There are also several surface lots and many on-street spaces.

The point here is to reemphasize that parking capacity isn’t the issue; that is, there’s no reasonable argument to suggest there are not enough spaces downtown, and they’re all within the same distance most people are willing to walk when they go shopping at the mall.  The question then becomes:  When people complain about the lack of parking, are they really complaining about something else?

To the Facebook discussion:  What I’d like to do is simply quote (with some minor edits) from the posts several of the folks made to get at some of the key arguments, objections, and rebuttals, and to avoid accidentally changing those arguments by putting them into my own words.  Since these folks didn’t sign up for a public debate I won’t use real names, though, except for my own when I jumped in to make a point.  To make it clear, I don’t agree with everything folks had to say on the subject – its remarkable how heated an argument about empty spaced of asphalt can get – but I wanted to try to reflect the different attitudes people took to the subject and the different perspectives from which they came.  I don’t want to offer too much additional commentary, but I would welcome additional comments and responses.

On free parking:

C.B.: What people are really complaining about is the lack of free parking. There is no shortage of parking downtown, but the complainers are too cheap to pay $2.00.

S.R.: I am cheap and love to complain, but am NOT lazy. I would rather walk a mile or two than pay for parking ANYWHERE. Making all city lots free would be a good thing economically for the city.

G.M.: [S]o true, S.R.. If I live in SW County, why would I want to pay an extra three bucks just to get a hot dog at the Weiner stand or pick up a tomato at the Farmer’s Market, or come downtown to browse through an art gallery? Ain’t gonna happen for many folks.

Jeremy Holmes: Actually, just flat free parking is almost always a bad idea. See “The High Cost of Free Parking” (which I’m slowly working my way through) by Shoup. Free parking across the board skews the parking demand and encourages employees to take up spaces that should be used for visitors and doesn’t accurately reflect the price of the marking market. Parking should be priced appropriately, which in a broad sense means during the day the inner lots should be pricier, with the perimeter lots being much cheaper and/or free, to move all-day parkers to the outside of the urban core. On-street should be metered at very low rates (say, 50 cents for an hour), so its marginal for visitors but serves as a disincentive to employees to take up prime, core spaces. In the evenings, the rates should probably be lowered across the board but follow the same basic structure – core parking is a bit more expensive, and outside parking free or super cheap. Generally, well-priced and managed parking means that demand is only at 80-something-percent, making sure there is almost always a few prime spaces available.

Further, those city-owned lots have to be paid for somehow. I’d rather a larger chunk of that come out of fees than general tax revenue.

S.R.: Jeremy, I agree with your last statement. But I’m still not going to pay for parking… whether it’s a meter, garage or rusted shed. I’m not the only one with that mindset, and sadly most people who feel that way don’t enjoy walking as much as I do.

On communication and amenities:

G.M.: Jeremy, that’s nice, but three things: city does a fairly lousy job of letting you know where parking is, Roanokers, especially those in the ‘burbs,don’t like to pay for parking, and even if they are OK with that many don’t carry cash to jam in those little slots – they need to add swipe stations for credit cards. Start with better signage leading people to parking areas…

Jeremy Holmes: I do agree about the swipes, G.M., and both the city and destination locations like the Taubman could do better jobs of communicating where parking is in general and in relation to their destinations, but I still hear a lot of whining.

In the interest of being fair to visitors, however, I would say that there’s not enough being done to make sure downtown employees – who park their cars all day – either park on the edges of downtown or use other modes to get to work, freeing up spaces for shoppers. Everyone knows the stories of employees leaving every two hours to move their cars from one free on-street parking space to another. It was something I experienced at the newspaper. If that were managed better – which is something I have faith in the city tackling – it would go along way to put a dent in the whining.

G.M.: you can call people names all you want, or accuse them of whining, but that’s the reality…. those who don’t live near downtown or don’t ride a bike – especially those who don’t come to the city very often – would come more often if they knew where the parking was, and where it was free. You have to look at it from the that perspective. The failure to overcome the perception that there is “no parking” is the failure of the city and the businesses down there. City needs to buy out that tire store and put a parking garage at Williamson and Campbell…

A.C.: @G.M.: Destroy the Firestone and put up a parking lot?? What the what? Have you looked around the Firestone? There’s nothing but parking on that side of Williamson, as well as across the street, directly adjacent to the market. I might not be full understanding your point, but I don’t see the need to level a business, especially considering that there’s a multi-level garage on the next block. (Full disclosure: It’s where I get my car serviced, and I would recommend them to all. It’s really convenient as a downtown employee, being able to drop my car off and walk to pick it up.)

It seems like all of the complaints can be boiled down to, “I’m entitled to a free parking space, and it better be right out front.” Downtown Roanoke is the one section of the city where a car isn’t necessary. Yes, if you live in the county, you will probably need one to get you there, but it isn’t a sprawling metro area. It’s small. Tiny, even. If you are flummoxed by the availability of parking, which completely surrounds the downtown area, then you’re a moron — or willfully trying to find something to complain about. (If you could show me a route which completely bypasses the plethora of parking options on the way to the market, I’d love to see it.)

