Monday, June 21, 2010

Editorial: No more reasons to avoid parking garage

The editor chastises residents who prefer parking on the street rather than the city garage on Granite, with a headline discounting any excuse. Here we have mainly a failure of imagination, I'm afraid.

Consider someone who wants to buy something downtown, say a large ceramic pot, and faces the idea of carrying it across the square, around to the alley, up the alley and up several flights of stairs.

Consider someone who's planning dinner at Murphy's and a popular show at PFAA.

Consider the working musician (me) who has to show up at the club during the dinner hour and unload for the gig -- on Cortez St.

We have to face facts here: the garage is only practical for able-bodied people with destinations from the square on the east to Sharlot Hall Museum on the west, south to about Carleton and north to Willis. The eastern and most of the northern blocks of downtown are too far for most people even when parking is at a dire premium and you're able-bodied, leave alone those who are over 60, have little kids in tow, or are carrying more than five pounds of goods.

The idea of more and better signage to direct out-of-towners to the garage and other free lots is a good one. Forbidding downtown workers and juries from using on-street parking would be huge (although hard to enforce). A second garage on Union St, as per the original and smarter plan, would be better for the east side and far more visible and attractive to tourists and juries. Inside the garage, moving the spaces reserved for City vehicles to the top deck would probably raise garage occupancy by a third, since I'm sure lots of people give up looking when they see that block of white cars and trucks.

A lot of people complain that they're scared to use the garage because of poor lighting and nasty people hanging out there. Lighting in the garage is fine 24/7, but the alley behind the Row isn't exactly inviting all the time. A couple of electric four-place golf carts with drivers to ferry shoppers (free) around the square and to the garage might go a long way.

The central point is that the parking situation downtown has always suffered from inertia in accepting things as they are and a severe dearth of the necessary imagination to create multidimensional, positive solutions. Angled parking on our busy, narrow streets down there is dead stupid and we really need to upgrade or get rid of it entirely. Closing the streets around the square to cars would vastly improve the quality of the experience for everyone, and we ought to be doing some big-idea traffic planning to move in that direction. Simple public people-movers could knit downtown together over a much larger area than the frontage on the square, good for both visitors and businesses.

But standing up on the editor's soapbox, berating people to go park in the garage and belittling their concerns and practical needs is not going to help one bit -- particularly considering that the Courier so recently abandoned the downtown area.