Recently I expressed a blunt opinion in my blog post title: "Putting parking meters in downtown Salem is a dumb idea."
I appreciate the comments I've gotten. They've made me ponder further the pros and cons of downtown parking meters. I'm still opposed to the idea, but I've learned that the issue divides people in some interesting ways.
I want a walkable, bikable, livable, welcoming, vibrant, attractive downtown.
Some fellow advocates of this goal agree with what downtown should be, yet feel that parking meters would enhance, rather than detract from, a thriving Salem core.
For example, here's a comment on my post by Lindsay Bayley:
One idea that is gaining traction around the country is using meter revenue to improve the streets where it is collected: (see http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/SmallChange.pdf for how it works). That would help with the fear of "big government" taking money away from small businesses.
In my experience as an urban planner focused on parking policy, usually the downtown employees are the ones parking on the highest demand streets. When you use pricing to influence demand (and not collect revenue), you encourage the long-term parkers to park further away. And people like me who don't like to pay for parking will walk a couple of blocks.
Seems like the $1.50 for Salem is too high in certain areas and too low in the core. I don't live in Salem and have never been - Just my $0.02. Also, I wrote this paper on the topics that Curt is referring to: http://1.usa.gov/CMAP_Parking
It sounds backwards, but meters can be good for business WHEN THEY'RE DONE RIGHT.
So far I haven't closely studied the papers Lindsay shared. However, after scanning through them I now agree that parking meters in downtown Salem could be a good thing for the area, if several things happen.
One, the City of Salem puts a pause on its rush to install parking meters. The planning process followed so far has been bad. Here's what the CMAP Parking Strategies for Livable Communities paper says, in oversized type:
The most important goal is to involve people in the decision-making process from the beginning, so that they better understand the benefits and costs of parking, and differing viewpoints can discuss potential solutions and strategies.
Like I said in my first "dumb idea" post, the City of Salem did the exact opposite.
They didn't allow any public participation in the task force that came up with the parking meter proposal. They didn't survey downtown businesses to see how their owners and workers feel about doing away with free 2-hour onstreet parking.
Now the City is paying the price. An initiative petition soon will be circulated to put a Prevent Downtown Parking Meters measure on the November ballot. It will have a great chance of succeeding. Who likes parking meters?
[Update: Carole Smith, who is leading the initiative drive, shared some thoughts about this post in an email to me, which I made into a comment. I'll share her thoughts here also. I basically agree with them. Some of what Carole says pertains to the next section of this post.
We do not have a parking problem in downtown Salem. We have a revenue problem because of irresponsible budgeting by the city. Parking meters are a parking management tool. Don't waste time talking up a solution to a problem we don't have.
The city is NOT going to give money to help downtown if they put in parking meters. The city just took away all our money so they could spend it themselves. What are you thinking?
But, again, this isn't a parking problem. it's a revenue problem. Lets talk about solving that problem - that is why we are doing an initiative petition. To force the city into identifying the correct problem, so we can implement a successful solution.]
Two, the City of Salem has to guaranteee that parking meter revenue will go to downtown improvements. This is one of the core messages in the other paper Lindsay sent me, which describes how Pasadena went about installing parking meters in its historic district.
Debates about the meters dragged on for two years before the city reached a compromise with the merchants and property owners.
To defuse opposition, the city offered to spend all the meter revenue on public investments in Old Pasadena. The merchants and property owners quickly agreed to the proposal because they would directly benefit from it. The city also liked it because it wanted to improve Old Pasadena, and the meter revenue would pay for the project.
The desire for public improvements that would attract customers to Old Pasadena soon outweighed fear that paid parking would drive customers away.
Currently the City of Salem wants to use parking meter revenue to maintain downtown parking structures. Ugh. Nobody thinks, "Ooh! Let's go downtown to see the beautiful parking structures!" They are a (possibly) necessary evil, not a positive Salem Historic District attribute.
Supposedly urban renewal money that now goes to the parking structures would be freed up by new parking meter revenue. There has been some talk about using that money for "streetscaping," a vague term.
I don't think downtown businesses trust the City of Salem to improve downtown.
City officials have repeatedly undermined the association that serves downtown when it took positions at odds with the Official Party Line. They recently allowed five beautiful large downtown trees to be removed for no good reason. They want to build an unneeded $600 million Third Bridge that will channel people away from downtown.
I suspect that the only way people who work and live downtown will support parking meters is if they control Historic District development, not the City.
Here's how Pasadena handled the issue:
Only the blocks with parking meters receive the added services financed by the meter revenue. The city worked with Old Pasadena’s Business Improvement District (BID) to establish the boundaries of the Old Pasadena Parking Meter Zone (PMZ).
The city also established the Old Pasadena PMZ Advisory Board, consisting of business and property owners who recommend parking policies and set spending priorities for the zone’s meter revenues. Connecting the meter revenue directly to added public services and keeping it under local control are largely responsible for the parking program’s success.
“The only reason meters went into Old Pasadena in the first place,” said Marilyn Buchanan, chair of the Old Pasadena PMZ, “was because the city agreed all the money would stay in Old Pasadena.”
I'd feel more positive about downtown parking meters if I knew that all of the revenue from them would be spent by an association of downtown business owners to make the Historic District more attractive to visitors -- not to pay for maintaining outmoded parking structures.
Let the people who work and live in downtown determine the future of downtown, naturally with the advice of those like me who visit the area regularly and want to see it thrive. Then parking meters might make sense.
But only then.