Personally, the downtown area is a godsend. It’s the hub of the city — though there is plenty of life to be found elsewhere, don’t get me wrong — and without this relatively small (I moved here from DC) harbor of progressive culture, the number of transplants would be significantly lower.

All IMHO, anyway.

On supporting downtown:

S.J.:  People in Roanoke are too cheap to pay 3 bucks for parking and too fat to walk 100 yards. My friend came to the Taubman town hall meeting from Charlottesville and [laughed] when someone brought up the parking issue. She said she has never had problems parking when she visits Roanoke. I never have problems parking downtown either. I use a giant magnet to remove cars from the space I want to take.

K.S.: 3 dollars is a lot to some people. Not everyone makes a lot of money, and if you’re trying to bring diversity into the area, you have to take that into consideration. You can’t categorize everyone as cheap and lazy.

K.S.: I’m just trying to give you guys another perspective on the issue. I obviously spend a lot of time downtown, and am very invested in the wellbeing of the community down there.  And yes, I park for free all of the time. I’m just saying that for some people, it can be difficult depending on the time of day and how much time they have. That doesn’t make them a moron.

E.W.: Despite the varying degrees of differences, I don’t know that anyone here is part of the ‘I don’t go downtown or support downtown because I can’t park.’ I have seen just about everyone on this thread at some event/opening/etc. in the downtown area on a fairly regular basis. My guess is that part of the frustration expressed here is that we have all heard from others that they don’t go to events or support things downtown because of parking and this is upsetting because we all enjoy theses things and want more attendance at them (and parking is an annoying excuse to not go see an awesome show, great art or support a local business). We’re on the same side ultimately – just differences in how to execute the solution.

J.G.: I must drive (as opposed to biking) b/c I live in Botetourt Co; however, I never have trouble finding parking. Sure I pay $2-3, but so what?

To sum up:

Jeremy Holmes:  ‎@K.S.: You’re right, there are several issues going on here. To G.M.’s point, there is a lack of education/information to some extent. He’s on point with the swipe cards, and further, I think something advertising the number of open spaces on the outside of the garages would help people make quick decisions. There need to be better management, via pricing, so that there are always free spaces in key locations. Destination businesses like the Taubman need to do a better job of communicating accommodations – for example, there’s still no information about parking (or bus routes, or bike routes) on their website (that I can find at least); this would be helpful for out-of-town visitors especially. So there are some management/communications issues, too. But, to echo [others], this is an discussion we’ve been having a long time, through the addition of several new garages, and people still complain. I’m not sure how to overcome that other than to try to drive the point home every time the complaint comes up.

@G.M.: I’m with A.C. on the Firestone issue. Downtown needs more core services for residents and employees, not fewer. As a downtown employee, that place is a savior and allows me to do a lot less driving and be a lot more productive since I can park and walk to the office. As far as I can tell, it’s a thriving business, and we certainly shouldn’t be tearing down thriving businesses to replace them with parking garages when there are already parking garages with spaces to spare.
There was significantly more discussion than this, but I think the captures some of the major themes:  free parking (or the lack thereof), communication, issues with walking and convenience, parking management policies, etc.

One thing that we didn’t even touch on is whether a space for every car that wants to come downtown, no matter how it’s priced or where it’s location, is even desirable; that is, how does transit service and bike accommodations fit in to the argument.  Would 30-minute evening headways and extended weekend service for Valley Metro do a better job of addressing parking challenges than just managing the spaces?  Would better bike parking encourage more people to ride downtown than drive?

It’s an important discussion, and now is the time to have it.  I encourage you to weigh in.

Balloons, Bombs, and Back Alleys

Last Friday was a busy day in Roanoke for bike – and there I was taking the day off on my new compressed work week schedule.  First there was Intermodal Love, of which the folks at the Taubman Museum got some great photos (you may need a Facebook account to see them) and for which many balloons were released into the wild.  Kieren Culture organized the city’s first Alley Cat race, which I understand drew a crowd of about 25 racers, some of whom were visiting from Blacksburg.  Finally, the night ended with the first Starbomb from the Mill Mountain Star, inspired by Portland’s weekly Zoobomb and a direct result of the film Veer having been shown at the Taubman a few weeks ago.

Tomorrow is World Carfree Day, and those RIDE Solutions has been emphasizing transit and walking, you can always take the Carless Challenge to continue the bike theme (though, one way or the other, please consider registering for the Meals without Wheels and support great local restaurant Blue 5 in their support of World Carfree Day).

The best part, for me, is when I browse the photos of these events and see so many faces that I don’t recognize.  The hard work of the region’s core group of bike advocates and enthusiasts is paying off, and its great to see new people getting involved and getting excited.