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Editorial: Changing parking rules is one step; behavioral change is another

March 28, 2012

The temporary parking system changes for this summer are worth a try.

As described on page A1, City Manager Bob Francis devised a creative way of encouraging employees to park off-street while also, in hope, sustaining the parking revenue the city enjoys.

The city is lowering the cost of monthly parking in its Columbia lot and monthly parking permits will now not be valid at city meters from May 15-Oct. 15 in metered parking spaces on the south side of State Street between Second and Fourth streets.

The city hopes that forcing pass holders to park in designated lots will open up parking spaces downtown for visitors during peak tourism months.

As Francis says, "Those spots should be for visitors." We would add that those spots should also be for local residents who want an opportunity to park somewhere close to the downtown business they choose to support. Local trade is important, too.

There is another aspect of the ongoing challenge of providing sufficient parking, and it's one that is not addressed in the summer plan, and not that it could be. That aspect is the behavioral one: business people, be they owners, managers and employees who choose to park in places that should be left open to potential customers.

It's a frequent practice: taking a space in front of a business, or just down the block, and doing the plug-the-meter shuffle every few hours.

This is a behavior that can be changed. It is seen downtown, where there are meters, and it is no less a problem on the Heights, where there is (still) no charge to park. The vehicle of a manager at one 12th Street business is daily seen parked in the same space, directly in front of the business. Across the street, the vehicle of another business owner is typically parked in a prime spot just feet from the front door.

It's not enough to just park a block over from Business A; it's still taking up a space that might be used by a customer who would like to park close to Business B, and so on.

Most owners and managers get it, and park well away from their front doors, or pay for a permit in lots intended for people working in the business districts. Many businesses make a practice of encouraging all their employees to park in permitted spaces or walking a few blocks to a less-than-prime location, to make room for customers.

Francis' plan is a well-intentioned one, and it will be good to see how the experiment works this summer. Meanwhile, though, groups including the Chamber and the Heights and Downtown business councils should consider an awareness campaign on parking strategy that takes into consideration all users: customers, other merchants and people who live in residential areas that abut commercial zones.

How about the theme "You Walk, They Buy"?

All of this might mean a bit more walking to and from work in the rain or wind, and the reality is that sometimes business circumstances require a merchant to take a space close to their storefront. Yet instilling a sense of mutual need, as pertains to parking, should be seen as a small but important factor in improving economic prospects for everyone.

It also bears noting that, this summer, another impact on parking will be seen in downtown Hood River: the Urban Renewal work on State Street, which will certainly take away parking spaces we are all used to. The city parking plan is one way to help plan for that impact. Behavioral change is another.

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