27 August, 2009

Two Hour Parking

Here's a policy decision I just can't seem to agree with. La Crosse isn't big. It isn't a teeming metropolitan shopping Mecca. There are, however, more people than there is downtown. Downtown shops and hangouts are frequented by very nearly the same people all the time. I mean, just look at us.

And yet, the police are stepping up enforcement of two-hour parking by enacting an electronic tagging system of monitoring those spaces. Business owners have apparently been clamoring for more strict enforcement in the name of freeing up parking for customers. I don't entirely get it.

I spend a lot of time in the downtown area, and at all different times of day. There are two parking ramps quite centrally located--albeit one is taken up for the first few floors by private hotel parking. The whole area is about 5 blocks long down 3rd and 4th streets, and roughly the same wide by Main, State, and Cass. After that? There's nothing to see, do, or buy. When I head downtown, I am able to find a good parking spot near my destination--on the street--with little effort. Maybe 40% of the time I have to loop around and look on a different street that is perhaps a block away from where I'm going. Not too shabby. Certain streets fill up at certain times. Pearl Street is hugely busy around 12, but clears out shortly after 1 rolls around. Depending on the night, the streets are full of bar goers, and if you didn't walk or come down early, you'll probably be parking in the ramps. Big deal.

My issue with the policy is really with the assumption that by not having open parking spots immediately in front of your shop, you're somehow losing business left and right. This is highlighted by the ordinance that states cars may only be parked for two hours a day (in areas marked as such) on the same city block. If I'm parked at the end of the street, and move my car back one spot after my two hours, that's illegal. If I, however, pull my car around the corner one spot, I'm on a new street and in the clear. This is asinine to me.

When I think to myself, "oh shit, I've got to move my car!" One of two things happens. 1, I go out and find plenty of parking along the same stretch I've already been on--in which case all the stores have their frontages open ANYWAY. Or, 2, I drive around a block or two and hit up a new spot or the ramp. Elliot deftly points out that in the time it takes to circle the block, one could easily park in the King Street ramp and walk to the coffee shop, so there's really not much of a difference.

I guess I'm looking at this from the angle that when there's parking downtown, there's parking. Great. It's slow, people are at work, it's either not yet lunch or it has already passed, and the people who are there just to tour Greater La Crosse go untroubled. When there's no parking on the streets downtown, you go to the ramp, or circle the Pearl Street or Main Street blocks, and you undoubtedly find a spot in short order. In this case, everyone's downtown, business is booming, and everyone's happy.

I cannot seriously think that people who arrive at their destination but find the one spot immediately in front of the store occupied give up all hope and desire of shopping that day and go home. The policy is just inefficient and buying new equipment potentially wasteful. Rather than spend the money, they should just consistently apply the current rules so that the new, higher fines actually pose a deterrent--not to mention earn more money for the city until people figure out not to break the parking ordinance.


Elliot said...

I thought the whole point was that this new system would be a more efficient way of applying the current rules, thus raising revenue.

I am, in general, in favor of reducing the amount that parking is subsidized, especially in downtown areas. The effects of "free" parking in downtown areas are much more apparent in larger metropolitan centers, but I think even in La Crosse if you saw marginally higher prices for parking (in money or time spent moving your car) you would see an increase in the number of people that choose to walk, or ride their bikes, thus decreasing traffic and opening up even more parking.

That said, I am not sure why there is any "free" parking in the downtown area. It seems like it would be much more efficient to meter almost all of the streets, and charge for the main parking garages, rather than waste police time taking down people's license plates all day.

It also annoys me that the title of this article is so one sided. Parking will indeed get harder for some dbags (= us) who sit downtown for hours of every day. But it will get easier for other types of people, who are running errands for less than two hours and who will find it easier to find a spot closer to their destinations.

spencer said...

I have to agree with Cassady here. Parking downtown has never appeared scarce to me, especially during business hours when two-hour parking is in effect. There always seems to be a spot in front of Jules. Moreover, I've never seem the King St. ramp without whole floors empty. So why meter spots and charge for the ramps? There's not a scarce good to charge for here. If anything, parking should be getting cheaper, maybe by lowering the price of tickets.

(Disclaimer: the author has received numerous parking tickets in La Crosse, though these are mostly for parking downtown after 2am.)

Elliot said...

Yeah, I think if tickets get any cheaper (my last couple clocked in at 8 dollars) they would lose all deterrent value. But just as a matter of efficiency, it seems better to simply charge very low constant rates for parking rather than have parking be free up to a certain time period, which is hard to verify and leads to the playing of this cat and mouse game of tracking down the offenders.

And if the parking garages are usually empty, why are they there? Surely there is a better use of public money and space downtown.

spencer said...

Yes, I agree that metered parking would better than two-hour free parking from an efficiency standpoint if you must have one or the other. But does La Crosse really have a parking problem? I am unconvinced.

I am not sure why there are so many parking garages downtown. Certainly they do get used during Riverfest, etc., but in general it seems wasteful.

Eremita said...

As I have stated in live versions of this conversation, I, too, and not convinced.

I think that charging a premium for parking seems like a good policy that can simultaneously reduce congestion and raise revue for the city. It IS silly that parking in downtown NYC is subsidized. So I don't oppose the idea behind these kind of policies, and I think those benefits win against the argument that businesses will be hurt. Face it, in New York City, they will not.

The problem in this case, though, is that charging $0 for parking IS a premium in LaCrosse.

There is more parking than people use, and that is including the owners and employees of downtown businesses that DO pay the city for reserved parking spots in the ramps. Further, I am not convinced that providing parking downtown has been a financial hardship on the city, because the public parking ramps sell a significant portion of their spots, and were built with apartments and businesses in their upper floors.

I'd be fine with meters on the streets. If that would be cheaper and more efficient for the city than the new policy, then they should have thought of that. But no, I don't think we should eliminate free parking downtown. There doesn't seem to be a need to ease congestion, I'm not convinced there is a need to ease the burden on the city, and in that case, maybe the wishes of the business should win out. Are customers really complaining about this? To the point: are MORE customers complaining about this than customers who will decide to go to Walmart because now their prices AND their vast parking lots are cheaper? Why not - in LaCrosse, big box stores are just as close to your home as downtown is.

Cassady said...

Well, I think the article was presented so one-sidely partly because it was written by a younger journalist--perhaps living in the downtown area, where I know many people actually hunker down and take their tickets sometimes just to have a spot outside their apartment.

The new parking fines are up to $12, which for me is enough of a deterrent to be more careful about leaving my car around. Although I mentioned in the live debate the inconsistency of the police enforcement (which was the main focus of the bit I sent to the Trib as an opinion article).

I don't honestly think metered parking would be a bad thing for La Crosse--though I do think it's the kind of thing people would come out of the woodwork to vote against. Just so I'm clear, we're thinking that meter prices would be much lower than a $12 fine, right?

At any rate, I think the question of police efficiency and consistent enforcement of whichever policy is in place is the salient issue. The whole thing makes me think that the time, salary, gas and energy, and now electronic gizmos are really quite wasteful. Two hour parking in and of itself is fine if it's enforced correctly. After enough tickets for the regular downtown-goers, they learn to be more careful, walk or bike more, and you reach a happy equilibrium. Parking is reasonably available, and life is good.

As for the difference between the ramps and the street, I think you city folk have been desenitized to just how banal the concerns of the average La Crossian can be. I would be surprised to see a huge stink raised if the city tried to charge for the ramps, or otherwise negatively differentiate between them and the street.