This week Sacramento News and Review’s Streetalk (not available online as far as I can tell) interviewed five people in midtown about parking meter hours. Facebook also has had a number of posts about parking in the central city. I am amazed that seemingly intelligent people have such fuzzy thinking about parking. Just as with driving, it engenders thoughts that have no grounding in reality, but if anything, parking is a stronger influence. Despite what many people think, free parking is not guaranteed in either the constitution or the bible. (Cheap gas is, though, look it up. – I’m joking.)

First, let me say that I don’t believe the parking changes are solely due to an effort to pay off the city indebtedness for the arena, but I also don’t deny that the arena has driven the pace of the changes and has city officials (elected and staff) drooling over the income. But let’s look rationally at some of the benefits.

People complain that later hours will reduce the amount of parking available. In fact, it is quite likely to have the opposite effect. The reason there is “no parking” in the central city is not because it is priced too high or the hours too long, but because it is priced too low and the hours too short. When people have free parking, whether during the day or the evening, they do several things: 1) they drive when they don’t need to (they often could walk, bicycle or use transit) because that choice is subsidized by free parking; 2) they stay longer in the parking spots because there is no cost of doing so; 3) they don’t carpool when they could; and 4) they don’t plan out trips so that they can maximize efficiency, rather they make trips on the spur of the moment. That drive to get coffee, for example.

The key factor that determines whether parking works for people is turnover. If there aren’t any parking spaces open, it is because metered spots are priced too low and free parking is given away for, well, free. Metered parking, if the pricing is either dynamic or increased to reflect demand, guarantees there will be open spots. Open spots mean that people won’t have to circle the block(s). I live at 16th & O, and I see a lot of drivers circling and circling, just looking for that one close spot. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an open spot, would you not rather be eating or drinking or listening to music or hanging out with friends, than circling the block? Or even better, if you must drive, park further away and get in some of your daily physical activity.

I can’t resist replying to each of the interviewees:

  • Christina: Why will it be a major inconvenience? Is that something you said because you’d heard other people say it?
  • Beth: “It would inhibit people using this area…” Why? Do people not go to work because they have to pay for parking? Why would they not do the things in the evening they want to do, and pay for parking? Most evening activities are not low budget, no matter what you are doing, and parking fees are not going to be a significant part of that. With a $25 dinner and $20 in drinks (or more), parking fees are just not that big a deal.
  • Vanessa: The reason it is so hard for you to find parking (if it really is) is that parking is underpriced and therefore overused. You can use the new SacPark app to extend your time, if you wish, or just park in a garage and walk to work. What a concept!
  • Kayla: If you can’t be away from your car, then perhaps you should move out. But, how about giving up your car and having a better life? “…my free spaces…”? I always wondered whose free spaces those are, and now I know, they belong to you. Not.
  • Tavares: Midtown is popular because of the culture and opportunity, not because of free parking. People will continue coming, and fortunately they will be able to find parking because there will be some metered spots open and they won’t have to circle the block, wasting time and gas.
  • Montha: “…coins in my pocket…? Are you telling me you don’t have a credit card? Most parking has been converted to single space smart meters that accept credit cards, and the kiosks also accept credit cards. Are you telling me you don’t have a smart phone? The SacPark app allows you to easily pay for your parking without a single coin in your pocket.

Yes, I’m pretty unsympathetic. I live car-free in midtown, and in part I live here because I can have a great life and be car-free. My main complaint about parking is that 10-20% of my rent goes to subsidizing free parking spots for other residents in the apartment complex. I’d have an even greater life if I had that as disposable income to enjoy midtown even more.

This issue has caused me to look into the census characteristic of the central city residents, and I’ll have more posts on that soon.

About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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