Parking downtown has been a hot topic for more than 15 years. Downtown business owners have often decried the unfairness that is placed upon them by having metered parking in the Central Business District. They say this gives an unfair advantage to other shopping districts such as Fairhaven, Barkley and Meridian, which have free parking.
So it may come as a relief to hear that the City Council is considering purchasing a plot of land on the corner of Cornwall Avenue and Maple Street as a site for a future parking garage. Even with the steep pricetag of $2 million, the site is a good choice, and in 10 years or so it will be centrally located between the CBD and the new development along our waterfront. And the land will not be getting any cheaper as development sprouts up around it.
While this is a step forward in downtown’s everpresent battle to alleviate the dearth of available parking, it is only the first step. Buying the land provides the place for the garage – the problem is, it looks like we won’t be able to afford to build anything there for many years.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but one still needs glasses to figure out what has happened with the city’s parking fund for the past several years. A BBJ records request to verify how parking money was spent revealed that the city didn’t have such records, apparently. For at least the years of 2003 until 2005, the city didn’t see fit to line-item parking expenditures in the general fund.
The end result is that the city has enough money to buy the Cornwall Avenue site, but not to build a parking structure there. So where does that leave downtown, which is already in need of more parking, a situation that will only worsen as the months and years go by?
Luckily, building a parking garage is not the entire solution to the parking problem. Alternative transportation, such as busses, trolleys and better bike routes, and off-site parking can also be part of the solution. Councilmember Barbara Ryan’s recommendation to replace the parking commission with a more holistic transportation commission may remedy some of these problems.
It’s difficult to know how committed the city is to creating these alternatives, however, as they chose not to include a bike lane along Holly Street when they completely revamped the street this past summer and fall. It’s hard to envision the political will to create the network of bike paths that cities like Boulder, Colo., have, or trolleys and light rail like larger metro areas such as the San Fransisco Bay Area created many years ago.
Perhaps with our new mayor, we will see some new direction when it comes to transportation and parking issues in our city center. Several issues need to be addressed, only one of which is how to fund a new parking structure.
Purchasing the Cornwall/Maple site is a step in the right direction. Now we just need to know where the path leads from there.
by Rik Dalvit